So that’s what we do, is it?

I make a point of keeping up to date with the latest research and surveys in the field of People Support.  Sometimes the results seem fairly predictable, but now and then I come across something which brings about one of those eyes-popping-out-of-the-head moments you see in cartoons.  I found one of these in ‘Driving Performance and Productivity’, the recent report by Towards Maturity for the CIPD. 

In the best-performing ten per cent of organisations in the survey, nine out of ten employees said they understood how their work is linked to the overall performance of the organisation. However, among the worst-performing quartile of organisations, that figure shrank to just 23 per cent. 

If less than a quarter of employees know how their jobs relate to the success of the organisation as a whole, that’s like being on a steamship where the majority of the crew don’t know that shovelling coal in the boiler helps drive the ship along. 

The report recommends that this situation (in organisations, not the ship!) should be tackled by: ’supporting managers to help their teams to understand how their work impacts the bottom line.’ I have no argument with the statement, but I think it’s sad that anyone in the twenty first century needs to make it.  Exactly a hundred years ago, during the First World War, workers in British aircraft factories were given lectures which described the exploits on the Western Front of pilots flying the aircraft the workers were making.  In this way it was made clear to them just how their work was contributing to the war effort.

If managers a century ago, in the middle of a war, were able to recognise the link between clarity of purpose and work performance, and then do something about it, why is that apparently such a rare feat today?

In any organisation it is possible for employees in one area of the business to know little about the work of colleagues in another area.  The more people for whom this is true, the more damaging it is for the organisation.  In our book, Go Beyond, Richard Scott and I have referred to this type of situation as showing the need for people to know ‘what goes on in the shed’, where the ‘shed’ is any area of an organisation whose work is not understood by those who work elsewhere.  Once others know what goes on in there, they understand how their own work relates to it, and their performance is likely to improve as a result.

People Support has a crucial role here, as everything our specialisation does must align with the overall aims of the organisation.  This begins with communication, learning and performance enablement activities; the ideal vehicles for removing the mystique of ‘the shed’, and helping people to understand exactly how their work fits into the bigger picture.

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