The Performance Equation:Behaviour = f (Person x Environment)

by Peter Tulau, Director at AltoPartners Australia

The equation B= f (P x E) was proposed by Lewin (1936) although he did not specify how the interaction between the person and the environment would occur. The model below is an expanded and organisationally oriented interpretation of Lewin’s original model. At the core of the model from an organisational perspective is the old “can do, will do, will fit” adage, but the model expands on this to bring to life the factors that underpin this basic proposition and lend support to the equation.

We intuitively know an executive’s manifested behaviour on the job is a function of individual style in the context of the particular operating environment. For example, if we place, either through recruitment or promotion, a generally extroverted individual into the back office with little or no engagement with stakeholders on a day to day basis, it is likely that adjustment problems will arise. Similarly, if we place a generally introverted individual in a market facing role with high levels of face to face contact, it is also likely adjustment problems will arise. Such misplaced individuals will struggle to reconcile their own innate characteristics with an environment which inflicts on them a combination of boredom, discomfort and anxiety. The equation is subtler though than the introvert / extrovert dichotomy.

The pivotal point of the model is the notion of employee engagement, but before we get to that we need to understand the characteristics of the person. Appropriate levels of skill, knowledge, experience, cognitive strength and flexibility, and aligned familiarity and interest are the easy criteria and can be evaluated through basic job matching, targeted interviewing and ability testing. Careful consideration of these factors will ensure your newly appointed Engineering Director can and will do the job, but will the individual fit with your culture, values and leadership behaviours and stay aligned over the longer term?
To ensure longer term fit, temperament should be evaluated using valid psychological assessment tools.

The working environment, presented in red, namely: working structures, performance management systems, organisational adaptiveness, power, politics and culture and the calibre of organisational leadership plays a crucial role in establishing fit and is universally underestimated in the overall performance equation both in external recruitment and internal promotion. There is not much point pouring clean water into a bucket full of holes. Taking these environmental factors one by one:

Working Structures: Identifiable sources of executive effectiveness include: role clarity, autonomy, recognition/involvement and the executive’s sense of achievement, accomplishment and mastery. These factors feed directly into the prevailing culture. The extent to which these factors are negative or positive determines to a significant degree the executive’s self-concept and subsequent modus operandi. Is it characterised by authentic behaviours, two-way communication, high commitment and responsiveness or by low creativity, blaming, intragroup conflict and low risk taking?

Performance Management: Not many of us have experienced good performance management systems. Effective performance management depends on translating business values and strategies into readily identifiable, tangible behaviours and hard outputs on the ground. Once again role design and role clarity are crucial. It is impossible to build an appraisal framework on shaky foundations. The interaction between business strategy, the role and the quantum and structure of financial and non-financial rewards
is also critical. There is no point putting aggressive incentive based remuneration in front of our Engineering Director if what that individual seeks and values is attendance at the next global conference relevant to enhancing industry specific skills and expertise. Good performance management sets the stage for a meaningful employer/executive interaction and intelligent career management.

Organisational Adaptiveness: So, the organisation purports to have a strategy, the executive roles are clearly defined and performance management is working. How does the organisation respond to market changes, unexpected challenges and its own results? Does it reinvest cleverly to capitalise on opportunities? Does it pull back from exposed positions appropriately? Does it release people with dignity? Maybe our Engineering Director is required to downsize a functional area in a way which conflicts with his (or her) value structure. The organisation needs to be nimble enough to redefine its business strategy and communicate this empathically. These are the characteristics of an adaptive organisation, a key element in fully engaging quality executives on an ongoing basis.

Power, Politics and Culture: Power, politics and culture act as either blockers or enablers of executive development and retention. Power can be coercive, legitimate, personal or sanctioned through ownership and structure. Politics is about formal and informal frameworks in the organisation, the underlying assumptions held by management and employees about the business, and the symbols and messages which reflect both day to day and long term reality. Maybe the organisation squeezes its assets a little too hard and this compromises safety which in turn causes consternation for the new Engineering Director. Power, politics and culture combine to create a value structure which enhances or retards executive engagement.

Calibre of Leadership: Leadership is the priceless commodity which, all things being equal, differentiates the average from the excellent organisation. The relationship between the calibre of leadership and the capacity for executives to bind to one another and perform optimally is all-pervasive. Contemporary leadership is about providing both visionary and change leadership, establishing strategic direction, building trust and building business partnerships.

Many times, when executives are not performing optimally they regularly cite environmental factors. “If only the CEO was more insightful”, “My role is ill defined and causes confusion”, “I need to be recognised and valued for the contribution I make”, “I have no autonomy and this micromanagement is driving me mad”, “There is no future here and reward structures are not market relevant anyway”.

The concept of engagement though is obviously subtler than the introvert / extrovert dichotomy outlined earlier or the raft of environmental factors mentioned above, which can be a valid assessment of the state of play, or possibly an executive projecting blame for his or her own inability to adapt and perform. Postulate our new Engineering Director mentioned earlier who was not temperamentally engaged by the aggressive incentive based remuneration, didn’t like the way the downsizing process was conducted and felt compromised by the organisation’s approach to safety. When the Engineering Director was recruited, it was obvious the chosen person “can do” all functional requirements of the job, as qualifications and career pedigree put that question beyond doubt. But what happens when and if the incumbent starts to question the degree of self-motivation, the “will do”, and develops major concerns about whether it is possible to embody “will fit” within the organisation, given its strategy, the working environment and the emerging perception that the core values of organisation and individual may be misaligned?

Leadership is the lynch pin which can mitigate the negative and celebrate the positive aspects of the working environment. Leadership then connects the organisation’s environment with both the “can do” and “will do” aspects of the individual and that person’s unique temperament, the “will fit”, to drive engagement. Positive executive engagement leads to high levels of personal motivation, intrinsic job satisfaction and ultimately to excellent executive performance. Organisations need to continuously evolve. To do this they need to secure and develop a core asset of best fit, talented executives who can lead, engage, build culture and shape the entity over the longer term as new challenges and opportunities arise.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *