Hey Boss, You Should Know This About Your People (and Yourself)

Mark Teitell People Development, Wellbeing 1 Comment

Just as the hyper-competitive world makes us need more from people than ever before (including ourselves), powerful forces weaken our ability to engage and respond.

Part 1 of this series explains more about what I mean. But if you already agree there’s a crisis of engagement and empowerment, I’ll get right to the first implication.

There’s a pressing need to help people strengthen “human effectiveness foundations” of Self-Awareness; Self-Mastery; Relational Skills; Sense of Purpose; …and Physical Wellness as the platform for it all.

But most of us don’t think much about what, at deep levels, makes people effective. We can probably name our company’s key marketing metrics, data center performance capacities or financial chart-of-account categories more readily than we can describe what makes humans effective.

We can name symptoms of effectiveness (good communications skills, strong problem-solving, consistent effort, etc.). But rarely root-cause enablers. No finger-pointing here. This describes me for much of my career as a consultant and operating leader.

And yet, these foundations are vital to everything else we can achieve. They’re like an athlete’s underlying strength, speed, flexibility, balance, vision and love-of-the-game. And like these, effectiveness foundations can be strengthened with training.

But most organizations don’t systematically do this type of training. Imagine a football team not having a conditioning program or organized workouts. “Just stay in shape, practice plays on your own and see you on Sunday!” In our world, where our “Sunday” is Monday-Friday…is this at least partly what we do?

I’m thinking way beyond occasional “soft skills” workshops, though these are valuable beginnings. That’s why I have three goals for the discussion here:

  1. Convince you this topic deserves your deeper investigation
  2. Offer a “straw man” for a landscape view of effectiveness, which is needed if we’re to treat it like other business imperatives to understand and manage
  3. Flag next steps you might take once armed with a sharper view of this mega-topic

1. But Wait – Are We Sure This Stuff Matters?

In part 1 I asserted that strengthening effectiveness foundations transforms how people “show up” at work. Taking this further, consider the business impacts.

You might intuitively believe achieving goals on the left side of this chart (even a little) affects metrics on the right. Or maybe you’ve personally focused on such “Development” for yourself or your teams. So you believe this based on experienced results.

But absent such intuition or experience, you might be skeptical of pursuing the cause-and-effect illustrated here. Wearing leadership hats I’ve worn (and before my personal experience with all this), I’d have thought, “It’s not clear how much the people impacts drive the business impacts. Or how cost-effectively we can invest to strengthen these people impacts anyway.”

Fair enough. But by articulating these issues, aren’t we into the realm of a management decision to make like many others?

  • Hypothesis that something can create real value (strengthening human effectiveness)
  • Specific questions to address (about our ability to “move the needle”)
  • Need for an approach to learn more and make a longer-term decision (whether and how to invest in strengthening effectiveness foundations)

2. Human Effectiveness Landscape: An Initial View

This is where the need for a landscape comes in.  Outside the human realm, what important decision gets made, issue explored, or process improved without some commonly-understood structure and definitions?

So, as a contribution to your own thinking, here’s my take on the human effectiveness landscape.

There are whole books on each of these dimensions, so I won’t expand greatly within this article. But, here are a few observations and questions to consider:

Physical Wellness. We are human systems with interrelated cognitive, emotional and biological functions.

  • Is creating acceptable-or-better biological conditions for our work – maximizing energy and managing stress – a nice-to-do or a must-do?

Self-Awareness. Trusty old business saw: “What gets measured, gets managed.” The corollary: what gets noticed, can be strengthened.

  • Do you think most people have cognitive blind spots and/or buried emotions that create some limits on their effectiveness upside?

Self-Mastery. Pilots have this rule to guide priorities in time of emergency: “aviate, navigate, communicate.” That is, ability to fly the airplane trumps everything else, so focus on that first.

  • How much control do we have over our personal rudders and flaps, i.e. to actually behave in ways that fulfill our best intentions? How much could we have?

Relational Intelligence. Business is a team sport made up of large and (hopefully) diverse teams.

  • Should getting better at working with people be more than an occasional “additive” to our jobs? Should it should be a core ongoing focus? How?

Purpose & Motivation. Being in touch with our own personal “Why” is the secret sauce for long-term commitment and motivation.

  • Can and should we help people access their “Why”? Or do we treat this as “bring your own motivation…or not”?

In a minute, we’ll discuss actions you’ll enable by having this type of guiding landscape view. But first, let’s talk about one thing that might be bugging you.

Yes…You Might Refer to Strengthening Effectiveness as “Personal” Development

Fill in the blank with your own caricature of “self-help” seminar or self-styled “life coach” brought to mind by the phrase Personal Development: ______.

It’s natural. When we talk about people’s foundation-level tendencies and capacities, we often get squeamish about company involvement. The moment “personal” gets attached, it can feel like a no-fly zone for company intervention.

But who’s balancing the books, making the sales calls, walking the retail floor, writing the code (or running the company)? Every person in the company is a person…so why steer so clear of the “personal”?

As leaders we often focus on strengthening our organization’s “way of being.” Vision, mission, values, culture, operating principles, processes and policies…these are all part of it. But individuals have a way-of-being, too. Focusing on the organizational but under-targeting the individual ignores such a large part of the effectiveness equation!

Further, organizational and personal ways-of-being interact to reinforce each other…for better or worse. Does it seem intuitive to apply some minimum portion of focus to both halves of this system?

So even if this all strikes you as self-help-y…ask yourself: What percentage of the time are you operating as your best self…and what do you guess the answer might be for your people?

Me? I’ve been “successful” enough along the way and enjoyed all the stages of my career. But on reflection, I have NOT always fired on all cylinders in terms of personal effectiveness. If I had…who knows what else I might have achieved?

This is why I urge you to recognize and let go of any aversion you have to targeting human effectiveness within your company’s people-focused programs. Yes, it’s personal…but it’s also professional. They’re flip sides of the same coin.

3. Next Steps: Using Your Landscape View

With a landscape view like the one here, you’ll have a common framework and language to use among your management team and advisers. This will greatly help decide whether and how to deepen your investment in effectiveness.

Then you can better take next steps like:

  • Diagnose where are we vs. where we’d like to be
  • Build shared understanding and commitment among company leaders and stakeholders
  • Prioritize focus on parts of the landscape that need intervention first or most
  • Sequence the order and timing with which we provide effectiveness curriculum and support
  • Design curriculum and support resources to achieve our goals

So get started on (or reaffirm and share) your view of your people’s effectiveness landscape. Do you have to-do list items that feel more “urgent”? Probably yes. More important? I doubt it…


Subsequent articles in this series will help consider these three additional issues:

  • What benefits might come from integrating more across Effectiveness-related programs?
  • Can we do more to not just teach Effectiveness foundations, but spur lasting behavior change?
  • Is there upside to making Effectiveness training more personalized?


Comments 1

  1. Hi. Great piece. I resonate with your approach to your approach to building the Human Effectiveness Skills/Orientation as a Way of Being. All of our actions, responses, interactions and learning unfold and move from the previous. I’ve done ontological and embodied leadership work and this approach blends well with those bodies of work. When I reflect on why this approach has more leverage is that your approach builds a stronger foundation to our reflexes under pressure. This is a change approach that operated at a deeper part of the brain. I look forward to the rest of your postings and the further development of this approach.

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