Silent Killers of High Performance
Michael Beer is an emeritus professor of business administration at the Harvard Business School and chairman of TruePoint, a research based consultancy he co-founded. Before joining the faculty of HBS, Beer founded and served as director of the organizational research and development department at Corning Inc. Beer has authored nine books and served as senior author of the groundbreaking Managing Human Assets, the first book to frame human resource management as a general management responsibility. His current research deals with how corporate leaders can transform their organization into high commitment and performance organizations through organization wide honest conversations about alignment and performance. Beer is a Fellow of the Academy of Management, the National Academy of Human Resources, the Society of Industrial/Organizational Psychology and the Division of General Psychology of the American Psychological Association. He has consulted with myriad international manufacturing, financial service, retail and professional service firms.
Michael Beer: Our research over the last 20 years has shown that there are six core silent barriers that block companies from high commitment and high performance. We call them the silent killers because, like blood pressure and hypertension and cholesterol, they can kill without knowing that they exist.
In organizations, everyone knows that silent killers exist, but the senior teams don't. The silence is up the line, not among people. If you ever had any experience in organizations, you know that people often talk around water coolers, behind closed doors, about what's going on the company and how it's managed and how it's not working properly and how things ought to be different, about the strategy, about the organization. Those messages never get up to the top in a candid direct way that they should.
The second thing that is necessary in high commitment is some learning and governance process. Just like strategic planning didn't used to exist in organizations, 25-30 years ago, I argue that for firms to create sustainable performance, they need a learning and governance system.
What is that? That is a capacity for leaders at every level to have an honest, collective and public conversation about the status of the organization. What its strengths are and what its barriers are. Revealed to the senior team, is the truth about how the system is currently working or not working. Unless you have such an institutionalized process in a firm, new leaders can take charge and ignore all the investments that have been made prior to them in keeping the performance going, in keeping commitment going. It's too easy for the firm to be up-ended by the silence about critical barriers.
Leadership and learning need to focus on changing and improving three core design elements in such a system.
One is the strategic performance management system. How does senior management convey its strategy? How does it create the appropriate sets of measures? Are those appropriate to just financial results? Or do they include other elements like the balance scorecard idea of my colleague Bob Kaplan? How do they follow up? How do they create strategic initiatives that are connected to the strategy? How do they monitor them? How do they create cross-organizational initiatives to enable the strategic intent to be carried out over time? How do they review this information? Do they focus on just financial information, do they focus on customers, do they focus on employees, do they focus on the contributions of the organization to a larger good? How are they brought in into a coherent system of examining how the firm is performing?
High commitment high performance organizations also continually adapt their organization design, how they organize and manage people based on strategic shifts. They don't hold on to one way of organizing because how you organize has to vary and change base on strategy. So, they are able to essentially manage evolutions and revolutions in the organization design. They actually avoid revolutions because they try to evolve the organization as necessary, and are able to do that through the learning process that I've discussed and gain commitment that way.
Finally, they have to have a set of human resource policies that essentially create the commitment, a kind of organization I've talked about.
Harvard Business School Professor Michael Beer lists six silent barriers that prevent companies from becoming high commitment high performance. Leaders need to frequently engage in honest, collective, and public conversations about the status of the organization.
Learn how to redesign your job for maximum reward.
- Broaching the question "What is my purpose?" is daunting – it's a grandiose idea, but research can make it a little more approachable if work is where you find your meaning. It turns out you can redesign your job to have maximum purpose.
- There are 3 ways people find meaning at work, what Aaron Hurst calls the three elevations of impact. About a third of the population finds meaning at an individual level, from seeing the direct impact of their work on other people. Another third of people find their purpose at an organizational level. And the last third of people find meaning at a social level.
- "What's interesting about these three elevations of impact is they enable us to find meaning in any job if we approach it the right way. And it shows how accessible purpose can be when we take responsibility for it in our work," says Hurst.
Erik Verlinde has been compared to Einstein for completely rethinking the nature of gravity.
- The Dutch physicist Erik Verlinde's hypothesis describes gravity as an "emergent" force not fundamental.
- The scientist thinks his ideas describe the universe better than existing models, without resorting to "dark matter".
- While some question his previous papers, Verlinde is reworking his ideas as a full-fledged theory.
TuSimple, an autonomous trucking company, has also engaged in test programs with the United States Postal Service and Amazon.
PAUL RATJE / Contributor
- This week, UPS announced that it's working with autonomous trucking startup TuSimple on a pilot project to deliver cargo in Arizona using self-driving trucks.
- UPS has also acquired a minority stake in TuSimple.
- TuSimple hopes its trucks will be fully autonomous — without a human driver — by late 2020, though regulatory questions remain.