Human Potential Untangled

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Human Potential Untangled
Achieving successful engagement means removing several obstacles that keep good people from doing great work. Three generations of management theory have defined how organizations develop human potential. First, under the functional management approach, development was aimed at getting people to follow the standard processes established for each function. The assumption was that employees just needed to be trained to follow the correct processes to be engaged and successful. The second approach to development was founded on the hierarchical model of organizations, whereby developing potential was viewed as taking people up through the ranks. The third model emphasized organizational systems. People were trained to manage systems (such as finance, sales, or operations) to make sure they flowed correctly within the overall organizational structure. While each of these approaches has its merits, they have two common disadvantages. First, development around a process, system, or advancement to the next level keeps employees too narrowly focused on their individual jobs. This can prevent them from seeing the bigger picture of how their performance fits into the broader organizational context. Second, by focusing on function and process, these approaches to development neglect engaging the person as a learner. At the other extreme from the three traditional, methodical approaches to development was Peter Senge’s vision of a “learning organization,” in which people are continually enhancing their capabilities to create the results they truly desire. This model was perceived by many to be too “soft”—utopian even. The best approach to unleashing human potential lies in the middle ground between the two extremes. Neither too lockstep nor too loose, Photo by Media Bakery

By Kevin J. Sensenig

54 | T+D | aPril 2009

such an approach might be called the “value model” of development because its goal is to get the best value each person has to offer. It combines methodical key steps people can follow to advance in their careers, with learning organization concepts that respect individual differences. One of the first steps in developing each person’s full potential is knowing why people don’t perform and what to do about it.

Why employees don’t perform … and what to do about it
There are five obstacles to performance that should be carefully distinguished, because each has a different solution. If the source of nonperformance is not correctly identified, good employees may be passed over for promotions, be fired, or leave on their own, while less desired employees, who will never buy in or simply cannot do the job effectively, are retained.

Do not assume that tangible rewards are required. It’s not either/or, but the right combination of tangible and intangible rewards that most effectively engages employees.

Obstacle 3
Not believing they can do it. In this situation, employees

Obstacle 1
Not knowing what to do. It’s dif-

ficult for employees to perform if they don’t know what to do. Solution: Educate them. Set the foundation during new employee orientation and the on boarding process, or later through education and development opportunities. Unless people have clarity on what they need to do, they will make mistakes or work on the wrong tasks.

Obstacle 2
Not knowing how to do it. Employees who know what to do, but not how to do it, cannot accomplish the tasks assigned to them. Solution: Train them. Take people through the step-by-step process of performing tasks and show them how the correct execution of those steps creates success for them and the organization. Photo by Getty images

know what the task is and the steps to accomplish it, but don’t believe they can do it. This is usually because they lack self-confidence, are riskaverse, or just don’t think they are the right person for the task. Solution: Coach them. Coaching is not just a matter of cheering employees on, but of...
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