Globalization and technology have changed the way the world works, as jobs are increasingly consolidated or digitized. Despite improved technologies and efficiency enhancements, more work is not getting done. Of the myriad of data points from Deloitte’s 2017 Bersin Report, which analyzes global business trends and makes predictions for the future, one passage perfectly summarizes the lengthy document for HR professionals. The strategy for the future, according to Deloitte, should be to “move HR from a ‘personnel department’ to a new role as the ‘consultant in human performance.’”
The concept of improving human performance at work, sometimes referred to as “employee performance optimization,” is hardly new. A visit to your local bookstore will undoubtedly yield a business section rife with manuals about how leaders can inspire action. Given the abundance of optimization techniques at our disposal, why has productivity actually slowed over the last five years instead of increased?
The answer should come as no surprise, as organizations have been self-reporting this lack of productivity for a decade. A 2013 survey conducted by the Association of American Colleges and Universities found that despite technology and communication improvements, 93% of companies agree that their employees are tasked with broader responsibility and face more complex challenges than ever before. Simply put, employees are overwhelmed. The challenges are harder, and there are more of them.
Similar to the overwhelming list of responsibilities at work, methods for improving productivity are equally overwhelming. To improve productivity in a meaningful and impactful way, HR professionals can usefully shift their focus. “Instead of managing the performance appraisal process, the on-boarding program, the health and wellness programs, and the leadership development systems,” says the Bersin report, “we in HR now own all of this stuff with a focus on how can we help individuals and teams perform.”
To achieve this goal, HR professionals and senior leaders should consider a new conceptual model — the “Human Quotient” (HQ).
HQ is both a metric by which companies can assess their employees and a set of uniquely human skills that employees can develop to enhance their work performance. These skills include attributes like creativity, trustworthiness, empathy, collaboration, communication, and strategic thinking. They are uniquely human elements that when pieced together boost performance and productivity. Recent studies on the subject are revealing and impressive.
One study, published in the Wall Street Journal, found that employees who underwent empathy training alone generated up to 50% more net income than those who did not participate. Another study, conducted by The University of Southern California, crisscrossed the globe asking business leaders what attributes executives must have to succeed in today’s digital, globalized economy. They identified five essential characteristics: adaptability, cultural competence, intellectual curiosity, empathy, and 360-degree thinking (including holistic understanding and pattern recognition). “These so-called ‘soft’ attributes constitute a distinctive way of seeing the world,” wrote the authors. “Taken together, they create a kind of ‘Third Space’ that differs sharply from the other two perspectives that have long dominated business thinking: the engineering and traditional MBA perspectives.”
A separate study, led by the Carnegie Institute of Technology at CMU, examined performance within financial services. The report found that “roughly 85% of…financial success is due to skills in ‘human engineering,’ your personality and ability to communicate, negotiate, and lead… only 15% is due to technical knowledge.” These findings were supported by a comprehensive 2006 study led by Accenture, which concluded that “interpersonal competence, self-awareness and social awareness… are better predictors of who will succeed and who won’t” when compared with conventional metrics.
Google found through its work on Project Aristotle, an internal program designed to determine why some teams work and others don’t, that conventional wisdom might as well be tossed out the window when attempting to improve performance. What they found mattered most was a concept defined by psychologists as “psychological safety,” best situated in a business context by Harvard Business School professor Amy Edmondson. Psychological safety at work, she notes, is a “shared belief held by members of a team that the team is safe for interpersonal risk-taking…It describes a team climate characterized by interpersonal trust and mutual respect in which people are comfortable being themselves.’’
HR units interested in helping individuals and teams perform can find tangible, bottom-line benefits by addressing their organization’s HQ. It can be developed for pennies on the dollars earned and yield remarkable results. Both internal and external programsexist for the development of HQ skills, which can be implemented by HR units or leadership teams. One approach we use with our clients is “Active Inquiry” — a process of asking thought-provoking, open-ended questions with the goal of fostering safe conversations and enhancing team functioning.
By developing the HQ of employees confronting the complex 21st century economy, global organizations can significantly improve individual and team performance, productivity, and growth.
This piece was co-authored by Dr. David Brendel