observeI recently encountered three organizations that tried to determine what makes people stars by observing them. They came away with a checklist of actions. As my colleague says, “If it was as easy as a checklist, everyone would be great. But greatness is different.” Greatness is first and foremast about how the stars think about their work, particularly their compelling purpose. A list of actions tells very little about how people think. Even if you ask, “Why did you do that?” the explanations are always limited and tactical. Worse still, observations can be seriously misleading. For example, we were doing a Lean project. The idea behind Lean was to eliminate waste by observing people (including top performers), analyzing what they did, and eliminating wasteful activities. Many tasks were observed in a two to three day period, and many of these were eliminated. About three weeks after this organization eliminated these tasks, things started going wrong. This continued for many months. Eventually, the organization brought us in. As we worked with the stars, we realized that they had eliminated many tasks that appeared random during observation, but were actually creating conditions for success later on. We restored almost everything they had eliminated. Next we led the stars to define a compelling purpose for the group and align their business processes. The performance of the organization soared. Observations are inherently limited in time and depth, and they produce incorrect assessments about what is needed for success. In order to be successful, you have to dig into the stars’ compelling purpose and mastery. This can only be achieved with specialized questions and group interaction, not simple observations.]]>

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