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BW Businessworld

Are You Ready For Change?

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Everybody knows that business is all about managing uncertainty. What about your ability to cope with change?  Are you adaptable?  Are your key employee(s) adaptable? Can they ride the uncertainty? Most of the times we seem to ignore such important questions. 

While we all agree that the world has become much more dynamic over the years; we seldom test our own potential to ride the change. This is very troubling because the best business strategies will fall apart if the people are not ready to meet the challenges. While we generally attribute such gap to implementation issues, we seldom focus on the people who are supposed to carry out the business strategies. This leads to a clear mismatch between business strategy and the human resources management.    

What do we know?
Adaptive people are expected to solve unfamiliar problems creatively, deal with uncertain and unpredictable work situations, are good at learning work tasks and technologies, demonstrate flexibility in interpersonal adjustment, are at ease working in different cultures, and can deal with various physical conditions effectively. Based on research, we know that our performance varies over time, sometimes on a daily basis. There are days when we feel like being a “superstar”, able to accomplish the most difficult task while other days unable to complete the simplest of chores – a feeling of “being dud”. This variation in performance can be seen not only in business settings but also in other occupations e.g.  acting, painting, sports etc. It is very difficult to maintain sustained high performance. As most of us follow cricket, let’s elaborate on this idea. For example, cricket fans would love to see a consistent winning performance from their favorite players, the reality is far from it. The performance variation causes frustration for even the most ardent believers. This consistent person may not deliver an exceptionally flashy performance but will be an extremely reliable player in the team. Do you have similar sets of people in your winning team? If yes, we need to pay attention to what this means for your business.

Empirical evidence suggests that on an average there is more variability within a person than between people. It means that on a given day, a less proficient employee may outperform your “star” employee. The implications are immense. Are they true reflection of the relative performance?

At the heart of the tendency to adapt is the fact that some individual differences help or hinder one’s ability to respond to environmental changes. There are certain types of individuals who are adept at taking benefit of opportunities while there are others who may squander such chances.

The way forward: what should be done?
This question can be answered from the perspective of an employer as well as an employee. First, let’s take the perspective of an employer.
  • What do you want in your employee? A consistent or highly variable “star” employee? This is a question each one of us should ponder upon. Based on that, we should align our selection, compensation and promotional process. If you want a consistent employee, you should hire highly motivated people who can persevere and overcome obstacles to take advantage of opportunities.  A less capable person under trying times may become overwhelmed or even disinterested. Make sure your reward systems are aligned to reward consistent performance.

     
  • Examine the task: Does it require you to repeat the same task or be creative each time?  When tasks are somewhat repetitive and require people to adjust a little to new settings; conscientious people do well because they are better at conforming to directions and processes. However, when tasks require people to drastically change (e.g. learn new tasks) their behaviours to go beyond stated objectives, you need people to explore new possibilities and accomplish work. People who are high on openness to experience are expected to do better during creative tasks. Have you matched your employees’ natural tendencies to the task at hand to take advantage of the natural synergies?
     
  • Describe the environment: Are there enough opportunities or obstacles? If the task is highly dependent on the external environment (e.g. culture, physical demands), employee characteristics are more likely to impact their own job performance.  Conversely, a stable job is less likely to lead to highly variable performance.
     
Assess your performance appraisal: Think of the day or time of the year when “annual” performance evaluations are carried out. If you or your organization carries out just once annual evaluation, this may be masking the true performance. Further, we know that evaluators fall prey to biases like primacy (or first look) effects, and recency effects (the most recent scenarios are vivid).  A way to avoid biases is to conduct appraisals more often. If you are reporting quarterly business results, the performance appraisal should also capture employee’s evaluation across multiple quarters.
 
What does it mean as an employee?
  • Assess your fit with job: Does your job validate your consistent performance? Or does it reward only extreme “superlative” performance? E.g. If you are a consistent performer, the organization should reward you for such. Conversely, if your performance varies wildly, make sure you are rewarded for superlative performance and not unduly punished for a less than acceptable performance. If your current performance style does not match with the HR policies; you may like to seek out a transfer within a company or other jobs that is better aligned with your performance.
  • Assess your personality: If you are conscientious person, are you in a job that is more focused on repetition of task? If the job calls for lot of creativity, you may have a hard time fitting in.
  • Assess environment: Some jobs within every organizations are relatively less immune to changing rules, competitive actions than others.  Do you enjoy challenges? Or, would you prefer a more stable context.
  • Performance appraisal frequency:  If there is only one annual appraisal, you want to make sure your efforts during the year are fully considered by your boss. If you have notched up recent achievements, do bring it to the notice of your employers. 

(The author is assistant professor - organizational behaviour, Indian School of Business)