Rule 1: Prime Directive

The Prime Directive: Create Certainty In The Workplace

Twenty-five years and a few thousand client performance management projects have let us observe the evolution of organization strategy development and execution across multiple business cycles.  This has provided us with a unique perspective on “what works and what doesn’t” in the realm of strategic and tactical planning, execution and performance management.

From that vantage point, we discovered a fundamental standard that has since unfailingly defined, and predicted, the extent to which human organizations succeed.  It was, is, a profoundly powerful concept.  We didn’t ‘invent’ or ‘innovate’ it, we ‘observed’ and ‘realized’ it during a client engagement in the early 1980’s.

Since then, we’ve seen similar organizations, implementing the same strategies, using the same processes, vendors and technologies, in exactly the same markets—each remarkably parallel enterprises in virtually all internal and external aspects—achieving diametrically opposite levels of success: one a market-crushing juggernaut, the other a market-crushed disaster.  Why?

The answer is Certainty.  The organizations that succeed are those with high degrees of Certainty. Those that don’t, have high levels of Uncertainty.  This reality derived the Certainty Principle™: The More Certainty That Exists In An Environment, The Greater The Commitment, Engagement and Contribution By Participants.

The workforce in organizations with higher levels of Certainty commit, contribute and involve themselves emotionally, psychologically, intellectually, and physically to levels that directly positively impact the enhanced collective success of the organization in which they participate.

In organizations with high degrees of Uncertainty, the workforce avoids the commitment, risk-taking, innovation, learning, caring and real work collectively required for organization success.

The reason is basic.  Humans hate to fail, and love to succeed.  Everywhere, and all of the time.  It is our basic nature, we only differ on our respective definitions of ‘success’.

At work, people require the answer to this fundamental question: “How Do I Succeed?”  The answer to which, depending on your role and status in the organization, can be broad and general (achieve our annual goals), or detailed and specific (get to work on time, balance my cash box, finish that report).  And, the workforce seeks the answer every moment of every day, in every communication, in every interaction, and in every circumstance.

But what if the Organization-to-Employee relationship cannot answer this essential question or, more likely, provides multiple conflicting answers?  Uncertainty results.  The workforce, abhorring this Certainty Vacuum, reverts to the fall-back question: “How Do I Avoid Failure?”  Basically: “If I’m not sure how to get ahead around here, I’ll just make sure I don’t get fired.”

The consequence?  Workforce behaviors in the Failure Avoidance mode are non-, and counter-productive to the goals and objectives of the organization; opposite of what happens when Success Achievement predominates.

A workforce in Failure Avoidance will spend greater and greater percentages of their time protecting their positions, playing politics, ‘sandbagging’, currying favor and polishing egos, competing with co-workers, ‘busy-working’, avoiding or deflecting responsibility, creating confusion to diffuse accountability, and generally “Covering their Assets”.  All in the name of filling their ‘Certainty Vacuum’.

When a critical mass of individuals behave this way, collective organizational success becomes impossible.  How then do you successfully create a workforce environment that clearly answers the individual and collective question “How Do I Succeed?”

The answer is: Create Certainty in the Workplace.

Creating Certainty is, in fact, the Prime Directive of integrated Enterprise Performance Management (EPM).  Everything we work on in Performance Management follows from there.  Just as optimum Certainty in Financial Resource Management is enabled by standardized rules, policies, procedures, forms, technologies, and “standards”, so too should the workforce be enabled by EPM.  Performance Management processes and technologies are a waste of time and resources if Certainty does not predominate.

Creating Certainty is a universal, enterprise-wide, all-organization-level-deep responsibility of the organization’s senior executive leadership (the Chairman, CEO, President, COO, etc.), and throughout each line of business by its unit leadership.

Creating Certainty means the elimination of contradictory answers to “How Do I Succeed?” that exist in the priorities, goals, objectives, strategies, tactics, action plans, policies, procedures, guidelines, quotas, targets, employee manuals, measurement systems, compensation, training, coaching, internal communications, marketing and other initiatives of the enterprise.

If you want your workforce to increase dollar volumes, don’t tell them so and then reward based on quantities, and then only terminate if their quality is sub-standard.  If you want to increase portfolio balances, don’t measure and reward only sales, measure and reward sales and customer portfolio retention.  Conflicting priorities such as these are the greatest source of Systemic Uncertainty in most organizations.

Creating Certainty means ensuring that your workforce really understands the business you’re in, and how your enterprise actually makes money and spends it, or gathers resources and deploys it.  A sobering fact of most industries today is that upwards of seventy percent of the workforce do not know how their organizations make money, or succeed.  Even many in senior management.  Some studies by major consulting firms peg the percentage even higher.

How can an enterprise succeed if only ten or twenty of every one hundred employees know the answer to the organization’s “How Do I Succeed?” question, much less how it specifically relates to them?

The answer is that it cannot.  Which is why there are so many underperforming organizations; and, why competition remains so crowded and fierce in so many market verticals.

Across all markets, all leadership philosophies, all economic environments, all management methods, all competitive environments, and all political orientations, far and away the best predictor and enabler of success has been Certainty.

Fundamentally, in all human enterprise, every member of the workforce needs optimum Certainty about their contribution to and responsibility for their organization’s resource, relationship and process management mission.

Whether we’re talking about employees, representatives, educators or public servants; customers, patients, students or constituents; acquisition, retention or enhancement; businesses, organizations, schools or governments: Certainty is the key to performance success.

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>>> Rule 2