Unlocking the key components of high performance: discover the Performance Triangle.
In the pursuit of organizational success, understanding the key components that shape performance is crucial. Today, we’ll take a closer look at each component and their significance in driving performance. From the fundamental aspects of the work environment to the factors that motivate employees to go above and beyond, we’ll explore the intricate dynamics that make up the Performance Triangle.
But before we dive in, let’s set the stage by understanding the context of these components and how they relate to real-world scenarios.
The Performance Triangle comprises three essential components: Physical (workplace Hygiene), Psychological (work Motivation), and Cognitive (personal Engagement). Each of these components plays a distinct role in shaping performance within organizations, and together, they form the foundation for excellence.
“Physical”: Workplace Hygiene
The Physical component relates to the fundamental aspects of the work environment. It encompasses factors such as safety, comfort, and basic needs. Workplace hygiene elements are essential for creating a foundation that prevents dissatisfaction and directly influences employee retention. Examples include a clean and organized workspace, proper equipment and resources, and adherence to health and safety regulations. Pay and benefits, and job security are also part of workplace hygiene.
The Psychological component represents the factors that motivate and drive employees to “do a good job.” These motivators are intrinsic to the job itself but go beyond basic needs, and influence job satisfaction. Motivators can include intrinsic interest in the work, recognition, challenging tasks, growth opportunities, and a sense of achievement.
The Cognitive component reflects the strength of the mental and emotional connection the employees feel toward the work they do, their teams, and their organization, and to what extent they are making themselves psychologically available to the organization. It encompasses aspects such as a sense of purpose, commitment, and alignment with organizational values and goals. Engagement is intrinsic to the person and is the very secret ingredient that boosts productivity, turning the mundane “doing my job” into extraordinary “achieving excellence.”
Interactions within the Performance Triangle
The three components of the Performance Triangle (H – M – E) are interconnected and influence each other in various ways. It is important to appreciate that there are always two triangles at play: the desired and the real one.
The desired, ideal triangle is typically visualized as equilateral (the blue triangle on all images). In a real business environment, the actual Performance Triangle is rarely equilateral, and a sustainable high-performance triangle should better be scalene. Several factors come into play here.
First, workplace Hygiene should be as close to the expected industry norm level as possible. Hygiene is a dissatisfier, i.e. it should be minimized. However, improving it beyond the industry norm is pointless (like “minimizing below zero”) and is an unjustified expense for the business.
On the other hand, work Motivation is a satisfier. It is a need, and a need functions as a motivator only until it is satisfied. Thus, there should always be “room for improvement” left – an opportunity to grow, recognition of achievement, or new challenges.
Finally, in advanced organizations, the Engagement vertex has a natural tendency to go above the “expected.” The nature of engagement is similar to that of Maslow’s self-actualization. It is rarely fully achieved. However, the pursuit of personal growth and self-actualizing tendencies can act as an engagement driver. This pursuit leads to a more meaningful and fulfilling existence, which, in turn, contributes to higher productivity at work.
In contrast with the Hygiene component, which is essentially a static endpoint, Engagement implies continuous progress and development – which is why increasing Engagement is the basis of any continuous improvement activity.
The Performance Triangle allows for eight combinations and balances of the three components, resulting in varied performance outcomes. Let’s explore all possible configurations of the performance triangle and provide theoretical organization examples for each. For simplicity and consistency, we will refer to the three vertices as Hygiene, Motivation, and Engagement.
Since these are theoretical constructs, it is improbable for any organization to perfectly embody any single one of them. However, you will likely identify your organization and gain insights into where to direct your efforts for performance improvement by recognizing the “red gap” between the ideal and real triangles.
1. PARADISE: Good Hygiene, High Motivation, High Engagement
In this scenario, employees experience satisfactory physical conditions, are highly motivated, and demonstrate high levels of engagement. They are committed, proactive, and aligned with the organization’s values.
An example organization could be an established consulting firm that offers a comfortable and well-equipped workplace and excellent compensation package, provides challenging projects, fosters a collaborative culture, and encourages employees to contribute innovative ideas.
While I have had experience working for a couple of such organizations, maintaining this ideal state proves challenging for private companies and completely unattainable in the public sector.
2. ROLLERCOASTER: Poor Hygiene, High Motivation, High Engagement
In this scenario, employees face physical working conditions that are suboptimal or lacking, but are highly motivated by psychological factors and demonstrate high cognitive engagement. They are driven, innovative, and committed despite all challenges.
An example organization could be a start-up operating in a small office space with limited resources, but the employees are passionate about the vision, highly motivated to succeed, and actively contribute their expertise.
3. TECHNOPOLIS: Good Hygiene, Low Motivation, High Engagement
In this scenario, employees have satisfactory physical conditions, lack strong psychological motivators, but demonstrate high cognitive engagement. They are intellectually involved, driven by the desire to solve problems or contribute to their field.
An example organization could be a public R&D organization where employees have access to state-of-the-art facilities, and are involved in cutting-edge projects, but may not receive sufficient recognition or rewards. While the organization may have achieved certain success, it is not capable to realize the full potential of its workforce.
4. STAGNOPOLIS: Good Hygiene, High Motivation, Low Engagement
This Performance Triangle represents a scenario where employees have satisfactory physical working conditions, and are motivated by various factors, but not engaged.
This triangle covers the vast majority of government agencies, crown corporations, and public companies. An example organization could be a public university that provides good working conditions, job security and pay, but lacks genuine shared Values and Purpose.
As Hygiene and Motivation together constitute Job Satisfaction, it’s no surprise that many of these companies made it to the Best Employers list. But at the same time, with all respect to their respective “best employers,” employees of these companies are almost universally unionized. What gives?
The Performance Triangle gives the answer. When employees have “reached” their desirable levels of workplace Hygiene and Motivation, many of them feel the natural, almost biological, need to continue growing somehow. But with no Purpose nor shared Values that could align them and encourage personal development, their vision of a “more rewarding job” is limited by material aspects. Incited by the union activists, they demand “better working conditions.” However, when the next level of satisfiers is achieved, it becomes the new baseline almost immediately. The cycle repeats itself, the union calls another strike, and production costs go another step up, effectively decreasing productivity.
For Canada, the most relevant example today is the recent CRA strike. The dubious rationality of the union’s demand is evident from their slogans: “We believe that all workers in this country deserve a pay rise.” If everyone gets a 15 percent pay rise over the next three years, with no increase in productivity, then inflation will rise and set the stage for another strike.
5. SAMARITARIUM: Poor Hygiene, Low Motivation, High Engagement
In this scenario, employees face poor physical working conditions, lack strong psychological motivators, but demonstrate high cognitive engagement driving their performance despite the negative aspects. Despite the challenges, they remain intellectually involved and seek opportunities for personal growth.
An example organization could be a non-profit organization operating in challenging environment where employees are driven by a deep commitment to the cause, despite limited resources and recognition.
6. MERCENARIUM: Poor Hygiene, High Motivation, Low Engagement
This Performance Triangle represents a situation where employees may face physical working conditions that are suboptimal or lacking but are motivated by various psychological factors. However, they may not exhibit high levels of cognitive engagement.
An example organization could be a low-tech business with limited resources, where the employees are motivated by a sense of community, camaraderie, and the opportunity to support themselves.
It can also refer to various organizations made up of contractors, regardless of their specific field of activity, with the most extreme example being a private military company.
7. DOLDRUM: Good Hygiene, Low Motivation, Low Engagement
This Performance Triangle represents a situation where employees have satisfactory physical working conditions but lack strong psychological motivators and cognitive engagement. They may be content with the basic aspects of their job but lack enthusiasm or a sense of purpose.
The vast majority of organizations, especially SMBs, will recognize themselves in this triangle. Another example could be a government agency with stable positions, standard procedures, low-tech environment, and limited opportunities for growth or recognition.
8. SWEATSHOP: Poor Hygiene, Low Motivation, Low Engagement:
This Performance Triangle represents a scenario where employees experience poor physical working conditions, lack strong psychological motivators, and exhibit low cognitive engagement. They may feel dissatisfied, alienated, and lack enthusiasm.
An example organization could be a struggling retail store with outdated facilities, minimal wages, and limited opportunities for growth or development.
So, What’s yours like?
The Performance Triangle provides a comprehensive framework for understanding and improving organizational performance. By examining the interplay between workplace hygiene, motivation, and engagement, you can unlock the keys to success.
To assess your organization’s triangle, consider the following questions: Does your company resemble a Paradise, where employees experience optimal physical conditions, high motivation, and strong engagement? Or does it lean towards a Sweatshop, with poor working conditions, low motivation, and minimal engagement?
If you find that there is a misalignment between your perception of the organization and how your employees feel, it’s crucial to address the issues at hand.
Here are some cornerstone rules to guide you on your journey towards enhancing organizational performance:
– Engagement is a major driver of performance and can significantly impact productivity.
– High engagement may lead to improved motivation and increased productivity.
– High satisfaction will not lead to higher engagement, will not improve productivity, and may increase employee turnover.
– Elevating engagement will consistently enhance performance while surpassing industry norms in workplace hygiene can escalate costs without proportionate gains in productivity.
As you reflect on your organization’s Performance Triangle, consider the areas where you can make meaningful changes. Strive for a balance that promotes workplace hygiene, fosters motivation, and nurtures engagement. By doing so, you will unlock the potential for excellence and continuous improvement.
Remember, the Performance Triangle is more than just a theoretical construct; it carries practical implications that drive success within your organization. This powerful tool will enable you to cultivate a workplace that exceeds expectations, attracts top talent, and sets new industry standards.