The Flourishing Culture Podcast Series
“Four Proven Keys to Influence Performance“
March 15, 2021
Intro: Have you ever been asked, “What keeps you up at night?” I’ll bet it often has to do with performance issues related to one of your employees. Today’s episode will help you solve the problem of performance issues so that you can get on with more meaningful work. Listen in as we discuss four proven keys to influence performance.
Al Lopus: Welcome to another episode of the Flourishing Culture Podcast, where our goal is to equip and inspire you to build a flourishing workplace. As we all face today’s leadership challenges as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, we believe having a healthy culture is more important now than ever before. We are here to help you eliminate toxicity, improve your employees’ engagement, speed up new innovation, and grow your organization’s impact.
And before we meet our guest today, I urge you to subscribe to this podcast. As a result, you’ll receive our action guide. It’s our gift to help you lead your organization’s culture to the next level. To subscribe, simply go to bcwinstitute.org/podcast. Hit the Subscribe button and receive our free action guide.
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And now, let’s meet today’s special guest.
Our topic today is all about performance of the people who make up your organization, and imagine if we could hand you four proven keys to influence performance. Well, to help us do that, I want to welcome my trusted and talented colleague, Jay Bransford, the president and chief operating officer for the Best Christian Workplaces Institute. Jay, welcome back to the Flourishing Culture Podcast.
Jay Bransford: Thanks, Al. It’s great to be with you again.
Al: Well, Jay, I don’t know of any leader that doesn’t want to increase the performance of her or his people, be it individuals, teams, or the entire organization.
Jay: Absolutely, Al. No matter what kind of organization you’re running—a church, a business, not for profit, or educational institution—your people are the key to your success. And one of our main jobs as leaders is figuring out how to best enable our people to perform at their peak.
Al: Yeah. And you’ve served as an organizational development consultant for over 28 years and for some of the largest companies in the world as well, and that includes, also, churches and Christian not for profits. And for 16 of those years, you served as a missionary in Asia, in Chiang Mai and surrounding areas, whose sole focus and purpose was to serve and coach hundreds of leaders across a wide range of mission organizations. So tell us a little bit about how you came to be involved in organizational and leadership development and specifically with how to influence individual and organizational performance.
Jay: Sure. Well, Al, I’d say that God has clearly guided my path over the years to where I am now, and a strong theme emerges as I look back at my career. It’s a theme of helping to maximize performance in organizations. After college, I worked as a consultant with one of the largest consulting companies in the world, now called Accenture, and I worked in their newly formed consulting branch at the time— that was referred to as change management—and my role was to help the staff of an organization cope with and flourish amidst huge organizational changes that were going on. So it required a keen understanding of the factors affecting human performance.
And later in my career, I worked as a consultant for numerous organizations, one of which was Cracker Barrel Old Country Store, where we utilized various tools to evaluate performance and leadership and teamwork, such as a great assessment called [04:02]. We used a leadership 360 assessment tool. We used Marshall Goldsmith’s behavioral-based coaching methods, and we used Kepner-Tregoe’s outstanding model on influencing human performance.
And in our discussion today, I’m going to be referring a lot to elements of Kepner-Tregoe’s model. And if you’re not familiar with Kepner-Tregoe, I highly recommend checking them out, as the vast majority of Fortune 500 companies use their methodologies, and I’ve been certified as a trainer and a program leader for a couple of their methodologies, including how to influence human performance.
Al: Yeah. Wow, that’s a great background.
So, in your experience, how common is it for leaders to struggle with the issue of human performance within their organizations, and to what degree do performance issues typically affect organizations and their achievement of desired outcomes?
Jay: Well, good question, Al. As you’d guess, human-performance issues are as old as Adam and Eve. So, of course, there aren’t any organizations in the world who escape having to deal with human-performance problems. Virtually every organization relies heavily upon people to deliver products or services to their customers, or congregational members in the context of a church. So it makes sense that human-performance issues are at the heart of much of an organization’s ability to achieve its purposes, both financial goals and ministry goals.
A few years ago, I was able to survey hundreds of leaders within a mission organization in Asia and asked what their most critical areas were that they needed help with as leaders. And interestingly, I was able to identify 20 clear topics, or needs, that they had, and the vast majority of those topics related to leadership skills that directly related to influencing human performance. Some of those top leadership needs related to how to build an effective team or manage conflict or balance life priorities or develop their staff or communicate effectively or just to motivate their staff. Much of leadership, indeed, has to do with our ability to enable and empower people to perform well.
Al: Well, I bet you that list probably applies to most of us even, as to what our needs are. But at BCWI, we help to assess and build the health, culture, and effectiveness of Christian organizations. And our well-known Employee Engagement Surveys are a starting point for evaluating an organization. So from your experience, how do you see our Engagement Survey related to the overall topic of employee performance?
Jay: Well, I believe that our BCWI Engagement Survey is a wonderful starting point for understanding and addressing various performance-related issues that organizations commonly face. So as we’ll get into more in a minute, performance issues can relate to team issues, leadership weaknesses, communication failures, compensation and reward systems, lack of clear strategy, and an organization’s ability to put the right people in the right roles, just to name a few. Our BCWI Engagement Survey asks questions that drive down into each of those areas. And items I just listed actually represent six of BCWI’s eight key drivers of employee engagement that we evaluate. So yes, if you’re experiencing less-than-optimal performance from your people or teams, BCWI’s Engagement Survey is a powerful tool to help address that.
Al: So, Jay, I’d love to hear some of your advice on how to influence human performance in the workplace. And as we talk with leaders over time, that’s a big issue. So let’s first start with a simple question: How do you even know if and when you have a performance issue with a particular person or perhaps a team or a department?
Jay: Yep, that’s a great place to start, Al. Well, we know we have a performance issue if we have a difference between the performance we’re expecting and the performance we’re actually getting or seeing. Now in the world of problem solving and root-cause analysis, that’s what we call a deviation. And a deviation is simply the gap between expected results and actual results. However, to properly identify a deviation or a performance gap, we have to first clearly define what we expect from people and from our teams and from our departments. You’ll never know if you have a problem or a deviation if you don’t first know what you’re wanting or expecting from people. And by the way, our Engagement Survey asks questions to help identify if this may be an issue.
Al: Let’s say we recognize that we have a performance issue with a person, a team, or a department, and as leaders. So what would be the first step? How should we approach it? How do we kind of move into dealing with this performance issue that we’ve just identified?
Jay: Yeah, all right. Well, I’d like to walk us through a fairly simple approach to evaluate and resolve performance issues, and this approach encourages us to look at the issue from four angles, or perspectives. But let me start with a short answer to your question, Al, of how to approach a performance issue. The short and somewhat obvious answer is that we should go straight to the root of it all. And while I know that sounds way overly simplistic, and it is, the reality is that the vast majority of the time, going straight to the root of a performance issue is exactly what we mess up as leaders, even though we usually have perfectly good intentions.
Al: Hm, going straight to the root. So you’ve piqued my interest now, Jay. Tell me a little more. How do we mess up when going straight to the root of a performance issue?
Jay: Well, the reality is that we’re all guilty at times of jumping to conclusions about what the root cause of a performance problem really is. Or perhaps I should say that we’re often guilty of jumping to conclusions about who, not what, is the cause of the problem. So if we think about it for a minute, when you find out that something didn’t happen the way you wanted or expected at home or at work or in ministry, what’s your normal first reaction? You know, a task didn’t get done or didn’t get done right, or our child made a huge mess, or a proposal was terribly written, maybe an unclear email was sent, or the wrong groceries were purchased, or no one followed up with a problem, a request, or a suggestion we received, or we keep getting repeated complaints from our customers or congregants. Who do you normally get frustrated with in those situations? Well, the answer is I think we usually get upset with a person who didn’t perform well or who seemingly messed something up, right?
Jay: Well, guess what. Research shows us that approximately 80 percent of the time that person isn’t really the issue. The real issue is something else. The real issue is what we refer to as something in the performance system, or in other words, usually the real cause of a performance problem is not really the person; it’s the environment that we as leaders and as an organization have created to encourage and enable good performance from our people. And that’s where I want to talk about these four elements of a performance system with you.
Al: Well, now I’m already feeling convicted and falling into that category of jumping to conclusions about who. You know, aren’t we always wanting to kind of find the person to blame for these performance issues?
But, okay, so why don’t you just go ahead and walk us through these four elements, Jay? I think you’ve got me on the edge of my seat. What are these four elements of a performance system that can help to address performance issues, as you’ve outlined?
Jay: Yeah, let’s do that. But I first feel like I should stop and admit that I am definitely also guilty of sometimes jumping to conclusions about who the cause of a performance issue is. It always seems to be quickest and easiest to simply assume that the performer of the task is at fault. And sometimes it really is the performer’s fault. Actually, as we look at the four main components I want to talk about, these four main components, or keys, of a performance system, the performer itself, that person is indeed one of the four components to consider. And the other three components of a performance system are what we call the situation, feedback, and consequences.
Al: Yeah. I’m already empathizing with our listeners who are already kind of planning in their minds, “So, I’ve got a performance issue, and it’s so and so. And now I’m starting to wonder, well, maybe what’s more behind it?” So, okay, we’ve got it. There’s four components of this performance system—the performer, the situation, the feedback, and consequences—so where do we start when we start to analyze this situation?
Jay: Well, I don’t think we necessarily have to start with any one of the four components. And part of the reason is that I actually prefer to consider all four components before drawing any conclusions about how to best fix or resolve a performance issue. And oftentimes we’ll find that there can be multiple issues to fix in a performance system. So it’s better to look at the problem holistically and then decide on our course of action. But having said all that, I kind of like starting with looking at the performer, partly because it’s where our minds must naturally go to first, right? We’re thinking it’s that person’s fault. And partly I like it because I just enjoy quickly figuring out if the problem really relates to the performer or not, since very often it doesn’t. So starting with the performer can help us to stop pointing fingers faster and start focusing on real issues.
Al: Oh, darn. I like finger pointing. Oh, no, well, but I agree that finger pointing, it really is constructive. In fact, I always hesitate in reality to not finger point and to let whatever the problem is, let it get resolved and then come back and look at it.
So how do we go about looking at the performance problem from the angle of looking at the performer?
Jay: Yeah, well, thankfully, Al, I think you’ll find that evaluating each of these four components of human performance is relatively quick and easy and even intuitive. There are a number of good questions to ask within each of the four components. But for the sake of time and to not overwhelm our listeners, I’m just going to pick out one or two questions in each of the four areas today. Here are a couple of questions that you can ask about the performer as it relates to a specific performance issue.
One question might be, does he or she have the necessary knowledge and skills for the task? Simple question, but very obvious. If you’ve ever seen a person perform the task well, then you know that it’s probably not a knowledge and skill problem, right? A second question you can ask is, does the person really understand why the performance is important or necessary? And if they don’t, it’s obvious why they may not make it a priority.
Al: Yeah. I was just thinking about a situation where I didn’t do a good job of communicating why to the performer, to the person who I’d asked to do a specific thing, and that didn’t become a priority. I know exactly what you’re saying.
I trust you’re enjoying our podcast today. We’ll be right back after an important word for leaders.
We’d like to invite you to BCWI’s next webinar. Many Christian-led organizations struggle to be innovative. At BCWI, we’ve researched the key difference makers between organizations likely to stagnate and those that reinvent themselves and thrive in the midst of uncertainty. We know that innovative organizations increase impact and sustainability. So mark your calendar, Wednesday, March 24, for a free, live, one-hour webinar. We’re calling it Three Steps to Create a Culture for Innovation: Building Sustainability Today to Flourish Tomorrow. Again, join us Wednesday, March 24—the third Wednesday in March—at 1:00 p.m. Eastern or 10:00 a.m. Pacific. Please register at bcwinstitute.org.
And now, back to today’s special guest.
So, you’re right, Jay. These questions, they’re certainly logical. They’re easy to ask, even intuitive. What’s next?
Jay: Yeah, they really are, Al. You know, what’s interesting is that when looking at the performer is that most of the responsibility for fixing even this part of the four actually still rests on the leader or the organization and not on the person or performer. You know, if the person doesn’t have the knowledge and skills necessary to perform, then why haven’t we trained them better? And if the person doesn’t understand why they should be doing something, then why haven’t we made that clear to them? And overall, if we determine that the person isn’t well suited to the job, well, why did we put them in that position or role? Those things all come back to us as responsibilities as leaders. Yes, people sometimes can have attitude problems, and they can simply refuse to perform well. But how many people do you think truly show up at work and intentionally choose to perform poorly? I mean, how many people actually want to do a bad job? Very, very few. And usually the only reason someone would feel that way is that they’re unhappy with their work environment, which is our fault as leaders. So we again need to create an environment where people are empowered and motivated to perform. That’s our job as leaders, and that’s where the other three components of the performance system really come into play.
Al: Absolutely. And as we’ve listened to leaders over the years in this podcast, it does come back. It’s the leader who is the architect of the culture and the organization, that’s for sure. And obviously, if we figure out that a person is not a good fit, then we need to make some tough decisions. I mean, that’s also the case, isn’t it.
Jay: Right, yeah. When we truly don’t have a good fit with a staff member, we need to be willing and able to cut our losses without delay and either move them to a better role fit or let them go.
Al: Yeah. Well, okay, so let’s look at what’s next. What’s the second key that influences performance, Jay?
Jay: Okay. So we looked at the performer. So now let’s look at the situation. And this part of the performance system is basically all about how well we as leaders have set someone up for success or set our team up for success. So a couple of the questions we might want to consider include, have you clearly communicated exactly what the person or group is supposed to do, how they’re supposed to do it, and when they’re supposed to do it? And do they agree that your expectations are even reasonable?
So those are actually only two of six questions that I normally recommend asking. But you might be surprised at how often one or more of those questions is needing improvement. But the good news is that resolving these kinds of issues can oftentimes be quite quick and easy to do. Probably the best way to determine if the situation is set up to support good performance is really just to ask for input from the person or the people who are supposed to be performing. Do they feel like their work expectations are clear and reasonable? Do they feel like they know when they’re supposed to take a particular action? Is there anything they need from us to be able to do their jobs better? Do they feel like they have too many priorities pulling them in multiple directions? Just ask them. And again, this is about what our Employee Engagement Survey is all about, asking these questions. So oftentimes, fixing the things in the situation or the environment is quick and easy to do and very impactful on performance.
Al: So, we’ve talked to the person or maybe the team, if that’s the situation. And then we’ve looked at how well we’ve set up the work environment for success. And we might already have some good ideas on how to help improve the performance issue. So now what’s next?
Jay: All right. So we keep looking at the rest of the performance system. The third part of the system is feedback, and feedback simply refers to any information you provide for people about their performance over time. And again, you might be surprised to know that feedback is oftentimes the greatest motivator and encourager for ongoing, effective performance. And what’s great, of course, about feedback is that it’s free, and it’s easy to provide. So think about that. Probably the greatest influencer of human performance is simply giving feedback. That’s something we can all do, and we can probably do much more of it than we currently do, and that will absolutely impact the performance of your people.
Here’s an example of a powerful question to ask yourself about feedback. Simply, does the person or people receive timely, specific, relevant, and frequent feedback about his or her performance in a non-threatening way? Now, that’s a mouthful. There’s a lot packed into that, but I’ll say it one more time. Does the person receive timely feedback, specific feedback, relevant feedback, and frequent feedback about their performance in a non-threatening way? And the kicker is, do your staff actually agree with you? Do they agree that they’re getting that from you?
The bottom line is that we have to give feedback to our staff, and we need to do so frequently. At BCWI, we actually constantly ask for, receive, and share feedback from our customers, who we call our ministry partners. We want to know what our ministry partners appreciate from us and what we can do better. That’s performance feedback that we ask for, and it helps us to continually improve as an organization.
Now, as leaders, we need to not only frequently give feedback to our staff about their performance, we also need to be asking our staff for their feedback about our own leadership performance. Giving and receiving helpful feedback and doing so frequently, it’s not difficult, but it is a habit that we need to build and maintain as leaders.
Al: Yeah. And this communication is two-way.
Al: Giving and receiving, yeah.
Well, since we’re on the topic of feedback, Jay, can I just give you some quick feedback. How about that?
Al: And that is that I appreciate the specific questions you’re providing us that really help us diagnose human-performance problems. That’s really true.
So, this really seems helpful and easy to implement. What’s the fourth and the final element of the performance model?
Jay: Okay. So we’ve talked about the performer, we’ve talked about the situation, and we’ve talked about feedback. The last part of the performance model is called consequences. Now, if you’re like me, the word consequences immediately makes me feel a little uncomfortable. In my mind, it normally has a negative connotation. I tend to think of consequences as punishments. But in the context of this performance model, consequences is just a neutral term that simply refers to anything we do to either encourage or discourage a particular behavior. So we can have both encouraging consequences and discouraging consequences.
So an encouraging consequence, as you’d expect, is anything that encourages a desired behavior. And a discouraging consequence is anything that discourages an undesired behavior. So public or private recognition can be an encouraging consequence, and a demotion or an undesirable role assignment might be an example of a discouraging consequence.
Interestingly, if we look more closely at performance situations and problems, we often find that consequences exist that aren’t helpful and that even are sometimes working against the performance we desire. For example, sometimes we may reward people for getting something done quickly and on time, but we don’t reward them for reaching a level of quality in their work. So what’s the result? We get poor-quality work gets done on time. So we need to make sure we’re rewarding what’s most important to us.
One particularly good question to ask about consequences in any performance situation might be simply, are significant consequences being provided timely and consistently? And there’s three key words there—significant consequences that people care about. Are they provided timely and consistently every time they need to be? So it’s not unlike training your children, right? We have to come up with consequences for our kids that are meaningful, that they actually care about. And we have to be quick about fulfilling that consequence, and we need to be consistent in giving those consequences, whether it’s a punishment or a reward.
And I’ll quick note here that encouraging consequences that reward a desired behavior tend to be much more effective than a discouraging consequence that punishes wrong behavior. And again, we’ve seen that with our kids many times. They tend to respond much better to rewards. Both positive and negative consequences are definitely needed, but encouraging consequences tend to have a greater impact on getting the behavior you really want. And adults are no different.
Al: Yeah. That reminds me. I’ve often time I’ve heard you need to have six encouraging comments or seven for every discouraging comment, just for a proper balance. This is great stuff.
And you know, I love the questions you’re suggesting we ask to help evaluate performance problems. These are helpful tools. I appreciate it. So now that we’ve talked through the performance system, where does that leave us now?
Jay: Yeah, well, by now, Al, we will have taken a holistic, hopefully, and rational look at all the possible elements that may be affecting the performance situation for a person or, again, an entire group sometimes. And at this point, I simply suggest that you look at each of the four areas that you evaluated—the performer, the situation, the feedback, and the consequences—and just decide, hey, where is there the greatest opportunity for changing and improving performance? And you might center it on one thing or you may realize that several factors are affecting the performance of the person or the group. So choose what you want to change about the performance system, take some action, and then look to see how it’s affected the situation and that deviation in performance that you first identified. So looking at the performer, the situation, the feedback, and the consequences will inevitably allow you to evaluate and improve virtually any performance problem you’re facing.
Al: Well, I really enjoy what you’re talking about. And how about a story that will help model what you’re talking about? Do you have an example you can share with us?
Jay: Yeah, sure, Al. For those of you who like stories and examples, let me quickly share one of many possible stories of how I’ve seen this performance system come into play in a real-life situation. I was once asked by the leader of an international mission organization to intervene with a particular mission team working in an isolated part of Asia. And they were having some serious issues getting the team to work together, lots of conflict, and just weren’t achieving their purpose at all. So my wife and I flew to their location and spent about a week with them.
We used an assessment ahead of time to gather their input in advance about what was going on, and that assessment quickly helped us to focus in on the key performance issues. And guess what. Virtually none of the problems they were facing were a direct result of any one person or their performance. It wasn’t the performer that was the issue. Instead, by asking these questions, we learned that, in this case, it was the situation that was not set up at all for their success. It had never been clear what this ministry team’s main goal or focus was as a ministry, nor what their unique individual role should be. And that messed up the entire performance system. They were being asked to do things that didn’t match their knowledge and skills, that didn’t match their giftings and passions.
And instead of receiving feedback and encouragement and positive encouragement, they were constantly feeling like failures. So they were in a downward spiral. And despite each of them being wonderful, gifted people with huge hearts to serve, the lack of clarity in setting up the situation and the expectations well made it impossible for them to succeed. So in the end, we ended up helping the team and each person clearly understand what their passion and purpose from God was and what the main focus of this particular ministry should be and if and how each of them still fit well into the needs and purpose of the ministry And as a result, each of them was able to joyfully continue on or move on to the things they felt called to and energized by. It was a win.
Al: Yeah. Wow, gosh, that even sounds painful. I mean, to be in that situation, to not be clear, to feel like you’re failing, and it wasn’t the people. That’s the answer. That’s the point there. It wasn’t the people. It’s just clarifying what their role was and how they can do work that they’re gifted in. Well, that’s a great story.
Well, Jay, I’ll have to say, I love this four-keys model that we’re talking about—the performer, the situation, feedback, and consequences. I’ll have to remember that.
Let’s conclude our discussion, Jay. What’s one final thought or encouragement you’d like to leave with our listeners?
Jay: Yeah. For those listening, I think I’d just like to challenge and encourage you to try this week, or even today, to apply these four keys that we just talked about to some performance problem you’re currently facing. I assure you, you’re going to be amazed at how much influence you have on the performance of your people and your departments and your organization as a whole. So I might suggest starting on a simple performance situation or frustration that you’re facing at work or at home. And just look at the performer, look at the situation, look at the feedback, and the consequences and see what you find. And if you need some help or more details on the process, let us know. We at BCWI are here to help you succeed and to reflect Christ in the process.
Al: I certainly agree with that, Jay. And helping to improve employee engagement and overall performance is what we exist for. So thanks.
You know, I just think about our overall mission, which is to equip and inspire Christian leaders to create flourishing workplaces, and I know we’re all passionate about that. And our Employee Survey is a great place to start here, isn’t it, Jay. Here’s the four-step model—performer, situation, feedback, consequences. But, so, you’re absolutely right. The Engagement Survey’s certainly a great place for you to start to evaluate your workplace culture and help you identify those positive and even opportunities for improvement affecting your staff engagement and performance. So let’s take the first step, no question about it. And if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to contact us.
So, Jay, thank you very much. Jay Bransford, ladies and gentlemen, president and COO of the Best Christian Workplaces. And we’ve certainly found that Jay is a gifted, talented, and entrusted colleague, and I’ve really enjoyed working with you, Jay. Thanks. But most of all, I appreciate your devotion for and your service to our loving God. So, thank you for taking the time out today and speaking into our lives and the lives of so many listeners.
Jay: Thanks for having me, Al. It’s always a pleasure talking with you.
Al: Yeah. Thank you.
Outro: Thank you for joining us on the Flourishing Culture Podcast and for investing this time in your workplace culture. If there’s a specific insight, story, or action step you’ve enjoyed, please share it with others so they can benefit, too. Please share this podcast with friends on social media, and show your support by rating, reviewing, and subscribing wherever you listen.
This program is copyrighted by the Best Christian Workplaces Institute. All rights reserved. Our writer is Mark Cutshall. Our social-media and marketing manager is Solape Osoba.
Remember, a healthy workplace culture drives greater impact and growth for your organization. We’ll see you again soon on the Flourishing Culture Podcast.