Does YesP AB work locally? Nationally? Internationally? Globally? How does your organization approach human performance technology in each of these landscapes? Is it different? How so?
When YesP AB was founded in 2002, most of our work was done in Sweden. This has changed dramatically over the years. In 2006 more than 50% of our assignments were international, and many of them aimed specifically at addressing performance improvement opportunities in complex global organizations. In recent years, we have partnered with clients in 12 countries in Asia, Europe, North America, and South America.
Our approach to performance enhancement has been consistent in terms of following a set of guiding principles, but it has also been an exciting and sometimes unpredictable learning process. Working in different cultures, industries, and levels of the organization is also a humbling experience. I believe it has turned us into better listeners.
Some clients seek our services driven by the threat of failure or the mounting pressure of poor results. They want us to help them solve their problem. Other clients are performing well already and are motivated by their commitment to becoming even better. They want us to help them realize their vision. Different starting points present us with different challenges, which, in turn, required different sets of questions.
In accordance with HPT Principles and Standards, we have seen how “building partnerships” is often the most critical success factor, while preconceived ideas and “expert” approach are some of the main pitfalls in our profession. A fundamental principle for us is to always approach issues from different stakeholder’s perspectives. In discussions about process, leadership, improved performance, and better results, there is always a risk of disconnecting from the customer perspective and, even worse, from the employee perspective.
Our slogan “Enjoy Performance” is a pledge to building healthy, inspiring work environments. To improve short-term financial performance at the expense of trust, constructive relationships, and employee development is a questionable goal.
How does YesP AB adapt to performance improvement needs for the today’s variety of generational workforces?
The fact that different generations meet in the workplace is nothing new. We believe most performance challenges we meet have to do with behaviors, beliefs, and processes that are not aligned with strategy. Certain behaviors and beliefs may be recognized as generational patterns, but generalizations are risky when you want to address specific performance challenges in a specific business environment and involve a specific set of individuals and social systems.
In Sweden, like in many industrialized countries, we have an aging population with large numbers of workers approaching retirement. At the same time, organizations here are flatter than in many other countries, hierarchy and status are less visible, and high levels of dialogue and consensus are both expected and encouraged. In this setting, the difference between generational workforces has not been highlighted in the same way as in the United States, for example.
If you are successful in attracting competent people and work systematically to give them trust and responsibility to improve or change their own situation, then maybe the generational factor doesn’t need to be so significant. Exactly how this plays out may vary in different cultural settings, but clarity of mutual expectations and good feedback practices are what really matters. From a talent management perspective, generational workforces and other diversity dimensions require a balance between standardized processes and a recognition of differences among individual needs and motivational profiles.
How do you use social media in your work? As a resource? As a solution?
Mainly as a resource to create networks and promote dialogue and exchange amongst our clients on issues connected to individual and organizational performance. We still have a lot to do in that area. In specific interventions with clients, we are just beginning to explore the possibilities. We believe it is critical to increase the quality and quantity of the conversations that take place in organizations. It correlates directly with individual and organizational performance. At the same time, different clients have very different policies and levels of maturity in utilizing social media, both from a technical and a cultural point of view. Sometimes social media is a great enabler, sometimes it may be perceived as a threat to a management style that builds on control and rigid power structures. This is one of the areas where we are looking forward to exchange views and experiences with other practitioners and colleagues in the ISPI community.
What is your favorite CPT-HPT story?
We have many good experiences of how HPT principles can be successfully applied to meet different performance challenges. Let me refer to one recent example without going into much detail.
Two years ago, we started working with the European operations of well-established manufacturing company in the renewable energy industry. Their challenge was to significantly increase productivity and reduce cost per unit to remain competitive in a market that has dramatically changed year after year, with decreasing margins and fierce competition from new low-cost, highly subsidized Asian players.
The project built on high involvement of top and middle management in creating the sense of urgency and building accountability to achieve goals that many initially considered impossible. A few key priorities were clearly set for the entire company, and an iterative process of continuous performance improvement was set in motion. It combined structured and transparent follow-up of KPIs at all levels of the organization, frequent feedback loops, and direct support to all managers and their units through coaching and performance improvement sessions. Managers were coached hands-on where they actually operate and do their job (not a conversation in some meeting room), and aimed strengthening their leadership toward the team, the individuals in the team, and the team’s customers and suppliers.
Supported by consistent communication from management on the “what” and “why,” the process significantly increased focus and speed of execution. Quick wins fueled self-confidence and new targets were set and met several times.
In the end, despite all success, it was not enough. The company had to make the tough decision to close the plant and concentrate production in Asia. It may sound like failure as it was certainly a huge disappointment for all involved, but that is not the end of the story. Solid change management practices and the fact that the entire company was committed and together in this sustained effort had a huge impact in how management and most employees dealt with the sad and inevitable decision. There was certainly some frustration, but even during the final weeks people continued to deliver on commitments. Since communication had been transparent all along, most people understood and could feel proud of their own and their colleague’s contribution. Many found it easier to cope with change and uncertainty, without falling into the trap of blame-game or having to dwell on speculations about what happened and why.
I believe it is a good example of how HPT principles can be applied in a way that creates value for all stakeholders. It means that we can create long-term benefits for individuals and communities in addition to and beyond short-term goals.
What excites you about ISPI’s work?
The three most attractive aspects of ISPI for us are: knowledge, community, and generosity.
Knowledge. ISPI has been a huge source of inspiration and learning for our company. We joined as members nine years ago and still today we are amazed by how much skill, experience, and knowledge there is out there. We have seen through the years that ISPI as a community has become more diverse in terms of practices, methods, and approaches. We welcome that.
Community. For consultants like ourselves, there is a huge value in meeting other practitioners and exchanging experiences and ideas with people who speak the same language and face similar challenges. Through ISPI, we have built many strong and rewarding relationships, not only for learning, but also for partnership and business. In the EMEA region, we have a relatively smaller (compared to North America) but outstanding community of practitioners. A true source of inspiration, which makes the Annual EMEA Performance Improvement Conference an absolute highlight every fall. [Don't miss the conference in Lisbon, Portugal, September 27-29, 2012!]
Generosity. This is where knowledge and community find their true value. The willingness to share that we have found at ISPI is in many ways unique. But it shouldn’t be taken for granted. To preserve and nurture this spirit should be a goal embedded into everything the Society does. There is great value in it, and, properly managed, it could be a major asset to attract and retain membership.
What types of learning or performance improvement opportunities does YesP AB offer its employees? Its clients?
We are lucky that learning is so deeply integrated into the work we do. To be solution neutral means that every project or assignment is a new journey of discovery, a new learning experience. We partner with clients to explore new ways and opportunities. Clients are different and so are the challenges. Don Tosti wrote once of three questions to ask before engaging in a new project. I can’t quote him exactly but it was something like: (1) Can we help and make a difference? (2) Can we learn something? (3) Can we have fun? We always consider these questions, not only once but several times. A “no” answer to any of them should be taken seriously.
A risk for consultants is to be satisfied with all the ad hoc, on-the-job learning. It is rewarding for the individual, but unsystematic and potentially invisible for the company. At YesP we have identified a few short- and long -term competencies and skills that we need to develop as a company to better serve our clients, develop our business, and realize our vision. They are described in terms of that we need and/or want to be able to offer and achieve in our partnership with clients. This defines our learning goals and specific agenda for our competence development plan every year. We attend selected courses or invite experts to in-house training, but also spend a reasonable amount of time learning from each other and exchanging experiences and best practices from different ongoing projects. To document and share knowledge is a big challenge for a small consultant firm. It requires a lot of discipline, especially when we are highly booked and spend most of our time with clients.
In terms of our work with clients, it consists mainly of performance improvement interventions, which many times stretch over a number of months or years.
We work very close to the current challenges of the organization in achieving its goals, and involve as many people as possible to support on-the-job learning, improvement, and execution. We often incorporate performance-based leadership training to develop specific skills, normally accompanied by individual coaching. A good example of this is the work we do in developing management teams to clarify strategy, improve alignment, and enhance role-model behavior. We see this as a critical success factor in most cases. It strengthens sponsorship, credibility, and sustainability. Even if solutions are tailored to specific needs and goals, we normally introduce a few models and easily accessible tools to management and employees in order to increase self-awareness and create a common language around key issues like change, performance improvement, quality, culture, etc. Our goal is to enhance internal dialogue regarding what needs to be done, why, and how.
How has YesP AB’s approach(es) to performance improvement changed over time?
When the company was founded, several of us wanted to have a greater and lasting impact on our clients’ performance. In previous jobs we had been working more like a source of inspiration, running courses, workshops, etc. We saw that while it gave us a lot of credit and confirmation, these things got seldom followed up and usually had limited impact on individual and organizational performance.
Between 2002 and 2004, we worked hard to identify and establish the set of principles and approaches that would guide our offering to clients. We had clear ideas that we wanted to partner with clients to achieve specific goals in alignment with their vision and strategy. We looked at what other consultant firms were doing and we looked for credible sources that focused on improving performance systemically and systematically. That is how we came in contact with ISPI.
We moved away from a rather simplistic approach that built to a large extent on developing soft skills and addressing individual needs to focus a lot more on process and measurable outcomes. We recognized more and more how structural and cultural systems go hand and hand and need to be in balance to achieve great performance. Since we had a stronger background in the cultural, behavioral side, we made special effort to develop our capability in those areas that had been or biggest blind spots: strategy, performance analysis, performance support systems, measurement, and business focus.
Establishing partnerships and getting sponsorship higher up in the client’s organization was also a priority. We recruited people with different backgrounds and new expertise, including one seasoned CEO with strong business, strategy, and financial skills and an experienced senior HR executive who had been in charge of performance improvement and leadership development in a global company with 40,000 employees.
We let go of old paradigms, built a more solid and diverse workforce and rapidly grew our know-how and self-confidence, boosted by several large and challenging international assignments. That is not the end of the story, though.
When we reflect on the work we’ve done during the last decade, what has worked and what has not, and what are the most critical ingredients of high performance, it all takes us back in a way to where we started. Now, with greater experience, with better methods and tools, we see clear evidence of how the biggest obstacles and opportunities for performance improvement lie less in rational constructions and linear models, and more in complex patterns of behavior and interaction between human beings, individual and collective beliefs, and the individual quest for meaning and personal fulfillment.
We are excited to develop our knowledge and skill in these areas, and explore better ways to address and influence them as underlying factors in how organizations create value.
How does human performance technology add value to YesP AB? How do you measure its worth and value?
Unfortunately, most clients do not know what HPT is or what it means. We use HPT concepts translated into a language that our clients can easily relate to. When we think of ISPI, we think more of the key guiding principles, the body of knowledge, and the positive spirit we find in the community, rather that emphasizing any particular method or model. However, we do refer frequently (and proudly) to ISPI as our international professional community, and to HPT as a key source of validated methods and practices. We do not isolate and measure the specific worth and value of HPT to YesP AB, but it is significant without any doubt.