The Natural Flow of People and Performance

by Neville Pritchard, Chairman of People in Flow Group, CEO People in Flow HR


With greater flow comes greater energy. Within Human Resources, Learning & Development, Talent, Training and Coaching we are continually trying to lift energy levels in order to address issues such as engagement, absenteeism, illness (particularly stress related), productivity, sales levels, customer experience and service. We invest billions in reviewing structures and processes and significant time and money in Leadership, Management and Talent training programmes. We attempt to lift levels of knowledge through accredited academic programmes for those we believe to be key employees.


Is what we have been investing in to make the difference actually achieving our intent? Are we seeking to really make a difference or are we in an organization where under-performance against potential is acceptable? It has to be time to try something different!


The shock in this is that for so many centuries we have defaulted to system and process change to make a difference; ignoring the power of the fully released energy of all those we employed to add value and to bring their strengths to the products and services we offer to others. An island based telecommunications company recently conducted some research with a leading University. The Executive and Senior Management were concerned that after a lot of investment in people related support and significant investment in change there were still some significant shortcomings against hoped for levels of performance. The assumption was that the individual staff were still resisting change and that management were not strong enough to influence them. The findings showed that the management and staff were all totally behind the changes, were equipped and willing. The controls introduced by the executive to ensure success were getting in the way. People were spending so much time complying they had little energy left to add value and fully commit. The systems and processes that enabled the executive to measure, ‘manage’ and discuss were negatively impacting the achievement of intent.


Let’s explore the implications of that research. Firstly, are all of HR processes enabling their intended results? Let us consider just a few actions that we may want to rethink. As an example, there are a number of individual performance management approaches. One approach includes a forced distribution curve – do we need it? Can it be implemented with fairness and consistency? Should we be rating individual performance IF team performance is more important? Why are we doing it? If the answer is performance motivation then think again! Daniel Pink in his book ‘Drive’ notes that there is a detach between what science knows and what we tend to do in organizations. He identifies Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose as the three keys to motivation. In our research using this as a foundation we have found so many HR practices that are not aligned and integrated, that are neither as efficient nor as effective as they might be, are providing only governance and do not support a sustained cultural lift.


Should HR focus on compliance or add value or both? In some groups the desire for management to control everything may override a need to let expertise play and to work with expertise. Are those within HR perceived by management as people who are experts and that their contributions could add value? We at People in Flow HR have often viewed the roles within people related functions as similar to sport teams with either defensive, creative midfield or attacking potential. Consider your people related functions. Which position would they each fulfil? Each should have value; each has a different value. Each needs a different kind of expertise. Focus on value may help perception.


One thought we have had recently – we don’t really do ourselves any favours with the term Human Resources. People are really ASSETS when released to add their full potential value….. not resources to be ‘managed’. We like the approach within Facebook where everyone is expected to play to their strengths every day. They are empowered to be their best. This does not mean that ‘entitlement’ should reign and that there is no need for leadership or that activity doesn’t need some form of framework…. But it does mean that micro management is not required! 




So, how do we lead by letting go? We build TRUST. We understand people. We enable people to be in flow more often and to be contributing their best value. We don’t try to trip people up deliberately to enable an easier allocation of ratings!


What matters – individual / team performance / organization / customers/ society? They ALL matter. We try to ensure that there is context in everything we do. As Simon Sinek says in his book – ‘Start with Why’….. At People in Flow we then follow the natural flow of questions to ensure that everything aligns to that. Organizational strategy, design, development, and results all relate to aligned intent.


At People in Flow we believe that we add value in being a Cultural Transformation Company. We help organizations to understand and transform their culture and results through their people doing things differently. We encourage people to take the risk of winning. 


As an example we recently asked ‘do you enable a natural flow from learning to performance?’    There was just one thing to check. What was asked at the end of training? This is a crucial point in the transfer of learning to performance. So, do you simply ask what has been learned and what is planned as a result? Or, do you ask a full set of ‘happy sheet’ questions that asks the delegate learner to assess their satisfaction in a whole range of things. Once you move from basic transfer questions you introduce a new role – not learner or performer but judge! Once you ask them to  judge their responsibility to take their learning into performance is blocked. We have found that the ‘other’ types of questions can be answered from a variety of other sources and a serious application of learning to performance activity at this point and beyond can really add to the impact of your investment in learning.


Our findings certainly throw light up the debates surrounding management, leadership, talent development, performance management and beyond. Within HR and L&D we need to be absolutely clear that we are enabling the natural flow of people and performance. One thing to reflect upon; Common practice does not mean best practice. What works for one culture and organization may well not be appropriate in another.

Neville Pritchard is a performance consultant, coach and mentor and works with global clients to transform levels of trust and impact engagement, productivity and other key contribution measures. People in Flow HR specialises in the coaching and mentoring of HR professionals and works with HR functions to further enhance their impact on organization results. Neville has led award winning approaches and programmes in organizational learning and is a frequent speaker on trust within and in organizations, HR & learning strategy, measurement of impact, operational HR, and leadership development strategy.

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