Invisible Determinants of Organizational Performance – Aggregate Propensities

When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.

                                                                                    ~Wayne Dyer

Everywhere we turn, talk is about innovation. The need to find new ideas, new ways of doing things, and simply new answers for the future is on everyone’s mind. And yet, our mental model for how we want organizations to achieve high performance hasn’t really changed at all. Yes, teaming, leadership and culture change have been complemented by such concepts as design thinking, digital transformation, and the gig economy, but the fundamental conception of organizations as a through-put mechanism using people and resources to produce desired outputs – goods and services, and desired outcomes – profit, hasn’t really changed. In our current way of thinking, racing against time and reducing resource usage is seen as the primary way to improve outcomes. But is that truly the only way?

The logic of how something manifests from nothing is rarely a topic of conversation and yet, it is at the root of everything. How does a spark of inspiration become conceptualized, socialized, commoditized, realized, monetized? On one level, the answer is simple: through people and processes. At a deeper level, the answer becomes more interesting. It is not the orchestration of information, materials, and workers that produces results, but rather the moment-by-moment interplay of reasoning and relating preferences across an entire organization, including its leadership ranks, that produces outcomes over time. Viewed from this perspective, what has the greatest potential to make a step-change in organizational performance isn’t efficiency-seeking, but rather a deepening understanding of how behavioural preferences shape an organization’s performance capacity and social dynamics.

High quality predictive behavioural analytics provide valid and reliable information on the behavioural strengths and constraints of an individual. This is as useful for personal career decision-making as it is for making hiring, development and promotion decisions within an organization. When aggregated however, this same predictive behavioural data becomes a powerhouse giving profound insight into the ‘propensities’ of teams, departments, levels, and even entire organizations.

How is this possible? It is quite simple. Propensities behave lawfully. Shared highs will amplify to create organizational strengths and sometimes rigidities. Shared lows will suppress to create blind spots and resistances. Opposing propensities will dilute, interfere, and may even repel to create conflict. Some propensities will consistently serve to create bonds, strengthen reciprocity, and maintain coherence in a system, while others will disrupt, clarify and assert direction, build momentum, and ensure impact. Understanding organizational performance through the lens of propensities gives leaders new ways to gauge the organization’s capacity to deliver on business strategies, to address chronic performance challenges, and to optimize talent utilization.

Traditionally, human resource functions have focused on finding and developing right-fit talent. With the introduction of predictive behavioural analytics, they can go one step further in supporting organizational performance – they can help build an engaged and motivated workforce by guiding talent management decisions, so they substantially meet the intrinsic motivation of individuals while simultaneously addressing the performance requirements of jobs, teams, and other structures. Call it championing a win-win.