Dec 12, 2018
Often, getting an organization to that next level--the one where you're not just meeting goals, but surpassing them and moving into almost unimaginable territory--can be tricky. It's not always obvious how to move beyond business as usual, particularly when business as usual has gotten strong results up to this point.
I spoke with Simon Marshall, JMJ's Europe, Middle East and Asia regional director, about what it takes for an organization to elevate to a next level.
In this interview, Simon compares Organizational High Performance to a game of 3d chess, one where years of successful cultures and histories must be considered alongside of moves that are stepping into new horizons.
JWF: If you were talking to somebody who has never been exposed to JMJ’s work, how would you explain what JMJ’s High Performance work is and does?
SM: JMJ’s High Performance™ work plays in the space of an organization or a project that has pretty much tried everything it knows how to do to improve their performance, but there is still a real sort of tension, which is, “I know we can do more. I know there must be more than this. I know that we’re not delivering on our full potential.” The organizational or project leadership team is in that inquiry and they’re looking for something other than what they’ve tried before.
So, our High Performance offering plays in that space, it plays in bringing something new in to the space of performance. As we know at JMJ, bringing something new does not necessarily come about exclusively from shifting the content of the work of the project or organization. The High Performance approach has more to do with shifting people’s context around how the world occurs to them. We challenge them and help them to challenge themselves to understand their own thinking. We help them see why their view of the world results in the way they work and ultimately the results they achieve. Then we help them see what could be possible by taking a different view, one based on possibility and commitment. We then help and support them to get into action around this commitment and vision of what is possible so that they can really bring about extraordinary performance.
JWF: So first you work to shift the context, and then get people into action around that context. How do you actually do that?
SM: We do this through our proven consulting approach, which is deeply sourced from what we call Transformation.
The first stage of that is about getting very present and related to the “What’s So.” [Editor’s Note: “What’s So” is a term we use at JMJ to encompass an overall look at the current, honest reality found across a project or organization, including beliefs, commitments, experiences, culture, observable processes, etc.]
In this first stage, the leadership team of an organization or project must really see this What’s So, in a way that they can really own it. That is done through conversations prompted by a diagnostic process with interviews and an assessment process which effectively gets everyone in the organization or project complete with the What’s So.
That then opens up the space for creativity and generative thinking. That’s where our Commitment process comes in, enabling us to support the clients to take on something new, extraordinary and generative.
Through seeing this new, extraordinary vision as possible, our clients can then commit to this possibility becoming a reality. Whereas, previously, goals and actions towards future results were directed by past experience—trying more, better or different versions of what has or hasn’t worked—now we can create something extraordinary from a new commitment to what is now seen as possible.
The rest of the process is about supporting the client to communicate the commitment, working on Alignment around that new future and developing the skills, the training, the mindset, the tools and the thinking that will bring this into existence.
JWF: How do you see this work operating inside of organizations differently than it does inside of a project?
SM: They are very different situations.
In a project, often there’s a culture that is starting to emerge. You might have people brought together specifically to achieve the project goal, so there are lots of different cultures. But there may not much history among these cultures working together. There may not be a communications department. There may not be an HR department. There may not be a whole load of structures such as leadership teams set up. Thus, creating something new that is going to deliver this extraordinary High Performance is relatively straight forward.
In an organization, it is much, much more complex. You have your HR department. You have many years—sometimes over 100 years—worth of history and culture that’s built up. You have lots of stakeholders, and you have lots of stories about “the way things are around here.” You have lots of inter-dependencies and structures that are embedded as far as job accountabilities, ways of working, culture norms and values, all of which need to be recognized, understood and owned.
That’s why it’s much more difficult to move an entire organization than to shift a project. On a project, it’s hard enough to shift the culture, the context and the source of results. In my view, I liken working on a project to playing chess.
Shifting an organization’s performance, culture and context, however, is a bit like playing three dimensional chess! Inter-dependencies, history, stories, models and tools they have built up over many years adds another dimension of complexity. Those additions are all great things, but require a different level of consulting to be able to interface with all of them, to honor them so that they are not wrong. We work with the leadership to connect with them to put wind in the sails where it is needed. We support the client so that the solutions we develop together really empower all of the complex structures that have made their organization great up to this point.
So, basically, when we’re talking about organizational Transformation or organizational High Performance work, what we’re trying to do is to create a powerful context, put wind in the sails of all of their existing initiatives, all the different ways of working they have, and all the ongoing programs that they utilize to improve performance and identify anything that is missing. Really, what we’re doing is linking all of those things and providing a different context for them which will “bring them to life.”
I often describe our organizational client interventions as helping an organization get on a learning journey, rather than providing another initiative, program, or something else to do. It is really a learning journey that will get them in an appropriate inquiry around how they can link all of the stuff they are currently doing, get the most value out of it and achieve the performance that they want to achieve.
JWF: You’ve talked so far about what the High Performance process looks like overall, but what could an organization expect on their end if they were to take on this process? What kind of experience would they have?
SM: Before they start, they would probably be experiencing a fair bit of frustration in that they are probably doing well, but not necessarily doing great. They are looking for great and looking for something other than what they are currently doing and everything else they’ve tried to help them get there.
Once they begin, it will look more like a learning journey, as I said, rather than a solution. We won’t show up as a solution and we should never show up as a solution to them. It would look more like a journey of discovery.
I mentioned the diagnostics earlier. That is usually one of the first things we would do. This leads to a creating the vision of the culture that they actually want and the future they are committed to bringing into existence. That often is a very uplifting and motivational experience for our clients. It releases a huge amount of energy inertia and a passion in people.
Then, there’s the whole experience of communicating that vision and enrolling their organization in it as a possibility and an opportunity. Then our clients experience our coaching, which will probably be different than coaching they’ve experienced before. It gets them to be very self-reflective, taking themselves on, inquiring into who they need to be to bring this vision or commitment into play.
Overall, the experience is very much about self-reflection, along with a lot of excitement about the new possibility and the learning journey.
JWF: What kind of results might they expect?
SM: Well, the results our clients can expect are very closely correlated to the results they commit to. JMJ is an organization that partners and commits to our clients’ commitments. We have the technology that does release something extraordinary in everyone that works for that organization, so the sort of results they can achieve are in the realm of whatever they are prepared to commit to and work to bring into action. The results are completely correlated to what they are prepared to commit to publicly inside that organization and bring about.
We know that lots of exciting things have happened with our clients in the realms of safety in terms of history making performance. We also have a lot of examples that were done in an organizational space. A great example of that is BAM Nuttall.