How to foster better performance

Kris VanRiper and Chris Cattie

There is immense pressure on government agencies to rein in costs while maintaining the value delivered to citizens. “Doing more with less” is beyond cliché at this point, but that’s exactly the challenge agencies face this year given the austere conditions of the federal workplace, which include shrinking budgets, increasing workloads and hiring freezes.

Along with those challenges, a recent study by CEB shows that government leaders believe they need an 18 percent productivity improvement in the performance of their employees to reach mission targets.

Such goals can only be achieved with a new approach to enabling performance, one that focuses on employee productivity through collaboration across networks rather than individual task completion. The traditional view of successful performance focuses on an employee’s ability to complete assignments inside his or her function and agency, but that view no longer reflects the realities of how work is done.

Today, mission goals are more complex, decisions are increasingly driven by data, and workflow requires more collaboration within and across agencies.

Those changes require employees to have a broader perspective on their potential contribution to the enterprise by capitalizing on their “networks.” CEB research shows that the importance of network performance on organizational success has doubled in the past 10 years. To achieve breakthrough gains in productivity, agencies must broaden their view and consider how they can manage employees to improve both individual task performance and network performance.

In practice, effective network performers consistently demonstrate behaviors that contribute to their networks and benefit their individual performance, such as:

  •   Harnessing great ideas from other parts of the organization and applying them to one’s own work.
  •  Soliciting colleagues’ ideas and opinions.
  •  Sharing insight, feedback and knowledge with co-workers.
  •  Proactively cultivating their networks of contacts and contributing to others’ networks.

For the best network performers, those activities extend beyond direct managers and peers to employees across divisions and functions and even external partners at other agencies or outside the government.

Unfortunately, only 20 percent of employees display high levels of network performance.

To foster network performance and learning across the team, managers should take the following steps:

  •  Encourage employees to focus on enterprise contributions over individual tasks. By focusing on broader goals, managers would grant employees the flexibility and autonomy to identify network solutions that maximize their impact on the enterprise. After observing such behaviors, managers should reinforce them across the team through public recognition and rewards.
  •  Target network performance competencies. Research shows that some competencies are more indicative of network performance than others — for example, teamwork, organizational awareness, self-awareness and influence. Managers should communicate the importance of network performance competencies and hold employees accountable for developing them throughout the year.
  •  Increase the size and quality of employee networks. The best network learning activities occur among individuals or groups that can mutually benefit from the collaboration while offering relevant feedback and support. Managers can help employees identify those connections and cultivate relationships by identifying informal leaders who can play a key role in advocating and teaching network performance behaviors and by helping employees understand the priorities and motivations of stakeholders and the dynamics of stakeholder relationships.

Read the full Executive Handbook package

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How to make the most of a mentor
How to share a service
How to join the Senior Executive Service
How to assess your team
How to influence policy
How to stay out of the weeds
How to learn from success
How conformists can spark creativity

Network performance is just one piece of the performance puzzle, but it is an area of increasing influence that is often overlooked. That is especially true in the public sector, where many executives have lamented the siloed nature of their function, division and agency.

Only through a new perspective on network performance will agencies be able to achieve the productivity efficiencies they seek.

About the Authors

Kris van Riper is a managing director at CEB.

Christopher Cattie is an analyst at CEB.

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Reader comments

Wed, Mar 13, 2013 Peter Bayer

People do what they are measure and assessed on. The thrust of this article is right on; however, until there is an effective and easy way to define, capture and objectively assess more abstract contributions of "network performers", the vast majority will continue to be task and activity focused.

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