The Path to Peak Performance

Profitability and productivity—two metrics that matter. As the global business and employment environment becomes increasingly competitive, it is essential that companies find ways to set their workforce apart. Organizations want to be productive, profitable, and innovative—but vague, ill-defined ideals are difficult to achieve when those executing them do not understand the specific roles they play and steps to take. The best way to ensure that companies and their employees stay on track to reach peak performance is to set specific performance targets.

Business performance targets…are goals for specific areas of [a] company” that serve as an indicator of its profitability and productivity. These metrics help global leaders identify opportunities for improvement. Setting performance targets requires an entity to determine their definition of success, so that they may design and prioritize goals with these values in mind. One company whose cast members are particularly dedicated to living their mission statement is The Walt Disney Company, whose business model embodies a stated commitment to “entertain, inform and inspire [through storytelling].”

Clear Communication

Once an organization’s mission statement has been established, design the corresponding goal(s) to be easily understood by those charged with meeting them. Users need to be aware of the nature and urgency of each task in order to prioritize their efforts. The goals themselves should provide enough challenge to motivate peak performance, while being realistic and sustainable. Management can communicate these performance targets through company-wide and smaller team meetings that emphasize not only the desired results, but also the specific steps required to get there. Breaking communication down by intermediate benchmarks and team units shows employees that they have a personal, meaningful role to play in achieving those high-level results.

In line with their mission to bring magical experiences to communities around the globe, Disney has set environmental impact, volunteerism, and healthy living goals with its Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiative. This annual update report communicates the status of various performance targets, including the goal to provide 5 million VoluntEARS service hours by the end of 2020. This target can easily be allocated between the company’s 223,000 employees, who are asked to contribute their unique talents to projects that give back to their communities. Specific deadlines and target hours provide a clear end goal to Disney employees, who can track their individual and cumulative progress through personal hours logged and company-wide status updates.

Provide the Tools

“Improving your productivity and efficiency asks for an adequate supply of the resources and tools.” Providing the necessary tools enables employees to do what is being asked of them and sends the message that the company is invested in helping them succeed. Resources might include equipment, technology, or training. Management should consider the quality and quantity of resources required to make them widely available to users. Training includes instruction beyond the initial communication of the goal and gives customized intellectual support to personnel. Providing the proper tools is an investment in results.

Another CSR target of the Walt Disney Company is environmental: to reduce net emissions by 50%, achieve 60% waste diverted from incineration and landfills, and implement Water Conservation Plans at all sites by a 2020 deadline. Goals of this nature require a greater amount of guidance and supervision from leadership. Specialist teams are needed to engineer more eco-friendly production processes and create reusable alternatives to the disposable products used by employees in every stage of the supply chain. Training must be given to each Disney cast member to fulfill their roles in alignment with these goals. Enabling the capability demonstrates the company’s commitment to excellence.

Incentives

Operant conditioning is a way of learning by means of rewards and punishments.” Every action is connected to a consequence—a reward that motivates certain results or a punishment that discourages certain behaviors. Commission and bonus compensation are standard methods of rewarding job performance. C-suite executives are often compensated with stock options that require them to be invested in creating value for the company, with millions of dollars to reward their efforts if they do. “On average, CEOs receive 50% of their base pay in the form of bonuses.”

On the other hand, there can also be a cost for poor performance. Jack Welch at General Electric was famous for systematically firing the bottom-performing 10% of his workforce each year, requiring employees to constantly vie for higher marks to avoid the penalty of termination. In either scenario, employees react to the incentives because the consequence outweighs the additional cost of time and effort expected of them. These incentives indirectly result in a company culture that promotes proactive growth.

Monitor Progress

When implementing a system of goals and incentives, leaders need a method to track those measures. It is critical that goals be definite and measurable, with intermediate checkpoints that allow team members and management to monitor their progress. One important way that management can foster continuous improvement is with regular performance reviews. Building on the traditional performance review method, GE has implemented an “in-house performance app to help facilitate every day, regular feedback.” These reviews provide valuable feedback to management on areas that need improvement and promote desired performance among their workforce.

GE’s app doesn’t just provide feedback to their employees—their performance review app also encourages those individuals to provide feedback on how a policy change affects them or how well the chosen performance metrics reflect the company’s goals. Reviewing progress provides management the opportunity to adjust their goals based on new information. The best leaders anticipate risks, plan for contingencies, and adapt their efforts. Setting performance targets for a company will be quickly negated if there is no expectation of follow up to further incentivize that behavior.

Performance Oriented

Successful global businesses establish measurable targets to achieve desired performance results. Successful leaders, within these successful organizations, do this on a personal level and take the time to mentor others in working towards their goals. Performance and profitability metrics should be used to motivate and guide teams to yield a measurably higher impact in the areas they track.