The Self-Management Process

SelfManagementProcessI met this morning with Robert McHardy, a neighbour of mine (and a good poker player) who also happens to be an executive at Self-Management Group, a recruitment process and professional development consultancy with a unique approach to its craft. The organization is best known for its three stage turnkey recruitment process: (1) a pre-screening for capabilities, by which candidates use an online SMG profiling questionnaire to acknowledge whether they do or do not have the essential competencies needed for the job, (2) a structured interview to assess candidates’ competencies and work-habits, and (3) an unstructured interview to assess candidates’ fit with the organization’s culture and precise requirements of the position. What lies behind this recruitment process, however, is a complete model of alignment between individuals’ and employing organizations’ performance objectives, and a philosophy that espouses self-management as a means of optimizing, sustaining and improving that alignment.

What is intriguing about this model is that it appeals, in different ways, to both liberal and conservative worldviews of the relationship between employers and employees. To the liberal, this model allows each individual to take personal responsibility for managing their own life-long career and developing their own skills — abilities that are portable as employees move from company to company or create their own enterprise. To the conservative, this model allows employers to offload much of the responsibility for employee performance from management and corporate trainers to employees themselves, and also puts the onus on employees to optimize their attitude and energies, for the betterment of both themselves and their employees. It’s a very libertarian approach to professional development and personal productivity.

The model says that people should be evaluated and rewarded on performance, not on results. Results are absolute outcomes that can be influenced by many uncontrollable factors and hence may have little to do with an employee’s own efforts. By contrast, performance is success relative to potential, and is a process that is fully controllable by the individual and largely a function of effort.

The model is:

Performance =

Competency (i.e. Talent + Skills) x
Applied Effort (i.e. Commitment + Energy) x
Environment (i.e. Position Fit + Cultural Fit)

In other words, what you get done is a function of (1) your natural talents and learned skills, (2) the focus and energy with which you apply those talents and skills, and (3) the amenability of the organization, both as a result of your position and the overall organizational culture (structure, style, systems, and modus operandi), to provide the opportunity for that effort to be effective. (What you get done) = (What you have) x (What you do with it) x (Where and how you do it).

If you haven’t the talent or the skills, or get disengaged, distracted or discouraged, or if the organization just isn’t receptive, you will not succeed. What is controversial is that Self-Management Group says individuals have control over all six elements of the equation, and that it is in the interests of management to teach each employee, and of employees to learn, how to ‘self-manage’ these six elements of performance and productivity.

My immediate reaction was great skepticism. I accept that, in this day and age, we must each take primary responsibility for our own competency, but surely the organizational environment is outside our control, and, if our applied efforts are continually rebuffed by indifferent, misguided or otherwise-preoccupied management, surely that will start to dampen our enthusiasm and sap both our commitment and energy to keep doing our best? How can this be our fault? Haven’t these guys heard that 90% of everything wrong with business is because of management?

Robert’s answer is that fault-finding, and causality, are beside the point. The environment is what it is, and organizational culture changes very slowly, so as employees we need to understand it, accept it, and apply ourselves within those constraints. If we conclude that we simply cannot be productive in that environment, then we need to change that by either getting into another position in the organization, or finding another organization with a culture more receptive to what we have to contribute.

And this isn’t just true in the workplace — it’s true in whatever we’re doing: Personal relationships, fields of study, hobbies, communities where we live and make friends. The equation above holds true, and if the performance is low, it’s up to us to fix it. Each one of us has the power, and the responsibility. The self-management process is:

  1. Set your own goals, performance objectives, and challenging but realistic expectations
  2. Figure out what you need to do: Concrete, measurable, (self-)manageable steps
  3. Make a personal commitment to do them, keep that commitment, and give yourself credit for keeping it
  4. Evaluate your own performance (using the above formula) and its results
  5. Reward yourself for high personal performance (and ignore external, purely results-based rewards unless there is a sustained and pronounced disconnect between these external rewards and your self-assessed performance)

The higher you reasonably set your own expectations, the greater your performance is likely to be: If you think you can,do it, you’re right. Instead of relying on external motivation and rewards, learn to self-motivate and self-reward. Ultimately, no one else can motivate you — the best they can do is to guess what would motivate you and reward you for that behaviour/effort. That’s why management-run contests and bonuses can ultimately become de-motivating — they need to be sustained, become expected, and if they reward unachievable or uncontrollable results they can be demoralizing and lead to dysfunctional and irresponsible behaviours. By contrast, self-motivation is self-reinforcing: Personal achievement brings personal satisfaction and other self-rewards, as well as new competencies and greater self-confidence, which raises personal expectations, which further increases personal performance and achievement.

McHardy explains that there are some tricks to doing this right: You need to learn to budget your energies and align them with the commitments you’ve made to yourself, to avoid burnout. You need to break performance objectives down into achievable interim objectives you can measure against each small step towards a major goal. By focusing 80% of self-management on allocation of time and energy, and only 20% on objectives and results, you learn about why, when and how results are achieved, which improves future performance further, and you can anticipate (and adjust energies for) unsatisfactory results, and not blame yourself for them. And for procrastinators, he offers this advice: Put your energy into doing it, not into thinking you should do it. Choose what should be done (prioritization), immediately turn the “I should” into “I will” (commitment), and turn the “I will” into “It’s done” (keeping the commitment). Getting Things Done can help here.

All of this is consistent with what Tom Peters called ‘businessing’ your own job, being the CEO and sole proprietor of your own enterprise offering services to your employer, and setting and following your own Business Plan.

This adds another element to the Personal Productivity Improvement equation. Initially I described PPI as helping front-line employees use the tools and knowledge available to them effectively — Personal Content Management and Personal Technology Management. Then I added in helping these employees to handle information processing activities and information overload more effectively — Personal Workflow Management. Now we can add Personal Performance Management to the PPI skill-set.

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2 Responses to The Self-Management Process

  1. GVS says:

    Good points.Suggest you read Drucker’s Effective Executive which discusses the “what” of self management. Then read Personal Software Process by Watts Humphrey which gives you the “how”.

  2. Lynne Lloyd says:

    Thank you for your excellent website which I will come to often now that I’ve found it. As I am in the process of setting up a business in Queensland, Australia on managing people performances, this article was very relevant. Used the link the the SMG website and found much of what they have researched and created is very aligned to what I want to do. I am keen to find out more about SMG – you may have started a beautiful business relationship?! All the best, Lynne.

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