Workhuman Book Club: “Unlocking High Performance” by Jason Lauritsen

July 1, 2019 Lynne Levy

6-minute read

The Workhuman® Book Club was created to inspire you with thought leadership from our speakers all year long, help you connect with other people who love to read, and provide exclusive opportunities to interact with authors. To participate in book discussions, follow Workhuman on Facebook and Twitter.

In his new book, “Unlocking High Performance: How to Use Performance Management to Engage and Empower Employees to Reach Their Full Potential,” Workhuman® Live speaker Jason Lauritsen challenges readers to question HR norms in order to unlock development and growth within organizations.

Growth doesn’t happen in an annual performance review. Rather, it happens in a continuous cycle where organizational culture and HR practices are focused on bringing out the best in employees. It is only when this shift happens that performance will start to grow.    

Jason examines performance through two lenses. The first is the historical definition of work in the early 1900s, where the focus was on manufacturing and production. Performance management practices were designed to turn humans into semi-programmable robots to power factory production. They were all about protecting the interests of the organization and minimizing thought processes involved with work. Jason says that while the context of work has changed significantly since the early 1900s, we still use the performance management practices that originated during this period.

The second lens is by looking at work as a relationship as opposed to a contract, in which the employer provides a salary and benefits in exchange for the employee’s time and effort. Data tells us that for employees to innovate and grow, they must be emotionally connected to their work, leaders, and peers – similar to relationships with family and friends. As we look at the future of performance development, we must look at it through this lens.

As I read Jason’s book, I found six key takeaways that leaders can apply as they look to enable employees to reach their full potential:

1. Moments of truth

Every part of the employee experience drives performance and innovation. There are small and large moments of truth that identify the quality of the relationship. These moments happen every single day.

Examples of significant moments of truth include:

•    Any interaction between a manager and employee

•    Recognition for meaningful effort

•    Meetings

Small moments of truth include how your co-workers and leaders greet you in the hallway or how people respond to your questions. Do people listen when you ask them a question? What is the tone of each interaction?

Each moment of truth either strengthens or weakens the emotional connection employees have with others in the organization, which then drives their commitment and investment.

2. Best practices and tools

Jason shares examples of practices that build a human culture in which employees grow and thrive, such as writing down and collaborating with your team on behavioral expectations.  However, the book makes a distinction between tools based on “best” practices versus
“right” practices. Many best practices are based on the paradigm of work as a contract. For example, the annual performance review was once considered a best practice. 

As you look at performance management tools, don’t assume what is right for one organization will be right for yours. Evaluate tools in the context of your employees’ experience, the relationship between employees and the organization, and your culture evolution.

3. Performance and growth

Traditional performance management is focused on compliance and was created to control and coerce performance. Jason argues performance should be cultivated, not coerced. People inherently want to do their best work and perform well. The key to performance management is to create conditions that unlock each person’s potential for performance. Jason recommends a process with three pillars: planning, cultivation, and accountability.

4. Certainty and clarity

Science tells us that our bodies go through a stress response when we encounter uncertainty.  A human culture where performance thrives is made up of processes and cultural norms that create clarity and certainty. It’s important that each employee is clear on:

  • What is expected from a project, task, and behavior perspective
  • Why the work matters
  • How they will succeed

This creates actionable and consistent expectations and goals. It’s also critical that organizations understand employees are unique individuals who each bring their own set of expectations for how they want to be treated. The process of creating goals and providing certainty and clarity should respect the needs of the individual as well as the needs of the organization. Remember – work is now a relationship, not a contract.

5. Cultivation

To explain performance development, Jason uses the analogy of a plant growing on a farm.  Just like a plant needs to be watered and have surrounding weeds removed, performance also needs cultivation. This involves taking action based on each unique individual and their surrounding environment and creating an employee experience that meets core human and relationship needs. To unlock each person’s full potential, leaders should focus on:

  • Motivation
  • Recognition
  • Well-being
  • Inclusion
  • Obstacle removal

6. Feedback

Feedback is challenging because of how our brain processes it. Our mind sees feedback as a threat. The book outlines several approaches to enable feedback to drive growth instead of anxiety, such as:

  • Ask permission before you give feedback
  • Share a personal story as part of giving feedback
  • Build trusting relationships ahead of time
  • Take a “feedforward” approach instead of a feedback approach
  • Teach employees how to effectively receive and process feedback
  • Build time for self-reflection into the process

When organizations can learn to embrace feedback that is employee-centric and growth focused, performance will improve.

In summary, this book challenges conventional HR norms and proposes new paradigms for how to grow performance. It’s time to accept that our traditional approaches to HR are not working, and modernize HR processes, cultural norms, and leadership practices to enable people to do their most exceptional work

Workhuman Book Club discussion questions

  1. How does your organization see the relationship between an employee and the organization: as a contract or a relationship?  What are the challenges with changing this paradigm? Where does emotion fit in?
  2. The fear of getting hurt is a large barrier to being vulnerable and forming human connections at work. What can an organization do to help employees and leaders lean into vulnerability?
  3. Who drives employee performance reviews in your organization, employees or managers? If managers drive them, what would be the reaction if you changed the process so the employee does?
  4. What change management tools have you used to successfully redesign performance management? Have they been process-oriented or employee-centric?
  5. In your organization, what are the key cultural barriers that prevent employees and leaders from fully embracing the new paradigm of performance?

(Jason Lauritsen will join Tamra Chandler, who authored our other Workhuman Book Club July selection, for a Twitter chat on Friday, July 26, 2019, at 2 p.m. ET. Tag him @JasonLauritsen with the hashtag #workhuman to ask a question about performance management!)


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About the Author

Lynne Levy

Lynne Levy is a Workhuman evangelist who lives and breathes helping organizations build cultures that bring out the best in the employees. Her mantra is “do what you love, love what you do.”