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Peak Performance

By Jon Katzenbach

How do companies get the emotional commitment from employees which leads to peak performance? This is the key question that Jon Katzenbach's latest book deals with. It is an important question, and Jon and his research team have given us a valuable tool to learn from in this case based book. I highly recommend you read it, if you feel that a key to sustainable competitive advantage is a workforce that will go the extra mile in achieving enterprise performance, like Marriott International, Southwest Airlines or the US Marines.

Almost all organizations selected were successful for at least a 10 year period based on enterprise performance criteria, such as shareholder return, customer satisfaction and quality. Many such as Marriott, Southwest Airlines, 3M, and Home Depot show up on a number of authors' lists as great companies. Just as the other authors in this set do, Katzenbach goes to lengths to determine which companies are successful using standard financial criteria before examining why their approaches to people are so successful. Moreover, the inclusion of successful non-corporations in the research adds particular value to the analysis, particularly the research on the US Marines.

The research team did not find one path to employee commitment but five paths. They are described in the diagram below. Katzenbach research determined that having only one path to emotional commitment was not usually sustainable. Multiple paths are a better way to go. He also found that some organizations need to shift their path over time as growth or other changes make the original path ineffective as a sustainer of emotional commitment. He uses Marriott International as a good example to illustrate balancing three paths to emotional commitment. Marriott integrates these three paths well according to the author:

  • Mission, Values & Pride
  • Process & Metrics
  • Recognition and Celebration

Discipline that leads to pride is a critical ingredient in employee commitment. Katzenbach feels that self-discipline rarely occurs in large numbers of people without wise enforcement of top leaders. The combination of institutional, peer and self-discipline at all levels of the workforce is critical to high performance. While it may sound like heresy, discipline and empowerment go hand in hand in successful organizations.

These successful companies used disciplined practices in a limited set of areas to channel energy into performance. They also worked hard at developing integrating mechanisms to ensure cross organizational alignment.

The author spends a good deal of time comparing the success of Southwest Airlines, the only airline to be profitable for over 20 straight years, with the very successful US Marines. It's a fascinating comparison. Some of the key similarities he found are:

  • Using discipline to build pride in self and the organization
  • Emphasizing individual responsibility
  • Selection of people who fit with their values, and could identify with their mission
  • Quickly weeding out those that do not fit the values or identify with the mission, or are not disciplined enough to deliver on the values.
  • Focusing on the front line work force caring about each and every person
  • Turning ordinary people into top performers

The diagram below describes the paths to employee commitment and peak performance that Katzenbach found. The descriptor bullets next to each label are culled from a longer list of descriptors in the book. You'll have to read the book for more detail. The table below that gives examples of organizations they found that used the various paths to peak performance.

Figure 11-1
From Peak Performance


Balanced Paths Notable Examples
Mission, Values & Pride
  • U.S. Marine Corp
  • Marriott International
  • 3M
  • Process & Metrics
  • Avon Manufacturing
  • Hill's Pet Nutrition
  • Johnson Controls
  • Entrepreneurial Spirit
  • Hambrecht & Quist
  • BMC
  • Vail Ski School
  • Individual Achievement
  • The Home Depot
  • McKinsey & Company
  • First USA
  • Recognition and Responsibility
  • KFC
  • Marriott International
  • Southwest Airlines
  • Katzenbach offers wise council in discussing how you can decide which path(s) to peak performance make sense for your organization. He lists a process to work your way through and a list of questions to answer. It is clear from his council that the effort in developing an emotionally committed workforce is not worth it in some business situations, either because the strategy does not call for it, or it is not consistent with the leadership of the current organization.

    Copyright © 2008 Richard M. DiGeorgio & Associates. All Rights Reserved.


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