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Creating a business out of superhuman performances.

Summary: Get employees to buy into a CEO's vision and things may well start happening that way

By Shane Phillips, Special to Gulf News

Fuelled by ambition and driven by result-hungry shareholders, CEOs grab for every lever to drive peak performance in their organisations. The most powerful tool of all is most often over looked.

Legendary CEOs orchestrate the behaviour of an entire company, across subsidiaries and geographies. The acme of which is delivering a collective superhuman performance and outperforming the market. At the root of behaviours is our values, a subject which is rarely used as a tangible tool to drive organisational performance.

From before antiquity, leaders have jostled for influence. For the most successful, a unifying set of values underpins their campaign.

I would like to argue that the modern CEO can no longer simply look to accounting, finance, economics, or business functions such as supply chain or engineering to deliver a competitive advantage. As economies become more efficient, and industries fall into pure competition markets, the opportunity gaps to deliver an alpha become less evident.

Today, CEOs are required to produce highly engaged teams capable of superhuman performance.

How do we achieve such a performance? Where does the secret to outperforming the competition lie? It lies in the root of any human behaviour, our values.

Take stories of ordinary people who become extraordinary. The age old story of the mother who lifts a car to save her child or the parent who fights a wild animal to save his family are clear examples of ordinary people catapulted into superhuman performance as a result of their values.

In 2006, Lydia Angiyou, a 41-year old from Quebec, single-handedly warded off a polar bear to save her son. Polar bears are the largest land predator and capable of killing a lion or a tiger, not to mention a human being. What drove Lydia to such a superhuman performance was the fact that she valued the life of her son more than her own.

When examining peak performance we should ask ourselves what is that turns a coward into a hero, or makes a coward act bravely. Mahatma Gandhi wrote that he was a coward and afraid of the dark growing up. How does a coward become one of the bravest and most influential leaders in Indian history?

His value for the Indian identity was more valuable to him than his own life. As such, his leadership sparked the end of the British empire. The complete absence of fear was exhibited even as he left his life with a smile on his face.

Great companies inculcate a deep value in their work and in doing so create the right environment to produce superhuman performance. For example, when I interviewed Sam Barnett, CEO of MBC, and asked him what was the toughest thing about his job, he said: "The hardest thing is losing team members. MBC has lost 18 people, who have risked their lives at different times to bring the Arabic perspective of the news to the world."

On the other hand of the spectrum is the company which does the bare minimum to keep people from quitting and in return the people do the bare minimum not to get fired. This is what I call a transaction-based company.

They have little value for their product or service, only as much as it creates revenue and profits for them. They are often empirically focused and obsessed with the mechanics of business. That is the tangible elements of business such as the business plan, the financial reports, key performance milestones and all the other physical elements of the business.

This is what I call the "Money-Love Continuum" with value based companies in which employees feel so strongly about what the organisation is doing that they are willing to die for its vision and mission. And there is the transaction based company in which the only value the employee is getting out of the job is the dollar value they are being paid to do it.

Every company exists at some point along the money-love Continuum and every CEO is somewhat responsible for where the company sits on it. Superhuman performance cannot be achieved with a leadership who only focuses on the tangible elements, but it is the realm of leaders who understand how to affect the intangible elements of business such as values, identity, and culture.

in the value based organisation, the individual employee identifies their sense of self with the organisation. In so doing the subconscious sense of self of the employee is tied to the company. In contrast, in the transactional company, the individual's values are in contrast to that of the company.

For example, in the 2008 crisis, the world turned to banker bashing. Many banking CEOs handed in the resignations. They abdicated their corporate thrones at the first sign of trouble.

In contrast do you think Dr. Joanne Liu, International President of Doctors Without Borders, would resign if her organisation suffered losses, even the tragic loss of life. Never, she would not because her job is intimately tied to who she is a person.

Dr. Liu's subconscious sense of self is partly tied to her profession as a doctor. To resign from her post would be in part be suicide of her self-identity. No, she would never resign but rather she will work tirelessly to improve her organisation and ensure its sustainability and advance its capabilities to fulfil the vision, mission, and strategy of Doctors Without Borders.

The CEO - and the senior leadership team - is responsible for the collective subconscious of an organisation. Whether intentionally or unintentionally. they create the identity and culture of the companies.

Armed with tools from a previous century they march forward and eloquently speak the languages of strategy, economics, and high-street finance in the boardrooms and to their staff.

All of which are focused on the tangible elements of business, none of which are capable of effectively discussing the human element of the business to any great extent. And definitely incapable of addressing the collective subconscious of an organisation.

Hence, they are missing the greatest lever available to drive superhuman performance in a company.

The writer is CEO of The Phillips Group.

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Publication:Gulf News (United Arab Emirates)
Date:Jun 1, 2017
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