Theory of the 3 I’s

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This time, dear reader, I will try to give you a conceptual and basic framework that’s highly practical for improving performance in professionals, something always relevant, but even more so in the current state of health, economic and social uncertainty.

Throughout my career I have gripped with the challenging task of trying to discover how to improve people’s performance to achieve better results. After many years in the profession dealing with, and worrying about, the aspects that have an impact on improving employee performance, and of course, without believing that we have “the magic potion” for it, if you were to ask me today to make an effort to abstract and summarise the factors on what people achievements depend in organizations, I would structure my answer around the concept that I called some time ago the “Theory of the 3 I’s“, as performance depends fundamentally on three elements beginning with “i”; namely: Instruments, Information and Incentives.

Instruments: In a large number of cases the expected results aren’t achieved simply because individuals don’t have the means needed to do so. Our companies may be made up of highly qualified and even motivated people, but this doesn’t guarantee that we will achieve better results than our competitors. Let’s use an example to show the point I am trying to make: you cannot compete in a race from Madrid to Moscow and be the first without an incredibly fast means of locomotion. So, try to arrive first, you will probably go by plane, with the best pilot, and take the best route.

Thomas F. Gilbert, arguably the father of human performance, bore out to us that people need certain support, tools, or instruments to function effectively.

The architecture and support instruments must be made available by the company to provide employees with user-friendly tools to allow them to perform their tasks as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Information: Moreover, these instruments, processes, tools and/or supports ensure that people have the information they need, how they need it, and when they need it, i.e., at the moment of truth or value generation. This is so crucial since often results aren’t achieved because people don’t have even the most basic information for performing tasks properly. Experts like the distinguished members of the International Society for Performance Improvement (ISPI), uphold this heuristically: an informed person with management tools at his disposal can achieve up to 50 percent more results than someone else with the same preparation and attitude but without information. In the age of technology, trying to compete by undervaluing technology and disregarding the wealth of information it provides is the surest passport to elimination.

Incentives. A friend of mine says that things are done for two fundamental reasons: for love or for money. Well, the last “i” of our theory addresses precisely such mobilizers of attitude, incentives. To manage them properly, you should bear in mind that there are three types of incentives that mobilize “what is done” and “how it is done”: these are economic, moral, and social incentives.

What can I tell you about the economic incentive that you don’t already know? Being generous, we should say that it’s the least misused of the three; in one way or another throughout history it has always shown up in the employment contract. However, there are still too many companies that at the time of the monthly payroll breakfast serve up a demotivating “coffee for all” in which the best, the ones who really make an effort and achieve the best results, rather than being motivated leave the table disappointed.

In any case, you know as well as I do that the importance of money is relative; depending on the employee type and working conditions, it becomes more or less relevant. I am convinced that money is more important for workers when everything else around their work falls short. If the economic incentive is poorly managed, moral, and social incentives fail horribly; the underlying aetiology of this serious problem lies in the managers or bosses themselves who haven’t been taught to manage people but things, and they do so through control. This was the management paradigm of an industrial era that has little to do with the current digital era in which social interaction technologies are decisive in results achievement.

Perhaps after reading this article you’ll think that you already knew this—of course, it couldn’t be otherwise—and add that it is only a theory. Here I wouldn’t agree so much, even though you may be partly right. Just don’t look for any more excuses and give it go, trying not to forget what Kurt Lewin warned us, “There is nothing so practical as a good theory”.

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