Gearing Up for Performance

Understanding motivation essential to GEAR-Up workplace performance

Mazda Canada has been named one of Greater Toronto’s Top Employers (2018) for the company’s commitment to employee development, wellness and other initiatives.

I’ve been privileged to experience Mazda Canada’s commitment to employees first-hand, working with the company since 2013 to improve workplace performance by encouraging collaboration and continuous improvement. They practise what they preach, and it’s been an honour to contribute to the consistent and dedicated effort that they put into making Mazda Canada an amazing place to work.

Mazda Canada’s GEAR-Up program, developed by Dialectic, is a prime example of how the company is leveraging innovations in talent management into a competitive advantage. GEAR-Up replaced a traditional forced-ranking performance management system with one that is based in conversation and coaching. Its development was informed by the psychological and neuropsychological bases of motivation, current research on employee performance and engagement from scientific journals and business case-studies, and a comprehensive literature review of empirically viable coaching systems.

Recent research in neuroscience and evolutionary psychology shows that at least part of the problem of motivation in the workplace is the conventional approach of managing employee performance through numerical appraisals and forced rankings, as research by David Rock, Director of the NeuroLeadership Institute, has shown.

Because rankings are both assigned by and judged relative to our peer group, the process triggers a threat response in our brains in accordance with our basic fight or flight instincts. According to Rock (2014), employees feel extremely threatened about (i) their relative status compared to their co-workers; (ii) the predictability (certainty) of their future with their organization; (iii) the level of autonomy/control they have within their job role; (iv) the importance of shared goals (relatedness) within their teams; and (v) the extent to which they are being treated and judged fairly (fairness).

Force rankings undermine each of these needs. The consequences are devastating with respect to performance improvement. The process lowers employee perception of their own self-worth, leads to feelings of anxiety and frustration, undermines employees’ willingness to collaborate, and forces conservative goal setting with respect to personal improvement. Put simply, the numerical appraisal process undermines the very goal of identifying and improving employee performance.

This was entirely consistent with Mazda Canada’s observation that a conventional approach to performance management did not contribute to employee growth or to the growth of the organization as a whole.

Our review of the literature on motivation served as an important constraint on the analysis of coaching paradigms and informed Dialectic’s development of a coaching approach that targeted the primary drivers of motivation: autonomy, mastery and a sense of belonging.

Upon implementing GEAR-Up, Mazda Canada saw a marked increase in the categories on their employee survey reflective of employee engagement, satisfaction, and performance:

  • Employees report that the new system provides greater incentives for continuous improvement and opportunities for professional development.
  • Mazda Canada managerial staff report that they are better equipped to lead teams in a positive and constructive manner, engaging employees in a process of ongoing performance coaching that will continue to drive productivity and improve employee retention.
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