How to Unlock Your People’s Performance Potential at Work

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Wondering how to get the most out of your people? You are not alone. According to the pollsters at Gallup, more than 70% of American workers are not engaged at work. Worldwide, the number of disengaged workers balloons to 85%.

Lack of engagement in the workplace and failure to get the most from our people isn’t a result of lack of awareness. Various surveys and polls indicate that 80 – 90% of organizational leaders recognize that lack of engagement is preventing them from getting the most from their people. This failure to maximize human potential is costing businesses money and productivity.

So, if the vast majority of leaders agree that it’s important to get the most from our people, why are so many businesses so bad at it? I interviewed five experts in human behavior and organizational performance and here’s what they said about how to unlock the potential that lies in people.

Crush Cynicism with Passionate Purpose

Ask yourself this: Do your people really believe in your organization’s purpose? Does what you say align with what you do? If the answer is no, cynicism could be keeping your people from giving their best efforts.

“Cynicism is the enemy of passion and performance,” says American management expert Gary Hamel. Hamel is also a Professor at London Business School. According to Hamel, “There is an incredible level of cynicism in organizations today due to the gap between espoused versus enacted values. Organizations talk about values but fail to translate them into reality.”

The cure for cynicism? Focus on purpose to engender inspiration and unlock passion. “Purpose inspires – innovation depends on inspiration,” says Says Hamel. “If you really want innovation in organizations you have to unlock three things in humans: Initiative, so that people see ideas and problems and take responsibility; creativity, so people use their innate imagination to solve problems, and passion, so that they are bringing all their energy and all of themselves to their work. People aren’t inspired by economic motivation alone. A higher sense of purpose is what truly unlocks potential.”

Be Mindful to Get Focused

Tessa Todd Morgan, Speaker, Coach and Founder of TRIESSENCE, says another challenge preventing people in organizations from reaching their potential is distraction and lack of focus. Says Morgan, “It is very hard to stay focused these days with all of the distractions in the world. Studies have shown that, on average, we typically work as few as 3 minutes before we get interrupted and it takes more than 20 minutes to get back to the task at hand.”

According to Morgan, the cure for distraction is to set aside time to focus on each activity. If you’re eating lunch, eat lunch. If you’re working, focus on work. If you’re hanging with friends or family, be present with them. Says Morgan, “people need to let go of distractions and have ‘Focus Time.’ They also need to take breaks to keep their mind clear. Even something as small as taking a quick stroll or stretch for a minute or two every hour helps us be more productive. Focus on what you’re doing in that moment. As a society, we have forgotten what it’s like to really be present. This kind of mindfulness is important in all that we do: it affects how we feel and what we are able to accomplish.”

Get in the Flow

Proponents of workplace mindfulness believe that flow is the result of mindfulness, and it’s key to unlocking human potential. Human performance expert and founder of the Flow Genome Project, Jamie Wheal, says, “Flow is the peak performance state where you feel your best and you perform your best.”

Why does getting in the flow matter? “Flow unlocks intrinsic motivation,” says Wheal. “Humans have an innate desire to learn, grow explore and develop. Being fully conscious of and understanding your reasons for being and doing – these contribute to the ‘flow’ of an individual. With flow, there’s a chance of optimizing human potential.”

Make Hopefulness a Habit

What is it about purpose that gets your people’s juices flowing? According to Libby Gill, CEO of executive coaching and consulting at her own firm, the value of purpose is its ability to inspire hope and belief. Says Gill, who is currently writing a book about the science of hope, “when a company has purpose and translates that purpose into a future-focused objective that is broken down to specific actions which ultimately become habits – the hope that everyone can realize that objective – can take over.”

In other words, belief is what translates organizational purpose into an individual belief that each person plays an important role in achieving that purpose. This belief, or hope, can drive the individual to do their best work. Says Gill, “When a company has purpose and translates that purpose into an objective that is broken down to specific actions, then habits, actions and beliefs of the individual – the hope that they can make a difference – can take over.”

Align Purpose, Values and Actions

“Purpose inspires, values guide, habits define.” All three need to align in the day to day operation of your business if your hope is to unlock human potential for performance. Says Bertice Berry, an American sociologist, author, lecturer, and educator: “Purpose is not your job; it is not your calling. It is the answer to the question, ‘Why me, why here, why now?”

“Purpose helps companies align values and actions when making big decisions,” says Berry. “What you value is where you put your resources. How you live out your values determines whether you really are the person or organization you claim to be. When purpose, values and actions don’t align, you’re either lying to yourself about what your values are or you have forgotten your purpose.”

Unlocking human potential comes down to aligning purpose, values and habits in a way that creates engagement with and a passion for purpose. It’s about helping people see the important role they play in achieving purpose and gives them hope that their work makes a difference in the world.