“We are in the middle of one of the most profound shifts in human history, where the primary work of mankind is moving from the Industrial Age of “control” to the Knowledge Worker Age of “release.”

– Stephen R Covey

For centuries people have organised themselves into collective groups. We all know that when we work together, it is possible to achieve more security and satisfaction than we can alone as individuals.

But, somewhere in our pursuit of higher-performing organisations, this intuition got lost in favour of a focus on cost and efficiency. Multiple business and economic failures led to a new drive toward consumer satisfaction. A focus on creating more consumer value has proven to be somewhat successful. However, many implementations of approaches like Six Sigma, TQM, Quality Circles, Lean, TOC and Agile have failed to deliver the expected results.

As we move out of the ‘Industrial Age’ and into the ‘Knowledge Age’ there is a slowly emerging understanding that we need to listen to our intuition. We need to create environments where we can work together, learn from each other, bring our contribution to the table and achieve greater collective satisfaction.

Sustainable High Performance is achieved by creating a synergy between increasing Consumer Value, providing a Culture that is safe, secure and satisfying for employees, and maintaining Commercial Responsibility.

Engagement is when the people closest to the consumer are directly and actively involved in solving problems that hinder the performance for that consumer.

High Performance through Engagement is when those people who are closest to the consumer use, as a matter of habit, analytical problem solving tools and structured processes to identify the root cause of problems, find solutions to those problems and then implement quickly to increase value to consumers.

High Performance through Engagement is a strategy for developing a work system that: 

  • is consumer-focused
  • uses analytical problem solving processes like Interest Based Problem Solving, the Theory of Constraints Thinking Processes and design thinking
  • meets the interests of all stakeholders
  • has open and real-time information systems
  • is performance-driven with continuous improvement metrics
  • is employee-based and relies on the discretionary effort of employees
  • has a management system that facilitates and releases intuition, knowledge and experience from employees
  • is focused on building constructive thinking, behaviour and cultures
  • has an emphasis on training, developing and growing people
  • is innovative, dynamic and flexible

There are multiple ways to build this work system. 

Your organisation is unique because the people in it are unique. A high-performance work system must be customised and designed for your organisation by the people in your organisation. In most cases, it can be funded within the existing resources of the organisation.

High Performance through Engagement is not for everyone. It requires “courageous leadership” (think Brené Brown – Dare to Lead) and a willingness to embrace a new way of operating.

The benefits of High Performance through Engagement are increased customer loyalty, increased financial performance and a culture of innovation and growth. There are numerous case studies published by both the private and public sectors as well as multiple University studies of the impact of adopting a High Performance through Engagement approach. The evidence is overwhelming that the improvement in performance that comes from a culture of engagement substantially improves the overall operating performance of an organisation.

What is an HPtE Strategy®?

An HPtE Strategy® is an organisation strategy that finds synergy between commercial responsibility, consumer value and culture to create sustainable high performance.

An HPtE Strategy® evaporates the tension and conflict between people in order to release their full potential.

It deliberately creates a culture of collaboration, innovation, confidence and achievement. It focuses on creating harmony inside an organisation. From harmony comes flow. This harmony is needed more than ever in a fast-changing, complex, variable and global work environment.

Some of the key methodologies include:

  • Systems thinking (e.g. Interest-Based Problem-Solving and Theory of Constraints Thinking Processes),
  • Continuous improvement practices (e.g. Agile, Lean and Six-Sigma),
  • Collaborative budgeting,
  • Culture and behavioural assessments (e.g. Organisational Culture Inventory®, Organisational Effectiveness Inventory®, Group Styles Inventory™, Leadership Impact® and Life Styles Inventory™).

An HPtE Strategy® goes beyond the traditionally separated commercially driven, continuous improvement or culture-based initiatives. Companies that pursuit an HPtE Strategy® do one thing significantly differently than other companies. They leverage the power of collective problem solving to deliver the needs of shareholders, consumers and employees.

An HPtE Strategy® is not:

  • A financial strategy (although it impacts commercial returns)
  • A continuous improvement strategy (although it utilises continuous improvement methodologies)
  • A culture strategy (although it has a significant impact on culture)
  • An HR or ER strategy (although it impacts HR and ER)
  • An “Engagement Survey” (although it utilises robust and reliable psychological assessment tools)
  • An industrial relations strategy (although it impacts industrial and labour/management relationships)
  • A form of autocracy or industrial democracy (although it leverages the strengths of both ideologies)

An HPtE Strategy® embeds powerful systems thinking and problem solving processes into the very fabric of an organisation. It recognises and leverages the inherent tension between satisfying the needs of shareholders, consumers and employees.

Through constant discovery, organisations find new and innovative ways to deliver more commercial responsibility, more consumer value AND a safer, secure and more satisfying work environment for people.

He aha te mea nui o te ao
What is the most important thing in the world?
He tangata, he tangata, he tangata
It is the people, it is the people, it is the people

Maori proverb

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16 thoughts on “What is High Performance through Engagement?

  1. Hi Karl,

    For starters, I have to say that the brush you have chosen to paint the likes of today’s most popular approaches to CI/OpEx is way too broad and the paint you’re applying is highly tainted in that it covers everything but the underlying assumptions. Like whitewash being applied to a fundamentally dilapidated structure the underlying arguments being implied for the failure of these CI/OpEx approaches misses the fact they have NOT typically been implemented in accord with the “first principles and practices” upon which they were initially developed. This means that in those instances where they failed to fulfill their intended/desire/needed purpose, the implementation has been directed more at creating a facade than a solid and sustainable (aka ROBUST) core of CI/OpEx competencies and capabilities.

    As your article goes on to point out, such robust competencies and capabilities ARE ACHIEVABLE. HOWEVER, any organization wanting to achieve them MUST DO SO UNDER A DIFFERENT BANNER/LABEL. Truth be told, TRUE LEAN THINKING AND BEHAVING – as demonstrated by Toyota with its constantly evolving and adapting SYSTEM (i.e., the combination of the Toyota Production SYSTEM and the Toyota WAY) for sustaining superior levels of performance across all MISSION CRITICAL DIMENSIONS – has been and continues to be capable of delivering exactly what you’ve described (and more) as being the result/outcome of following/implementing an HPtE Strategy.

    BTW – instead of referring to HPtE as being a “strategy” (i.e., WHAT POSITIONING NEEDS TO BE ACHIEVED), because of the implementation aspect (i.e., HOW THAT POSITIONING NEEDS TO BE ACHIEVED), it might be more aptly referred to as either an “approach” or a “framework.” Why? Because both can readily encompass/include both the strategy and the implementation aspects.

    1. Hi Jay,

      We are in agreement that many of the implementations of approaches to CI/OpEx have failed because they have NOT typically been implemented in accord with the “first principles and practices” upon which they were initially developed.

      The type of paint I have used is a function of the ‘blog’ style medium. Thank you for bringing more colour to it.

      Where CI/OpEx approaches have been successful is when the right “thinking and behaviour” is in place. The right thinking and behaviour creates a constantly evolving and adapting system. To heavy a focus on “competencies and capabilities” will detract from such evolution. I am a great fan of Susan Cook-Greuter’s work in that regard.

      With “thinking and behaviour” and “competencies and capabilities” appropriately distinguished you are right to point out that an HPtE Strategy®, the Toyota Production SYSTEM and the Toyota WAY appear to have much in common. The later has informed many of the principles contained in the former. In particular this idea from Taiichi Ohno:

      “Why not make the work easier and more interesting so that people do not have to sweat?

      The Toyota style is not to create results by working hard.

      It is a system that says there is no limit to people’s creativity.

      People don’t go to Toyota to ‘work’ they go there to ‘think’.”

      Your final comment has encouraged me to update the picture attached to this post.

      Thanks once again for your insight.

      1. Hi Karl,

        Your reply was impressive up to the point where you stated… “To heavy a focus on “competencies and capabilities” will detract from such evolution.” In my play book, it’s the building, sustaining and/or evolving of CORE/DISTINCTIVE COMPETENCIES and superior COMPETITIVE CAPABILITIES that lies at the heart of every HIGH PERFORMANCE ORGANIZATION. Here’s why…

        1) CORE/DISTINCTIVE COMPETENCY = the unique/distinctive and typically specialized knowledge/skill/ability when it comes to designing/creating/delivering value-adding solutions that meet or exceed the expectations of customers. It is these sorts of competencies that serve as the nucleus around which a business can be built/established/sustained.

        2) COMPETITIVE CAPABILITY = the difficult-to-mimic combination of CORE/DISTINCTIVE COMPETENCIES and WORLD CLASS, END-TO-END, MISSION-CRITICAL PROCESSES that enable and result in manifest behaviors in the marketplace that are readily recognized by CUSTOMERS and COMPETITORS alike as being superior.

        The more of these unique combinations an organization is capable of putting together, the greater the likelihood it will be a powerful and robust (i.e., leading) player in its chosen industry or industries. And what drives the efficient and effective establishment of such COMPETENCIES and CAPABILITIES within every durable HIGH PERFORMANCE ORGANIZATION is the underlying patterns of THINKING AND BEHAVING that exist throughout the organization.

        Note 1: THINKING AND BEHAVING need to linked together as symbiotic, ACTION VERBS as in the YIN/YANG relationship, rather than in a cause and effect relationship (e.g., thinking and behavior).

        Note 2: HARD WORK is NOT an anathema to either TOYOTA or Taiichi Ohno. What is, would be bette/best referred to in the context of the two forms of WASTE that go by the names MURA and MURI; where the first pertains to the UNEVENNESS of a work pattern, and the latter refers to being OVERBURDENED (i.e., having to work beyond reasonable and safe limits). One of the things that Taiichi Ohno highly detested were “slackers” or “loafers.”

        Note 3: Taiichi Ohno (and many others within Toyota) wanted Toyota employees to use their BRAINS more so than their BRAWN. And it was commonly acknowledge that doing so was often more difficult than physical labor. As a result, Toyota made use of – and still does – many heuristic mechanisms for enhancing the learning and thinking ability of its workforce… so much so that Toyota should rightfully be considered and referred to as a LEARNING ORGANIZATION.

        Note 4: As Peter Senge has been recognized for stating about a LEARNING ORGANIZATION… “The only truly sustainable competitive advantage for any company/organization/SYSTEM is the SPEED with which it is capable of LEARNING; and thereby… ADAPTING! Accordingly, that’s what makes the TPS/TW combination such a unique and powerful phenomenon in the competitive business realm. The combination is also represents a melding of COMPETENCIES and CAPABILITIES

      2. Hi Jay,

        As always, the content you bring is excellent. Competency and Capability are necessary conditions for high performance. Necessary, but not sufficient, for sustainable high performance. Susan Cook-Grueter would call Competency and Capability horizontal expansion. The other necessary condition is vertical development which is more transformational and where the ability of a person to handle complexity increases.

      3. Hi Karl,

        Yikes!!! Just took a peek at SC-G’s paper and it’s chock full of academically-oriented/driven, dense, gobble-di-gook wording and phraseology. I’ll stick with it, but I have a sneaking suspicion the paper will end up making a link between the potential impact of properly conducted training and education (for workers) and the ability of an organization to grow based on its enhanced level of training/education-enabled competencies and capabilities.

        That said, there’s likely some truth to that. But education and training are NOT going to be as effective on a standalone basis as would be the combination of training/education and hands-on problem-solving via purposeful, trial and error-based experimentation… much as Toyota made progress and continues to make progress.

      4. I hope you stuck with it. The growth of people in terms of vertical development is critical to organisational performance. Are you familiar with Elliot Jaques work? Did you ever look up Prof Robert Kegan’s work?

  2. Hi Karl,

    Ok, here’s my assessment of SC-G’s paper… In addition to what I stated above regarding the author’s use of extremely esoteric language, the entire premise that the LDF represents a major advance in human developmental thinking and practice seems a bit weak to me. How so, you might wonder? Well, for starters, the notion that there are two separate and distinct dimensions along which human development occurs (i.e., the lateral or horizontal growth dimension and the vertical transformation dimension) has no basis in either the physiology (i.e., neuroscience) or the psychology of the human brain/mind. The brain, like any other organ in the human anatomy functions as an OPEN SYSTEM whose overall behavior is NOT governed or defined by any single component part. Rather, it functions as an integrated whole.

    That said, however, the human brain’s overall performance capabilities can be shaped/focused/honed toward specific orientations more so than others. In this regard, the process of becoming “EDUCATED” involves building many networks of neurons that represent concepts, facts, relationships… all bound together by stored/recorded sensory based experiences that are spread out over many different functional areas throughout the brain. And it is from the interdependency and interaction between these too modes of learning that an individual’s MENTAL MODEL(S) about how the perceived world works and why it works the way it does that ultimately becomes manifest in the form of one’s BEHAVIORAL or PERSONALITY ATTRIBUTES.

    I believe that there is some level of merit/benefit to be derived from the analysis and interpretation of these BEHAVIORAL TENDENCIES on an individual by individual basis. Doing so can provide insight(s) into one’s own BEHAVIORAL TENDENCIES such that – with sufficient motivation, know-how/guidance and perseverance – one could intentional modify/adapt/adjust one’s tendencies to better “FIT” within a given/specified CONTEXT. But to expect and/or believe and thereby claim/suggest that such changes (including the interventions needed) can be brought about in any individual, at any time, under any circumstances is – IMO – fallacious thinking.

    Answering the WHY question to my claim of it being fallacious thinking brings this discussion to the second critical factor that I – and others with more direct/first-hand experience in analyzing/understanding the basis for human psyche development – believe plays an EXTREMELY IMPORTANT and POSSIBLY OVERRIDING role in governing the dominant THINKING AND BEHAVING patterns in individuals. It’s what Carl Jung’s work evolved into as modern-day analytical psychology where the development and interplay between the three innate psyche-based archetypes… the Id (aka the PRIMITIVE CHILD), the Ego (aka the ADULT), and the Super-ego (aka the PARENT) end up being the dominant deciding factor in how and why the KNOWLEDGE and EMOTIONAL based INTELLIGENCES present within any individual’s brain are actually leveraged and manifest as BEHAVIORAL ATTRIBUTES under any given set of circumstances.

    Bottom line: As Dr. Thomas Massey has observed about human nature… YOU ARE WHAT YOU ARE, BECAUSE OF WHERE YOU WERE WHEN. In other words, the combination of one’s total life experiences and the content of one’s absorbed knowledge are the equivalent of a random walk. Many, many, many influencing factors (including both natural and environmental variants) come into play when it comes to the on-going development and expression of human behavior in the form of PERSONALITY TRAITS. UNFORTUNATELY, the patterns that were laid down or established during the very early developmental years of each individual’s life tend to become more rigid over time and are less amenable to change/adaptation. That fact, plus the dynamic, ever-changing conditions that exist in most business SYSTEMS, makes for a rather challenging scenario in which to attempt bringing about ad hoc interventions on an individual by individual basis.

    To my way of thinking, it’s much, much more likely that creating and sustaining and evolving a WORK ENVIRONMENT (i.e., a prevailing set of conditions) which is common to all members of an organization and, at the same time, is conducive to having each an every member of that organization exercise their fullest level of discretionary thinking and behaving – in both the individual and collective pursuit of a common/shared MISSION/PURPOSE (that’s of a highly-compelling nature) – can have the overall effect of simultaneously elevating EVERYONE’s pattern of THINKING AND BEHAVING to a higher-order level. And when surrounded by so many others who are making the same journey, the motivational power to pursue an elevated state-of-being is significant. Good examples can be and often are found in the military. HOWEVER, they also exist in other realms including that of business and community.

  3. Hi Karl,

    Relative to the work of Elliott Jaques… I’d not heard of him or his work up until you mentioning it here in this blog. What’s available in Wikipedia makes his work sound like it could be of high value. Yet, why I’ve never come across it before is an important question. Based on the last few comments appearing in his Wikipedia write-up, it certainly seems that there’s a strong correlation between his findings on human capability and the underlying thinking related to the practices of TEAMING and RESPECT for PEOPLE at Toyota.

    Note: If the world we live in required nothing more than isolated individual effort and all that was needed to maximize that effort was a way to measure individual capability and align it against task complexity requirements, then Jaques’ work would seem to be the ideal intervention mechanism. HOWEVER, it’s clear that team-based efforts can typically achieve much, much more than any individual alone. That said, I’m not sure – based on what I read on Wikipedia – that Jaques’ work applies to team-based work environments.

    1. Hi Jay,

      You might get value from this article:


      When it comes to team-based efforts it is important to ask what role leadership plays in creating an appropriate environment for effective group problem solving and what level of complexity such a leader should operate at. Certainly, the HPtE Strategy® Framework and Implementation Path considers both.

      I wonder what level Taiichi Ohno was operating at?

      1. Hi Karl,

        I believe I know/understand the answer to the first question… Senior level management team members hold PRIMARY RESPONSIBILITY for creating, sustaining, and evolving a WORK ENVIRONMENT which is most conducive both the individual and collective pursuit of the organization’s TNO.

        HOWEVER, when it comes to answering the second question pertaining to the level of complexity… I don’t understand what that means. The vast majority of large-scale business operations are COMPLEX SYSTEMS. Anyone who works in such a SYSTEM is likely going to be confronted with the need to THINK AND BEHAVE in the CONTEXT of a COMPLEX SYSTEM. Ergo, what does operating at a certain level of complexity mean? And in every HIGH-PERFORMANCE ORGANIZATION, any difference in the level of complexity being experienced by someone in a role at the top of the hierarchical structure versus someone lower down is typically very small.

        Also, just did a quick scan of the article you cited above. It appears to provide more insight into Jaques’ work and the notion/theory of a requisite organization. It also appears that his view of an organization is more REDUCTIONISTIC in nature than it is HOLISTIC in nature. Optimizing performance at the individual contributor level may not be the best path toward optimizing the performance of the SYSTEM as a whole. Why? It’s because the individual contributor’s view of the overall SYSTEM and his/her relationship to it is being minimized; particularly at the lower levels of the organizational hierarchy.

      2. Thanks Jay,

        I would add that the most conducive work environment for both individual and organisation is one that facilitates collective problem solving toward sustainable high performance of the whole. Ergo, this is the primary responsibility of leadership.

        I suggest you read Jaques in relation to the concept of time span and perhaps Kegan in relation to mind set for more insight on complexity.

        We have had many a discussion on the idea of there being a single point of focus that will impact the rest of the organisation. The individual contributors view of the overall system will be dependent on the environment created by leadership, the level of involvement in collective problem solving and level of complexity or mindset at which they are operating.

      3. Hi Karl,

        First paragraph of your reply is like music to my ears.

        Second paragraph… Will investigated further on both fronts.

        Third paragraph… YES, and that environment has to be not only multi-dimensional in nature (i.e., integrating people, processes, technologies, policies, procedures, practices, protocols) just as the SYSTEM of which it is an integral part. Without question, it has an impact on the THINKING AND BEHAVING of everyone within the organization (at all levels) on both an individual/personal and collective/group/team level. Individuals can control that level of complexity they are involved in for tasks/roles they are performing. HOWEVER, when part of team that is focused on dealing with high-complexity issues/problems/activities, they tend to be exposed to higher levels of complexity than they might otherwise. That means, having an environment that encourages and supports helping others to make progress is actually part of the recipe for a HIGH PERFORMANCE ORGANIZATION. That’s a key reason for why I refer to the LEADER-LEADER modus operandi so often.

      4. Hi Jay,

        I think we are aligned in many ways.

        I look forward to your thoughts on time span and mindset. Both are related to adult development.

        In my view adult development in the context of organisational performance is important to explore, particularly because until the mid 70’s western organisations believed adult development stopped around mid to late 20’s. Many of the western business practices and structures, were designed around this belief.

        Most Eastern practices are designed around a different set of beliefs (principles) about adult development.

        This could be why many applications of Lean and Kaizen have failed in the Western world.

        As an aside, I understand Six Sigma was originally designed as a tool to give the people closest to be problems (Gemba) relating to performance the data they needed to make decisions but it was turned into a “management” tool.

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