In 1990 I spent my medical elective, whilst training to be a doctor, working in a rural hospital in northern Kenya. My learning curve was so steep as to be almost vertical. During this time I treated many children, the vast proportion of whom were emaciated and lethargic, suffering from effects of malnutrition or dehydration, compounded by the effects of the intestinal parasites that had taken up residence in their small bodies.
A few years later, health economists, perturbed by the poor educational attainment in Kenyan school children, undertook some research to determine which interventions were having the greatest impact on learning outcomes.
Contrary to expectations, their data showed that the introduction of free text books and visual aids had little or no impact on learning outcomes. Such interventions missed the mark. The researchers determined to trial a different approach, simply that of de-worming school children. This proved to be immensely successful, not only increasing school attendance and educational outcomes, but also demonstrating that treated children went on to perform better in adult working life.
It strikes me that there is a direct parallel here with many companies who invest in a whole range of initiatives in their endeavours to improve individual, team and organisational performance and increase engagement. Many of these have positive aspects but lack real evidence of efficacy and return on investment perhaps because their organisations need a form of “de-worming”; to address some basic pre-requisites which are holding back performance in a hidden way.
As a doctor, I have seen at first hand the effects of organisational culture and practices on the performance of individuals. Many businesses choose to ignore a simple but obvious truth, that human performance is directly affected by our physiological and mental state. Too many organisations are investing heavily in a range of performance initiatives whilst their organisational culture and practices leave their people in physical and /or mental deficit.
The result? …… continued poor performance.
The good news is that organisations can “de-worm” their practices and culture through the application of simple educational and behavioural change interventions.
Taking action here may be just as important to unlocking performance and resilience across our organisations, as de-worming was to educational improvement in Kenya.