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  • Writer's pictureRiikka

The real source of great performance

Updated: Apr 2, 2021

This is the time of year for setting objectives and, for many, performance reviews. Too often I see leaders struggle to push and shove people to perform. Yet there's an easier way, when we go back to the source of what makes people do a great job.

I don't even like that word 'performance'! It has become such corporate jargon that I had to take a fresh look at what it means. What is it that makes people do an amazing job, surpassing expectations? It comes down to 3 things:

1. Caring about what you do. (For its own sake, not just to please the boss)

2. Skill

3. Broader, engaged thinking. Not just staring at the task at hand but looking ahead and around, considering the implications, dependencies, possibilities, impact

1. CARE - To do a great job, we need to care about what we do. D’oh! But how often is that missing? Even think about going into a cafe where the staff plainly don’t give a ****. As opposed to walking into one where it’s palpable they want to make your day.

Care comes partly from intrinsic motivation and partly from feeling you are cared about and what you do matters. It's that positive reinforcement and feedback, being seen.

I once had a job managing stock for industrial machinery. My inner motivation was below zero, but I had a manager who gave me attention and made me feel valuable. That inspired me to do my best, even while I wasn't exactly living the dream.

In other words, care is why we harp on about engagement. If you are engaged - either from the inside, or outside, or ideally both - you care, and then you give it your discretionary effort.

2. SKILL - Well, no amount of caring can compensate for lack of competence. Have you ever dealt with a customer service person who had a beautifully helpful attitude, but not the ability to sort out your case? Very quickly you were hoping they had less smiles and more smarts.

Already at hiring stage, get clear about the skill level you need, and how to test for that. Plus what additional training you can REALISTICALLY invest time or money in. That’s your limit of ‘hiring for attitude, not ability’.

When planning development with existing people, it comes back to that same assessment, then learning activity, practice and feedback. Way too often people are just thrown in at the deep end with no guidance, or put on a course with no follow-up. Or we hope they will just miraculously get it, if told often enough.

Learning new skills is successful with honesty on where we are now, a bit of planning, and time and support to get there.

3. BROAD THINKING - Awareness of the bigger picture even when focused on a task vs. blinkered tunnel vision.

This comes from having interest and curiosity in your area of work, and the business context. Then you are 'looking around' at dependencies, opportunities, who you need to include etc.

The opposite is the person who constantly needs to be spoon-fed: ‘What does the customer need to know?’ ‘How much will this cost?’ ‘Have you spoken with so-and-so?'

Fairly easy to identify when interviewing, but what if this is missing in the existing team? You can coach for it with a bit of patience, provided the underlying interest is there, and the person has just fallen into passive thinking habits.

On the other side, make sure you as a leader, or the company's ways of working aren't clamping down broad thinking.

While broad thinking creates autonomy, it also requires autonomy. If a leader tries to think of everything, they will have to keep on doing that. It's crucial to open-minded and tolerant of different ways of getting to an outcome. If everything people try to do is questioned or corrected, they quickly feel discouraged from thinking for themselves.

Email me, link below, to talk more about this in relation to your team!

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