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Making Performance Count

I think an increasing art of leadership is defining the most effective sort of performance expectations in others. Probably the most empowering approach is when you can mutually agree some defined outcome and possibly some very broad parameters around how this should be achieved. This enables people to decide the best and most effective way of achieving this outcome based upon their more complete understanding of the situation and their capabilities.

The problem is the amount of influence an individual has over a particular outcome means what is planned and what is achieved can not be the same thing.  In fast moving times, ‘goal posts’ keep getting moved, teams keep changing and it is only reasonable to expect the unexpected.

In sport coaches have been dealing with this challenge for some time. Train as hard as you might, plan as much as you will, you can’t guarantee a gold medal or the championship. What you can more definitely control is your own level of performance. Thus it makes more sense to be able to aim for say up sub 9.9 100m rather than winning the gold – particularly if Bolt is running! The organisational equivalent might be to distinguish between a ‘result’ and a ‘standard’ of performance. E.g. delivering a project to time and specification is a standard, what the project delivers is the outcome.  

Sport also talks about process goals –focusing on particular abilities – e.g. a particular stroke in tennis, or a better golf swing. These are factors that contribute to performance e.g aces served, birdies achieved, and thereby competitions won. (outcomes).  In our work at Apter Development, we define these ‘process’ areas as including abilities, mindset and opportunities.

What I believe leaders need to do is see performance as defined across all these factors. Although they should focus as much as possible on the outcome, they should also remain very aware of the level of reasonable control that exists over that outcome and redirect attention to performance or even process goals as required.

This point is further developed in my article ‘The Performance Equation - what makes truly great, sustainable performance’ .

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