Archive for the ‘Performance’ Category

Hocus Focus?

Posted: February 26, 2012 in Performance, Purpose & Direction

There is nothing magic about high performance.  The best performers I know have a number of characteristics in common; one of them is the ability to concentrate.  When I say concentrate, I mean paying attention to the right thing at the right time in the right way.

The “right thing” is pretty straightforward.  It is the most important thing that will help someone, or an organization, achieve the most important outcomes or objectives.  The “right time” is similar, when to pay attention is critical when it comes to prioritizing and sequencing.

So that leaves in the “right way.”  Years ago Psychologist Bob Nideffer observed in the performance of athletes that there are different types of concentration or attention styles. As he continued to study the attention styles of athletes, he realized that attention occurred in different forms or channels and that ability to use the right channel at the right time made the difference in high performance. To explain these differences he used two axes, broad/narrow and external/internal, resulting in four combinations:

1. Broad Internal:  conceptual, strategic, analytical

2. Broad External:  awareness of the environment or surroundings

3. Narrow Internal:  problem solving, mental imagery

4. Narrow external: physical execution and follow-through

Each of us tends to prefer one channel over the other even though we use all four at different times.  You probably had a sense of the one or two styles you most prefer as you read through the abbreviated list.

A great example of concentration styles is a safety issue that has gained much attention in the last few years – texting on the cell phone while driving.  The most important channel for driving safely is external awareness.  Because we cannot tune into more than one channel at a time, just like the radio or TV, any other misplaced concentration style can be detrimental, even deadly.  Texting requires narrow focused attention, both internal and external. The person who believes he or she can quickly switch between styles and safely operate a vehicle is gravely mistaken.

There is nothing magic about high performance (I think we can also add safe performance to that statement).  It’s a matter of deciding what’s the most important thing you need to focus on to achieve the results you want and having the ability to use the right concentration style at the right time.

Incite:  When in doubt, ask yourself “Why am I doing what I’m doing right now?”


It’s not uncommon for companies, especially larger ones, to have performance rating systems.  Generally they include from 3 to 6 ratings, with the trend moving towards fewer rather than more. This is done for a number of reasons.  Financial planning is probably foremost because companies have to allocate funds for next year’s salary increases.  Consequently, distribution guidelines, or sometimes forced rankings are used for forecasting.  Secondly, low to high performance is an ingrained philosophy that is a result of our mindsets, i.e. belief systems.  After all, we’ve been exposed to the concept our entire lives, especially in school.

Also popular today are the concepts of teamwork and collaboration.  So let’s see, “I’m going to work with you on this project and later this year ‘they’ are going to compare my performance to yours.  Hmmm.”  Will you support me totally? Any inclination to hold back just a bit of information or knowledge to give yourself an edge?

What if we change the way we think about performance distribution?

Years ago, for the first time, I was given the head coach position of a boys basketball team (ages 10-11).  As the the head coach I finally had a chance to try a different approach to coaching. I enlisted two assistants who loved kids and didn’t mind them goofing off a bit and having fun.  Our job was not “to be liked by the kids” but rather to “like each kid” to help build their self-esteem.

While I had a number of rules, the most important one for the kids was – “Your goal is to make the other players on the team look good.” That meant that each kid had 9 other players trying to make them look good versus each one focusing on themselves.

When we talked about what that might look like, these were some of things we came up with over time.

  • Get the ball to someone closer to the basket so they can make an easier shot.
  • If someone gets the ball to you close to the basket, make the shot so it looks like a good pass.
  • If someone misses the shot, get the rebound so the shot looks better.
  • Get open so it’s easier for someone to make a good pass to you.
  • If someone gets open, pass the ball to them.
  • If someone makes a good pass to you, catch it so it looks like a good pass.
  • If someone makes a bad pass, try hard to catch it so the pass looks better.
  • Pick or screen for the ball handler so it’s easier for them to drive.
  • If someone with the ball gets trapped or stuck, run to help them out.
  • If someone is getting beat on defense, help them out.

Near the end of the season, the president of our area’s sports association, which includes all sports, received this e-mail and forwarded it to me.

Dear Dr. Marconi,

My husband and I have five sons, four over the age of 21, who have participated in the sports of football, soccer, basketball, baseball and wrestling over the past twenty-something years.  We have experienced good coaching and had a couple of horrible experiences.

Our youngest son, aged eleven, has played basketball with this organization last winter with Don Keys and Rick Phelps and this season with Rick Phelps, Mr. Jesse and Mr. Jones.  These fine men have provided by far the best experience that any of our sons has ever had.  They have molded a group of normal kids into an incredible team.  The kids have had so much fun.  I have yet to hear one word of criticism directed from one kid to another.  The kids support each other and try to make sure that everyone has a good time.  I may be wrong, but I believe that I heard that they had never coached basketball before. These guys should be teaching the coaching clinics.  The kids have all felt free to make mistakes and try things that they have not done before without fear that the result may not turn out perfectly.

Every boy has blossomed during the season into a competent basketball player.  The team as a whole is truly greater than its component parts.  They work together in a way that I have never seen in such young kids. My hat is off to these gentlemen! I don’t know how it could get any better than this.

Kitty B.

I believe that some of Kitty’s observations had to do with the rule mentioned earlier.  In hindsight, perhaps it would have been more accurate to say “Your goal is to help the other players on the team perform better.” Imagine if we used this approach at work without the fear of making others look better than ourselves.  I wonder if there could be a department with all  Top performers or maybe it’s more about a creating a Top performing department.

Incite: Is it possible to rethink how we evaluate and reward behavior?  What would it look like, feel like, and sound like if every one was focused on helping each other perform at their best?  If you are not constrained by a performance rating system, how can you begin to implement the concept in your organization or company?

Is Work a Mediaocracy?

Posted: January 9, 2011 in Performance

Some people mistakenly believe that organizations are a meritocracy.  Those who view the people at the top as those in power believe it’s an aristocracy.  Perhaps, as in real life, it’s more of a mediaocracy.

Have you heard the phrase that perception is reality? If so, then it’s not what you do; it’s not necessarily who you know.  It’s really more about what people hear and believe about you.

If so, what and where are the media channels within your organization? Who are the reporters? Are you even in the  news?  If so, what do the headlines say?  How do actually make the news?  Is it for some wonderful accomplishment, or is it, as is more common today, some negative event?

Incite: Are you in the headlines or on the sidelines?  What can you do to be an enduring force versus simply having 15 seconds of fame or shame?

It’s a new year,  your organization has become a stock market and everyone now has their own ticker symbol.  Each person also has $10,000 to invest in others, but not themselves.

Who would invest in YOU and why?  Who would you invest in and why?

The concept of “Brand You” is not new, but now the focus is on performance and adding value.

What is your product or service, how much will you charge for it, and who will pay you for it?

Will your revenue exceed your costs?  Are you a “profit center” or a “cost center?”

What measures will you report to your shareholders in your quarterly reports?   What will your EPS (Effort Per Share) look like?

What will the business analysts ask you? What will they write about you?  What will their stock recommendation be?

Incite: There are many questions posed here using the stock symbol as a metaphor. Few if any people will actually try to answer these questions.  Hopefully, they will at least stimulate your thinking about who you are, what you do, and how you show up.

Feeling valued and valuing others is important not just in the workplace, but in life in general. For a unique perspective, check out this clever, heart-warming, award-winning video. It is 16 minutes long, but well worth the time. If you choose not to take the time now, write yourself a reminder, and check it out later.

Incite: In what ways do you “validate” others?  What are some of the things you do or don’t do, that you now realize could be devaluating?

Credit: Michael Lee Stallard posted this video link on his blog on Dec. 22, 2010 under the title Are You a Life Giver or Life Drainer? His blog is ranked #5 in the Top Business blogs in the Leadership Category. He is also the author of Fired Up. Or Burned Out, of which I’m an advocate. Check out his site.

As my wedding anniversary approached, I thought it would be the perfect time to have a performance conversation with my wife.  After all, it is a partnership, and what better way to manage performance than with a verbal if not written review of her performance. With SMART objectives in my mind, balanced feedback, and a monetary reward system, it was a “can’t lose approach. “

I scheduled a review time.  I didn’t use my office; we sat side by side at the dining room table.  To sweeten the pot, I had put a blank check in my top shirt pocket and made sure it was visible.

I began by saying, “Dear, I would like to talk you about something… specifically your performance in our marriage this year. There are a number of areas in which I think you excelled, and a few that I think you could improve in.  But first, tell me how you think you did.”

The encounter ended abruptly with a strong emotional response and her running out of the room.

I rrealized the errors of my ways.  I should have told her the topic of discussion beforehand. I also think it would have been more effective if we had developed a marriage strategy and discussed personal objectives for her that directly aligned with the overall strategy.

Regarding her reaction, I think I might have to add a new policy to the Marriage Employee Partner handbook I am working on.

Incite: Feedback can trigger unconscious responses to power, authority, control, and status hierarchy.  Is there a better way?

Credit: This is a variation of a parody I first heard from either Tom Peters or Peter Block years ago.  Here’s a link to a related book on Amazon with the Foreword by Peter Block.  Abolishing Performance Appraisals: Why They Backfire and What to Do Instead. If anyone can confirm the source, please leave a comment.

Rewarding Behavior?

Posted: December 5, 2010 in Performance
Tags: ,

Most companies have reward systems in place believing that extrinsic rewards motivate employees.   Research has shown that what really motivates employees is 80% intrinsic, that is it comes from within.  Taking a more mechanistic approach, the act of working actually releases pleasurable chemicals in the brain.

After conducting many employee surveys and focus groups, I have found that one of the most underused reward systems is the manager/employee relationship.   Many employees would simply want to hear a sincere “thank you.”

To gain a deeper “incite” into the impact of external rewards, check out this 10:48 Daniel Pink video.

Incite: What do you find rewarding?  What motivates your employees?  How do autonomy, mastery, and purpose show up in your work, in how you lead others?