If increasing your team’s performance is your goal… you may be chasing the wrong target

High Performance

How do your teams support performance?

How often have you said or heard one of your managers say, “I would love to be able to increase my teams’ performance?”

If increasing your team’s performance is your goal, you may be chasing the wrong target.

Performance is a by-product rather than a goal in itself,  as with happiness in a relationship.

 Like high performance,
happiness is a desired state;
yet if we chase it, eludes us
Neither can successfully be established
as the primary goal.

Happiness (as with performance) is the result of something – for example meaningful work or a good marriage.  Happiness is the result of focusing on establishing understanding and respect in a marriage, not of a focus on happiness.

In the same way, high performance comes by focusing on developing key elements in your company, not by focusing on performance itself.

High performing companies have three key elements: a clear, compelling strategy in alignment with the company values and people committed to the cause.

 Clear, Compelling Strategy
Remember playing broken telephone – you all sat in a circle and one person initiated a message which was then passed around the circle, whispered from ear to ear until the last person repeated aloud what they heard?  Usually it was a garbled distortion of the original message.  Company strategies are often communicated in a similar fashion.

A strategic communication approach, where it is left for each level of leadership to communicate to their direct reports, has the same ‘broken telephone’ effect.

Understanding (and commitment) decreases with each communication at each level it is passed down.

Even if the strategy statement remains clear, does it engender commitment?  Does anyone care?

A professionally worded statement may be clear, but is it compelling?

 For a strategy to translate into focused performance
it must be clear and compelling

Imagine the focus in a company where everyone has a clear picture (and can tell you in their own words) of the company’s reason for existing, where it is headed and what its strategy is.

If you want to test the uniformity of the direction your employees or team are working towards, survey (formally or informally) and check the uniformity in understanding of:

  1. Why the company exists?
  2. Where is it headed?
  3. What is its strategy?

Personalisation of a clearly communicated, well understood strategy may well give you as many different wordings as people, however, you will be able to tell if they’re all describing the same picture.  If they “get it”, they will have personalised it.

Apart from other obvious benefits, a clear picture of the company’s strategy and goals allows alignment with personal goals.  This strong tangible connection between personal and company goals means the company’s agenda is their agenda.

Companies that show the “performance difference” have a strong alignment between personal and company goals and philosophy.  They are open in their communication around goals and expectations.  They are a partnership grounded in an understanding of simultaneously moving employer and employee towards their strategic goals.  Synergy is the product of this partnership.

VeriFone doubled their revenues in 5 years (to more than $300 million) and former CEO, Hatim Tyabji, was very clear about the importance of alignment between personal goals and company philosophy, expectations and direction.  They used alignment at the recruitment stage.

Before hiring a new employee they were very clear about the quid pro quo of life at VeriFone. The quid pro quo, in return for all the freedom we offer, is a tremendous emphasis on accountability.  Some hear the message and realise “This is not for me.” Fine. Others start but do not fit the mould and leave.  Left, are those who align and this is seen as integral to the company’s success.

Energy, Initiative and Commitment

Alignment leads to personal commitment.  A personal commitment to the success of the business unlocks a passion that energises us.  A community of people committed to the same thing not only feeds that energy, but also increases the accountability and the expectation of success.  The focus isn’t performance – the focus is building a company of people committed to a clear and compelling strategy; people whose personal agendas are met by meeting the company’s agenda – performance is the result.

When the focus is performance the interaction between company and employees becomes transactional which undermines commitment.  However, personal commitment is made stronger by being part of a community (all who work for the company) who are committed to the same agenda.

The result?
Even obstacles are approached with initiative and a commitment
to seeing the strategy work.

A ‘High Performance Culture’ is the result of a focus on:

  1. A clearly communicated picture of a compelling strategy.
  2. Open communication around both company and personal goals and an expectation that they will be strongly aligned. Even to the point where it is part of the recruitment process.
  3. Recruiting for, and rewarding energy, initiative and commitment together with a clear expectation of accountability.

A Tribute to the Founders of Coaching

It is Coaching Week  2017 and  it seems fitting that  we pay tribute to a few of the founders of this amazing profession; Sir John Whitmore, Timothy Gallwey and Laura Whitworth.  Each has had also, unknowingly, shaped the foundation of my coaching.

Thank-you to all of you for your integrity and passion that began and continues to impact the now established profession of Leadership and Executive coaching.

John Whitmore - Coaching Founder

Sir John Whitmore’s book Coaching for Performance was the first book I read on coaching.  He died last month having made a significant impact on the world coaching extending beyond the realm of sports into leadership and business.  As with most executive coaches he entered the profession (or in his case helped build the profession) after success in a previous career – as a British racing driver – with 2 championship titles to his name.

Sir John and  Timothy Gallwey (tennis expert), developed the Inner Game methodology or performance coaching that is the heart of all executive coaching models.

Timothy Gallwey - Tennis Coach Timothy Gallwey - Coaching Quote

More on the inner game and Timothy Gallwey:

“The “inner game” is based upon certain principles in which an individual uses non-judgmental observations of critical variables, with the purpose of being accurate about these observations. If the observations are accurate, the person’s body will adjust and correct automatically to achieve best performance.  Gallwey was one of the first to demonstrate a comprehensive method of coaching that could be applied to many situations, and found himself lecturing more often to business leaders in the U.S. than to sports people.” Wikipedia

I have used this principle with great results in my own life in with my coaching clients.

Laura Whitworth was one of the founders of CTI, the first Coaching School to be accredited and where I was certified.Laura Whitworth - quote

She was also a founder of the International Coach Federation (ICF) which now has over 13,000 members and has been instrumental in establishing Coaching as a legitimate profession internationally.

She entered coaching after some time in Alaska as an Adventure Tour guide and hunter and a stint in the Peace Corps.

Each has lived an interesting life, all are trailblazers.  Interestingly I find this to be true of many coaches I meet.

I am an unashamed champion of coaching I have seen the benefit of it in my own life and I continue to be amazed at how significant an impact it has with my clients.  Not only while they are coaching with me, but long after the coaching has finished.  I guess it speaks to my personal value around impact that lasts.   If you’ve never worked with a coach before (as a company or an individual), do yourself a favour and make the investment.  Choose a certified coach that is a good fit for your need and style.  You won’t regret it!

Share your own coaching stories and tributes in the comments section below.

When Stuck…Try Something Different

A book I often recommend to clients is Leadership and Self-Deception: Getting out of the Box.

The Preface to the book gives a great metaphor for how we can be our own worst enemy when we insist on pushing harder instead of ‘pausing to reflect and try something new’:

“Self-deception actually determines one’s experience in every aspect of life…it is the central issue in leadership…To give you an idea of what’s at stake, consider the following analogy.  An infant is learning to crawl.  She begins by pushing herself backward around the house.  Backing herself around, she gets lodged beneath the furniture.  There she trashes about – crying and banging her little head against the sides and undersides of the pieces.  She is stuck and hates it.  So she does the only thing she can think of to get herself out – she pushes even harder, which only worsens her problem.  She is more stuck than ever.

If this infant could talk, she would blame the furniture for her troubles.  She, after all, is doing everything she can think of.  The problem couldn’t be hers.  But of course, the problem is hers, even though she can’t see it.  While it’s true she’s doing everything she can think of, the problem is precisely that she can’t see how she’s the problem.  Having the problem she has, nothing she can think of will be a solution.

Self-deception is like this.  It blinds us to the true cause of problems, and once blind, all the “solutions” we can think of will actually make matters worse.”

Leaders are intelligent, action oriented people who have learned to trust their decision making and problem solving ability.  It is therefore natural that when they bump into barriers they believe the problem will be solved by changing something external to themselves.

The flaw in that thinking is that they too, are part of the system that needs a solution.  Like little Sam, stuck under the couch, they too are part of the problem.

In some way, to some extent, you and I are all part of the issue that needs to be solved.  It is true that if the furniture wasn’t there, Sam wouldn’t have got stuck.  It is equally true that a broader skill set – the ability to crawl forwards as well as backwards – would’ve enabled him to get unstuck.  As leaders, we need to be asking where our thought patterns and/or skill set is part of what is keeping us stuck.  Where do we need to change or grow?

Without asking in what ways our presence and approach impacts the situation, we deceive ourselves and miss an opportunity to influence.  We remain part of the problem.

What questions could the following people ask that will help them understand their part in the problems they’re encountering?

I have an open door policy but no one lets me know things until it’s too late.

Nothing gets done around here unless I do it.

I can’t seem to get my team to take the initiative, I have to tell them exactly what to do.  They don’t seem capable of thinking for themselves.

The competitiveness amongst our people stops them from collaborating and means that vital information isn’t shared.  It is costing us millions each year.

Breaking out of our ‘tried and tested’ ways of thinking and acting is not easy on our own and it is a key leadership skill for those who want to lead well outside a limited set of circumstances.  This is one of the reasons coaching has become a pillar of many organizations leadership development – executive coaching provides the right balance of challenge and support for leaders to break free from their ‘tried and tested’ ways when circumstances require it.

Leaders: Reflecting on the good ones – Part 1

All the attention of the current US presidential electioning has me reflecting on what is good leadership and is leadership aptitude enough or are there other factors?

I got to thinking about leaders I admire.  Obviously I do not know these leaders personally, however, they are all leaders I’ve taken a keen interest in and followed their lives to varying degrees over the years.  In this short, mini-series, I reflect on what appear to be factors that molded them as good, even great leaders.  Leaders who the world is better for them having led.  Leaders who finished (or are finishing) well.  I may follow it with reflections on a few leaders the world may have been better without.

I invite you to join by sharing your own stories of leaders you admire and also by adding your reflections to my thoughts.

Desmond Tutu (aka The Arch)

– Archbishop Emeritus of Cape Town

tutu-youngDesmond Tutu was born in South Africa in a time when it wasn’t easy to be black.  He chose a life as an Anglican minister and became the first black Archbishop of Cape Town.  This was at a time when even the church was segregated.  It would’ve been easy to become either bitter with anger or arrogant at his success, but he did neither.  It would also have been easy protect the privilege of his position by avoiding controversial issues.

Desmond has a wife and four children and he chose to be true to his calling as a prophet – as one who speaks truth and holds those in leadership to account.  The end result was a Nobel prize, but the cost of that prize were years of being misquoted and maligned in the press.  Death threats – even people phoning his home and letting his young daughter know that they are going to kill her father.  He remained strong and true, eventually leading South Africa through the Truth and Reconciliation process.  A process globally recognised as revolutionary in its power to heal.  Many sat back and watched as the Apartheid government was replaced by a fully democratically elected black government and wondered if he would have the same courage to speak truth and hold this government accountable.  He didn’t even miss a beat, but continues to play a pivotal truth speaking role in South Africa and globally.


As I reflect on “The Arch” (as he is affectionately known) I see a man having to choosing again and again to do the hard thing because it is what he is called to do.  tutu
A man with a deep faith and a deep dependence on God that is his strength.  A man who refused to be chained by bigots or by anger but who channelled his anger (with forgiveness) to stand for truth, justice and reconciliation.