Improving performance isn’t just about bottom-line results. It’s also about improving how we perform as individuals and as a team every day.
I think it’s safe to say that, as leaders and managers, our main goal is always to improve our performance. We need to improve the performance of our teams in order to improve the performance of our company, in order to improve our performance for our customers and clients. We continually need to make sure that we are not falling into patterns of complacency, but always be working toward becoming better at what we do.
The ultimate goal of any truly effective individual or organization is to become invaluable to our managers, our companies, and to our customers. In order to accomplish this, we must be continually working toward improving performance. Improving performance can take a bit of discipline, but following these five keys will certainly help you put your process in place and stay on-track.
You never have to recover from a good start. I love preparation because it’s completely within our control. We don’t control the economy, we don’t control our competitors, what they charge or what they do. But we always control how well prepared we are.
Many people see someone who’s very good at what they do and think they’re winging it, that they’re doing it without preparation because it looks so easy. The reality is that the master of any craft is the person who has prepared best.
Preparation makes mastery look easy. Only amateurs wing it.
I have two simple suggestions I would make to help you improve your preparation skills. The first is to start each week with an outline of important performances you’re going to accomplish for that week. Not all performances are of equal value or weight, but be clear with yourself about what you need to be most prepared for, that you need to be at your very best.
My second suggestion is to do this with your team as well. I like to use our “Monday morning meetings” to discuss and prepare for, not just tasks and “to-dos,” but performances as well. What do we need to make sure we are prepared for to improve our performance to our various stakeholders? We use the time to recap what happened the week before and we talk about what needs to happen the week ahead. Doing this as a group takes this idea of being prepared from an individual standpoint and applying it to the entire team.
It’s fascinating to me how often in business we don’t practice. I’ve yet to work with a client that says to their employees, “Listen, come in on Monday. We’re going to practice Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday. Friday, game day, we’re going to let the customers in.” In lacking practice, how are we supposed to get better?
There are two kinds of practice that you can use to improve your workplace performance.
Practice In Play
Practice in play is all about being mindful of how what you do impacts the performance. Pay attention to how what you’re doing each day makes a difference and be attentive to what you learn, rather than simply going through the motions of your tasks. You can spend an entire week doing something and “keeping busy” while learning nothing from it. But, if you do it with the intention of learning and improving, that’s what I call practice in play.
Practice Outside Of Play
Practice outside of play is about making time separate from work to improve the skills you need to be successful. An example of this is learning scales in music. In music, the scales are the notes that are fundamental to all musical scores. A musician cannot play Beethoven’s 5th without practicing the scales and movements that create it.
Summarize the critical activities of your position – as a CEO, CFO, engineer, lawyer, etc. What are the critical activities that make for a remarkable performance in your professional space? Once you’ve summarized those critical activities, learn the essential skills needed to make your performance remarkable. In other words, couple your activities with the skills those activities require, so that you always know specifically what you need to be practicing in order to improve.
During a recent visit to New York City, I had the opportunity to attend three Broadway plays with a group of friends. One was a drama and it made us think. One was a comedy and it made us laugh. And the third was a musical that made us feel good. I realized that every great performance in every corner of the planet does one or more of these three things: it makes us laugh, it makes us think, and it makes us feel good. And through these experiences, by giving us a different perspective, expanding our understanding of the world, and inviting us to reflect on our world, great performances change our behavior.
They say that school is never out for the professional. The true mark of the master is that he or she never stops learning, never stops improving.
I’ve worked with several organizations that have the “we do it this way because it’s the way we’ve always done it” culture. How many successful companies do you know that are doing business exactly the same way they’ve always done it? Probably not very many – or none – because if we are not continually improving and evolving our processes and practices, we become irrelevant to our market.
Have you ever come out of a presentation or a sales pitch feeling like your message just fell flat? You’ve prepared, you’ve practiced, you’ve put on your performance, but in the end, you feel like you’ve just gone through the motions. There’s no emotion, there’s no pizzaz. That’s a great indication that it’s time to polish things up – that you’ve gone stagnant. It’s time to read up on some new research and materials, reconnect with your network and put yourself out there to gain new ideas!
Always be looking for ways to polish your performance, whether you’re in charge of new business development or you’re supervising the manufacturing line, there is a world of new ideas, processes, trends, and perspectives out there for your to access and apply to your performance area.
Navigating pitfalls is certainly a key to improving performance. Even if we excel at the first four keys, there is always going to be room for unplanned or unavoidable pitfalls. There are three kinds of pitfalls: the ones we can avoid, or self-inflicted pitfalls; those that we cannot avoid, but we can prepare for, and the pitfalls that are totally outside of our control.
Where do you think high performers focus most of their energy? Certainly on the things that they can avoid first. They work hard to eliminate self-inflicted pitfalls so that they can respond better to the next level of importance, the pitfalls that we cannot avoid, but can prepare for. They have a contingency plan if something goes wrong, a backup plan, a recovery strategy.
The pitfall that high performers focus the least amount of their energy on are the ones that are totally outside of their control. Because there are so many things in this world that are totally outside of our control. But when we’ve prepared, practiced, polished, and planned, we have to confidence to meet uncontrollable pitfalls head-on and respond to them in a productive manner.