Blue Rooster Web is proud to launch the Ascend Performance Group’s website. Ascend helps businesses grow by providing leadership and organizational development, as well as, performance coaching. To better explain Ascend’s philosophy and thought process, we had a little help from Jim Knittel, Principle at Ascend.
Solve the Performance Puzzle
Each year, organizations combine to spend over one billion dollars on talent development, yet leaders often report that their employees fail to hit expected goals. Part of the problem is that in many cases, leaders don’t care what pieces are in the box, they just want to see the completed picture. In other words, they don’t get bogged down with the process of how talent development comes together, they just care that their employees are knowledgeable, skillful, engaged, motivated, and executing their job requirements. But as anyone good at putting puzzles together will tell you, the process is critical to the end product.
In my 20+ years of helping organizations solve their performance challenges, I’ve found that the corners of the performance puzzle include:
- Process and accountability
- Emotional intelligence
Each of these pieces bring a wealth of knowledge and insight into how we maximize performance. This article will look at key findings from each of these areas and propose a process for putting this puzzle together.
There are two lines of thought that must be considered in relation to neuroscience:
- Human brains are wired for survival and instinctively trend to the negative to ensure safety (fight or flight). That means we’re working against thousands of years of evolution to create new tendencies that look for the positives first.
- We know that only 5% of the decisions we make come from the prefrontal cortex – which is the thoughtful, logic-oriented part of our brain. To maximize performance, we need to be aware of the brain’s tendencies and be committed to operating in a manner that takes control over our emotions.
Therefore, when focused on talent development, we need to take into account our brain’s tendencies and incorporate a strategy to overcome years of evolutional control. Techniques such as questioning, meditation, and physical activity can create new pathways that will drive better thinking and, in turn, the potential to improve performance.
For the sake of simplicity, I have done an injustice to the complexity that has been uncovered in the area of neuroscience. For the purposes here, we need to know our reptilian brain is working against us, yet we can create new pathways that will drive better thinking and the potential for improved performance.
Process & Accountability
When we think of performance in any discipline, we naturally think of process and practice. Look at any high-performing organization and you’ll find one that has a clear vision, defined expectations, agreed upon ways of achievement, and a commitment to excelling through practice. When we compare those high-performers with the rest of the pack, we see an unwavering discipline to process. Successful organizations are not only committed to a process, but they demonstrate an inflexible commitment to holding everyone accountable to extremely high standards. They have identified a path, that when followed will ensure success, and in turn they have built strength through a community where everyone understands what their role is and how they each contribute to the larger goal.
As I reflect on organizations that I have witnessed, there is a general tendency to operate through vagueness, a lack of accountability, in-fighting, and a pervasive attitude of “good enough”. I’m sure we’ve all been part of teams where everything was an effort. Hopefully, many of us have also experienced being part of something where everything clicks. What creates the difference?
When we look to solve the performance puzzle we must ask ourselves, is our mission clear? Is there a defined process that explains what we’re doing, how to do it, and why we’re doing it? Does every member of the team understand their role and are they being held accountable to the high standards needed to excel? Are we incorporating practice, coaching and other developmental solutions to ingrain the skills needed to perform?
Emotional Intelligence (EI)
Popularized by Daniel Goleman, emotional intelligence refers to the ability to identify and manage one’s own emotions and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically. I’ve captured EI as a separate bucket from our neuroscience bucket but there are many consistencies between the two. While both start with the inner-workings of the brain and bring us back to the ongoing struggle between the limbic system and the prefrontal cortex for decision making abilities, for the purposes of this conversation we’ll look at EI with a slant away from the science and toward the demonstrable skills that enable leaders to maximize their own performance and their followers’ performance.
Goleman identifies the five skills that make up EI – self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skill. Not only did Goleman find that EI proved to be twice as important as technical skills and IQ as ingredients of excellent performance, his research showed that high levels of EI creates climates in which information sharing, trust, healthy risk-taking and learning flourish. In Leadership and Self-Deception, and The Outward Mindset, The Arbinger Institute calls out “the biggest lever for change is not a change in self-belief but a fundamental change in the way one sees and regards one’s connections with and obligations to others.” If our mindset shapes how we engage with others and behave in every situation, and an outward mindset allows us to behave in ways that further the collective results we’re committed to achieve, it would stand to reason that by developing our emotional intelligence we will be better skilled at getting out of our own way and maximizing the relationships with others.
If we start to look at the patterns emerging across neuroscience, process & accountability, and now EI, we see how important it is to operate in the present. Being aware of our mental and physiological states and how those states influence our decision-making, collaboration, accountability and creativity is paramount to our ability to perform at a high level. High-performers realize that processes, practice and habits are the elements that lead to results.
Evaluation of high-performers also uncovers the importance of resilience. Research shows that we need to be aware of our feelings and their power to control our choices. We need to acknowledge and overcome the reality that we will never achieve greatness unless we become better managers of our feelings and be willing to push ourselves beyond our perceived limits. Leaders and high-performers in any discipline share one trait – a defiant commitment to doing whatever it takes to achieve success. These people do not give into the feelings of “not today”, “not now”, or any other barrier their mind – or others – can put in front of them.
When we focus on performance improvement we need to create an environment that embraces a no-excuses mindset. It is not until we are willing to push beyond the fear, the discomfort, and the unknown, that we will begin to achieve the greatness that we are capable of.
Putting It All Together
We started this conversation focused on investigating how to maximize performance. While we only scratched the surface we have uncovered the key pieces to the puzzle. Improving performanceand achieving success is not an easy process, otherwise talent development would not be a billion dollar business. What we need to recognize is that there are a lot of pieces to the puzzle that need to be well-constructed in order to achieve the picture we’re looking for.