Archive for the ‘Performance’ Category

Be Happy: The Benefits of Positive Feedback

Thursday, February 3rd, 2011

I’ve written a lot about how important positive, or confirming, feedback is to a person’s performance. The reason is simple: People tend to do more of what they’re praised or rewarded for. If I tell you that I like the way you did something, you’re more likely to do that again. But there’s another reason positive feedback can improve performance.

A number of years ago I was coaching a race driver who had been a mid-pack performer, mostly due to a lack of experience. In other words, he had good basic skills and techniques, but rarely put them all together because he just hadn’t developed the ability to do so yet. The best he had qualified for a race all season had been 12th.

Prior to a qualifying session about two-thirds of the way through the season I asked this driver to tell me about the best performance he had had in any activity in his life. He recounted – and replayed in his mind – a hockey game he’d played a few years earlier where he had been totally in the zone, and played the best ever. During our conversation, I asked him what emotions he felt during that time, and it was obvious from his facial expressions how positive they had been.

Moments after our conversation he got in the car and went out for qualifying. He put it on the pole, setting fast time amongst two dozen drivers. First place!

What happened? Did he gain extra skill all of a sudden? No, he simply accessed all of his abilities within him. The replaying of the past success had triggered a performance state of mind. It had made him happy.

When someone is provided with positive feedback, it triggers a performance state of mind; it makes them happy. And, while it may seem simple, research study after research study have proven that people perform better when they’re happy. Read Shawn Achor’s book, The Happiness Advantage for details.

So, not only does positive feedback confirm for a person that they should do more of what they were praised for, but it puts them in a better state of mind. It actually makes them happier. Either way, they’re more likely to perform at a higher level because of it.

Of course, the feedback needs to be genuine…

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Changing the Way We See Things

Monday, January 24th, 2011

Imagine for a minute that you and I are faced with the same scene: we’re standing on a street corner in downtown Seattle around midnight, when we hear people yelling, agitated voices, then a loud bang followed by three men running out of a back alley. What’s going on?

Okay, some kind of fight, probably a mugging, and possibly even someone getting shot, right? Do you think you and I would respond in the same manner? While you want to call the police, for example, is it possible that I would rather just run to safety? Or chase after the three men to get information to pass onto police? Or go looking for an injured person in the alleyway?

It’s very likely that we would both respond in very different ways. Why? Because we have different mental programming, different software in our minds, developed over many years from our own unique experiences.

In the seconds that go by while you and I both scan the darkest regions of our minds to figure out what to do based on our programming, it hits you: this isn’t a real mugging, but a movie being shot. Almost immediately your body relaxes, and what goes through your mind next is, “Hey, I wonder if we can see some big-name star.”

Again, your programming, and therefore how you interpret a situation is different than mine. You can’t understand why I’m still looking nervous. With enough time, you might even think I’m not very smart for not realizing what’s really going on.

Now imagine your surprise when we walk around the corner and don’t see all the typical movie cameras, crews and trailers. What we notice is another three young men staggering out of the alley, wearing UW jerseys, hats and carrying purple and gold flags. Behind them, on the ground, is a beer can flattened as if run over by a truck. In this case, though, one of the first three men had grabbed it from the UW fans and stomped on it hard enough to cause the exploding bang we heard.

My point is that every situation, and every person can be interpreted in many different ways. And we will do that based on our programming, which was developed through many years of experience and interactions with countless numbers of people.

Makes you think that before you conclude what’s happening in any situation or with any person, stop, walk around the corner, and maybe even look at it from a completely different perspective. It’s not going to change your programming, but that different perspective, that different view, and especially more information may change which program gets triggered and how you’ll respond.

By the way, do you think the first three men were friends or foes of the UW fans?

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A Culture-Developing Book

Thursday, January 13th, 2011

One of the best books I’ve read in a long time is Delivering Happiness, by Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos. Why? Because it’s all about what I believe may be the most important factor in the success of a business. Oh, and I like the way it’s written.

For years I’ve been asking successful business owners, executives, managers, and founders one question: What do you hire for, fit or skill? In all but one time, the answer I’ve gotten from the most successful leaders is “hire for fit.” In other words, hire people who fit the company’s culture, who will fit in with co-workers, because anyone can learn skills – they can’t learn to fit a culture.

That’s not to say that I haven’t had many managers, owners, executives, and founders claim to hire for skill. Quite a few, actually, answer that way. But I can’t recall a single one that would be considered successful by many on the outside. In fact, there’s been a direct correlation between mediocre managers who claim to focus on a potential employee’s skill, and successful ones who hire for fit. Okay, it’s not a scientific study, but my anecdotal surveys are many enough to demonstrate more than a trend.

If you know much about Zappos, you know that the company is all about providing an incredible customer experience. They’ve built a culture focused on customer service. They hire people who will go out of their way to give customers an experience they will rave about. That’s not a skill that people either have or don’t have; it’s an attitude, it’s part of a person’s values. The skills to do so are developed.

What’s interesting is what inspired Hsieh to build a company so focused and committed to building the company’s culture. It was a personal experience at a company he founded. One day, he awoke and realized his company had changed, and it wasn’t pretty. The culture – the collective values – of the business had turned into something he didn’t like. The business had turned into something ugly. He couldn’t say exactly who, what or when it changed, but it had.

I’ve experienced the exact same thing. That’s probably one reason I enjoyed Delivering Happiness so much. Read it. I bet you’ll get more than you expected from it.

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Act As If You’re Not Being Judged

Wednesday, January 5th, 2011

You’re not being judged. Accept it, even if it’s not true. Pretend, if that’s what it takes. In fact, it will probably take some pretending, since we’re being judged most of our lives. But just do it – pretend you’re not being judged.

How often is your behavior impacted by what you think others think of you, or how they judge you? My bet is that most of what you do, especially within the workplace, is because of what you think is the “right” thing to do. You do what you think others want you to do or how they want you to be. Admit it, because it’s true. You don’t act true to yourself.

Is this a bad thing? Would you be better off behaving as if no one was judging you?

Imagine an entire day where you do only what you think is right, rather than what you believe others think is right. Give it a try. Act as if you are not being judged, and just do.

Some authors and management gurus will advise you to act as if you’re always being watched, as if you are constantly being evaluated. On the surface, I like the idea of that. It certainly has a chance of keeping you focused on being on your game. But it may hold you back from being who you really are. And maybe being who you are would result in you being on your game.

What’s the worst thing that could happen by simply being yourself – by acting as if no one is judging you? Could it be that you, being you, are a better performer than the you that you think you should be?

Another Year of Learning

Wednesday, December 29th, 2010

Every year around this time, individuals, organizations and the media make lists of “The Best…,” “The Worst…,” “The Most…,” “The Stupidest…,” and list possible New Year’s resolutions. Me? I like to list what I’ve learned over the past 12 months. For me, a day without learning is a day not lived, let alone an entire year!

If I make a list, I’m less likely to make a major learning-take (that’s what I call a mistake that results in learning something): having to learn the same thing twice. Hey, there’s so much to learn that it’s a waste of time to learn something twice; why not learn something new?

Here are a few things I’ve learned over the past year:

  • The iPad is awesome. I love it.
  • I’ve learned more about trusting people. I won’t go into the details, but I’ve learned to tune up my sensitivity to whom I should and shouldn’t trust.
  • There is a limit to how much I can do (although I’ll probably always push the limits on that one – and go over the limit many more times, just for the fun of it). I’m learning more about when and where I need to rely on others to do things.
  • Helping people, in whatever they need help with, is the most rewarding thing I can ever do. Okay, I learned this in the past, but it was really hammered home again this past year.
  • I’ve learned a little more about business finance – and the more I learn, the less I seem to know.
  • One can never overestimate what it will take to get a new business up, running and financially successful.
  • There are great opportunities for people and businesses that do a great job. There are so many that do just the minimum to get by that anyone who does just a little extra stands out from the crowd.

There are things that I’ve learned in the past, but that were reinforced this year:

  • Surrounding myself with great people makes all the difference in the world. And staying away from the people who are not so great helps just about as much (and maybe more).
  • The working environment – the culture – is more important than just about anything else.
  • If I’m not having fun, I’m not performing at my best.
  • The island of Kaua’i is the one place that I can truly relax and recharge. It’s a magical place for me, a place that I can use to put me in a great state of mind, whether I’m really there or just imagining it.

Oh, there are so many more things on my list from this past year – the list is very long! But those are a few that I hope will trigger a list of your own.

What did you learn in 2010?

Happy New Year!

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Changing The Organization

Wednesday, November 3rd, 2010

Awhile back, I wrote a post about change, specifically about how individuals can change their mental programming with the use of mental imagery. But I posed the question, “How does an entire organization change – how can an entire company do mental programming?”

So, do you have the answer?

I’m waiting…

Okay, maybe I’ll take a stab at it – although I’d still like to hear your answer. You can always post a comment below.

Mental models… That’s really what we’re talking about. And that’s one of the many things that great leaders do: they paint a picture of the future, helping everyone in the organization to develop a mental model of what the changed future looks like.

Developing a mental model is really mental imagery, otherwise known as visualization. When a leader designs a picture of what the future looks like, change and all, others develop a clear mental model of that future. And, for whatever reason, our minds tend to follow the image we put in it. In other words, if you help create a mental image of what the future will look like, and I get a very strong, clear picture of it, my mind will do everything it can to ensure it happens as you’ve represented it.

“Change comes from within.” Sounds very Zen-like, doesn’t it? But it fits organizational change. Until the people within the organization change their model of the business, nothing you do to the organization will change. Think of this change as being an inside-out approach, instead of an outside-in one. You can change procedures, you can change processes, you can even change the people in the organization, but until a majority of people have a clear mental model of what the change looks like, feels like, and sounds like, nothing will transform.

But that’s just my mental model of change. What’s yours? How do you think organizations can create change?

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What’s Your Sentence?

Thursday, October 21st, 2010

What are you? And when I ask about you, I’m mean you as a person, a team, or an organization. At the core, what are you? If you can’t answer that in 60 seconds or less, you won’t be successful.

Claire Boothe Luce once said, “A great man is a sentence.” In other words, if you can’t summarize who you are and what you do in one sentence, you won’t be “great.”

Businesses are the same. I wonder what would happen if you asked Steve Balmer and Steve Jobs the question, “What does your company do?” Who would have the shortest answer? I’d love the opportunity to do that, but until I do I’d bet that Jobs would have the shortest, most-focused answer.

I’ve experienced, and I’ve even contributed to (unfortunately) making organizations overly-complex. The simpler the organization, the more focused it is, the more clear the vision and direction is, the more likely it is of success. The same is true of people.

A while ago I asked a man what he did. After about fifteen minutes I asked again. After about ten minutes I asked again. And after about five minutes I asked again. It was at this point that he got totally frustrated with me and must have thought I was an idiot. But each time I asked him what he did, he became more clear on what it is that he does. But he never did quite get to what he should be doing, and that’s why, in my opinion, he will never fully realize his potential. To date, he’s proven me right.

What are you, and what do you do? Now, if you’re a doctor, simply saying, “I’m a doctor” is not good enough. What makes you different from other doctors? Who are you, and what is it about you that makes you what you are? Can you answer that question in one sentence? Your answer should be short, to the point, and simple.

What does your business do? Can you answer that in one sentence? Often, this is referred to as the “elevator pitch,” because it can be stated in the time it takes to ride a few floors in an elevator.

I’m a performance coach, and I love to help individuals, teams and organizations perform better.

I’ve really enjoyed writing this post because it’s made me re-focus on what I do best, what I’m passionate about, and what I can be most successful at. Sure, I can do many other things, but they’re not who I am – they’re not part of my “one sentence.”

The Advantage of Being Naïve

Thursday, October 14th, 2010

Be stupid.

Not knowing what you’re doing and not knowing what you “should” know, and being just a little bit dumb or naïve is sometimes a good thing. Knowing too much can be a bad thing.

Whether it’s in sports, business, or whatever, knowledge often limits what you do.

The examples are many: Entrepreneurs who jump in and make new ventures work despite many people with much more knowledge and experience saying it won’t work. Athletes who accomplish things because they didn’t know they shouldn’t be able to. Scientists not listening to what others have said and coming up with breakthroughs.

I love coaching young race drivers. Why? Because they don’t know what they can’t do; they think they can do anything. And so often, they can. They do things that many drivers with more experience would say can’t or should not be done. Things like driving through a corner with their right foot flat to the floor on the gas pedal, when others with more experience would tell you “that can’t be done.”

Many young drivers get sponsors to pay for their racing program for one reason: They ask for it. More experienced and knowledgeable drivers wouldn’t ask because they’d “know” they had nothing to offer. But being naïve meant these new racers weren’t limited to what they should or shouldn’t ask for.

I know a salesperson who doesn’t always do things “by the book.” But he makes things happen. And that’s because he isn’t limited by what others think. I’m not saying he’s dumb. In fact, he’s very smart. But he doesn’t let the rules, what others think is the right way, get in the way of getting things done.

So, how do you use what you know without that knowledge getting in the way? Without it limiting you? The trick, of course, is knowing when to trust your knowledge and experience, and when to turn your brain off and just go for it.

Try it. Turn off your brain; stop thinking about what can and can’t be done; stop thinking about what the “right” way is to do or think about something; stop listening to people that say you can’t do that… and just do it. Try it for a while. The problem is that you – and most everyone else – have been programmed to think in a certain way. So, until you consciously change the way you think, you’ll keep thinking the way you’ve always thought.

Consciously and deliberately act naïve. Expect to do the unexpected. Just do.

By the way, one of the most naïve businesspeople, in terms of not following what others say or what the norm is, is Sir Richard Branson. Did he do what others thought was the smart thing to do? No. And look where it got him.

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The Value of Venting

Wednesday, October 6th, 2010

What a stupid #!*&. She doesn’t have a clue, and he’s an idiot. If it weren’t for me, this team would be nowhere. Did you hear what that moron said this time?

Ahhh… That felt good. Yeah, the value of venting – it’s good stuff. Done right.

Have you ever written a letter or email and not sent it, just for the relief of letting out some steam, of getting it off your chest, of releasing some pent-up frustration?

Have you ever written an angry email, meaning not to send it, but hit Send by mistake? Oops! Ouch.

The next time you’re really frustrated and upset, sit down and write out what you’d really like to say to that jerk. Then leave it. Just before going to bed, read it over, vent some more and promise yourself that you’ll add a little more in the morning before sending it. Then let it go. Know that you’ve said it, and that you’ll have a chance to say more tomorrow. Then think about something else – something or someplace that you can feel, hear, smell, see and maybe even taste. Take it in. Enjoy it. Know that you’ve got nothing more to say. Enjoy.

Next morning, read what you had written the day/evening before. If you need to say more, do so. Write more. Let ‘er rip. Go for the jugular. Say what you need to say. Blast them. Use obscenities if you want. Then leave it again for a while – let’s say until the end of the day. But know that you’ve gotten it off your chest, again.

When you’ve finally gotten everything you wanted to say down in words – don’t worry about it being grammatically correct – let it sit for at least another three hours. Then stop and think whether you really want to say what you wrote. If you decide to send it, take at least thirty minutes to think about the consequences. What will happen when the recipient gets this letter/email?

If you decide to not send it, you have two options: You can delete it or tear it up and throw it in the garbage, or you can save it in a special Venting Folder. I’d strongly recommend that this folder be somewhere where no one but you could ever find it. Secure it.

I have a few letters “locked” away in a special file – some with language that is not my usual! They actually make for fun reading months and years later. Makes me feel good. And putting it down on paper is far more powerful and useful than it is just talking about it.

Now, where was I, you stupid git? Ahhh, yes, venting. Sometimes, it’s good for the soul.

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Dealing with Disappointment

Wednesday, September 22nd, 2010

Disappointment sucks, right?

Wouldn’t it be great to never be disappointed? Well, I guess it would be great. But maybe not. Maybe a life with no disappointment would be boring. Maybe without the lows, the highs would be nothing special.

How do you deal with disappointment? Do you focus on what disappointed you? Do you learn from the disappointment and then move on? Do you not even think about it and move on? Do you get dragged down or energized by disappointment? Some people use the experience to fuel them, to challenge them, to drive them to future success. For others, disappointment brings them down, whether they make that conscious choice or not.

All of these questions rushed through my head recently as I had to deal with a disappointment. Do I allow myself to get bogged down in the negative feelings, or brush them aside and move on? If I moved on too quickly, maybe I’d miss out on a learning experience. But if I focused on it too long, that wouldn’t help either. What to do?

I ended up reflecting on a few times in the past when something similar happened and realized that every time that I can recall, the disappointment led to something better. A major disappointment in a work situation led to a much better career – one that I would not have had if I had been satisfied with where I was. My disappointment with the performance of my race car, for instance, led me to proactively look for another opportunity with a different team.

The key in each of these situations was to realize that the disappointing situation was not going to last forever. It was temporary and one that I could choose my attitude about. I could focus on the disappointment and be miserable or I could choose to focus on the opportunity that could come from it.

Choice is an amazing thing and it’s something that we always have. At least we have the choice how we’re going to react to a situation. No one can force us to behave a certain way, to react a certain way, or to have a certain attitude. That’s our choice.

I’ve chosen to look at a disappointing situation, learn what I can from it, remind myself that most every other disappointment in my life turned into a positive experience, and then focus on what’s next. Of course, that’s just my strategy; it’s not for everyone.

How about you? What’s your strategy for dealing with disappointment?

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