Posts Tagged ‘focus’

Performance in the Workplace: 6 Performance Rules

Wednesday, February 10th, 2010

“I was amazed at how productive it was to take a few minutes once a week to reflect on the performance of my employees, my company, and myself.” That was the most common observation made by participants of my 6-week survey that I conducted during October and November of last year. The overall objective of the Performance in the Workplace study was to discover what factors most influenced performance (both positively and negatively), for managers, employees, and organizations.

The full report is available for downloading at I hope that by providing these study results, more managers, employees, and organizations will work to enhance their performance. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I’m passionate about helping people, teams, groups and companies perform better, and I know that sharing the findings of this study will help me do that.

Ultimately, there proved to be six key factors that affected performance, in order of how often they were reported and the apparent impact:

  1. Awareness – Taking a few minutes on a regular schedule to stop and think about performance – what impacts it, what’s working, and what’s not working.
  2. Feedback – Either a lack of feedback (negative) or the existence of it (positive) was evident in the performance ratings.
  3. Expectations – When participants and their employees had clear direction and knew what was expected of them, they performed better.
  4. Focus – Being focused on key issues, challenges and problems, and not getting distracted led to improved performance.
  5. Communication – When there was good communication, performance improved; when communication was restricted (for reasons ranging from being absent to having distractions get in the way), performance suffered.
  6. Organized – When participants took the time to get more organized and schedule projects, they performed better; when they didn’t, performance worsened.

Because taking a few minutes once a week to stop and reflect on one’s performance had such a powerful impact on people, I intend to tweet a message every now and then to remind followers and friends to do exactly that. Feel free to follow me on Twitter ( to get a reminder (I plan to tweet about all sorts of performance issues and topics). The awareness that comes from taking time to reflect leads to subtle but definite improvements in performance over time.

One of the exciting findings of the study was that many managers and organizations are doing things right. They’re focusing on performance and the critical things, they’re providing feedback and expectations, they’re communicating, they’re organized. And because of that, they’re getting good results. That means this can be done! Unfortunately, not all were getting the desired results.

I’ve been shouting about managers who don’t provide enough feedback and clear expectations for a long time now, and it was interesting to see these factors identified as impacting performance.

My experience has been that many managers claim to provide clear expectations to their employees, and yet the employees will tell you their expectations aren’t clear. Same with feedback – employees are almost always asking for more feedback. Most only get it when they’ve made a mistake – they only get corrective feedback. And yet people managers should provide at least four times as much confirming feedback as they do corrective feedback.

I encourage you to take a few minutes and reflect on your performance – at work, at home, in your hobby, sport, or whatever. Not just how you’re doing, but why. Then think about those around you, and whether you can use the six “Performance Rules” above to improve your performance, and that of the people around you.

There you go… Six Performance Rules that can lead to better performance in the workplace.

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Focus: A Golf Lesson

Wednesday, January 20th, 2010

Sun beating down on my skin, a gentle breeze drying the sweat as quickly as it forms. Perfect weather for a day of golf. Standing on the 12th tee, a green cushion underfoot, and nothing but blue above. Through the first eleven holes I’ve shot the best round of my life. As I swing my driver to flex, stretch and prepare, my shoulders are loose. I’m calm. Confident. Ahhh, what a perfect day.

Setting the dimpled, white Titleist 3 on the tee, I step back and look up the fairway, taking in the beauty of the course. Pine and birch trees flanking fresh-cut grass, the tang of which as strong as bacon cooked over a campfire. Sunlight flickering off the birch leaves. Ahhh, what a day. Three ducks leave a wake in the subtlest of waves from the breeze on the water trap 75 yards ahead, between me and the green.

WHAT?! Holy crap! What is that, Lake Erie? Look at the size of that thing! Directly in front of me. Oh, come on – I don’t need that today. I’m playing the best round of my life. I don’t need this right now! Come on!

Okay, okay, just relax. Relax and focus. A couple of practice swings to make sure I don’t hit the ball into the water trap. Oops, did I tighten up my follow-through there? Better make sure I don’t do that when I hit the ball for real. Follow through. What’s that with my grip? Yeah, turn my grip just a little. I gotta hit this ball straight. And hard. Gotta get it over the water trap.

Yeah, that’s it. Drive the ball over the water. The water right there – get it over that. That’s all I need to do, and then I can go on with my best round ever. Damn, I hope I don’t hit my Titleist 3 in there. This is my favorite ball, the ball that’s helped me shoot the best round of my life so far.

I know, just in case I’ll use another ball. Swap my Titleist 3 on the tee with an old one – one of the Water Balls I keep in my bag just for these situations. Okay, there we go – that’s better. If I drive that old ball into the water, it doesn’t matter – I’ve still got my Titleist 3.

Okay, here we go. Time to drive this sucker over the water. Eye on the ball. Here we go… over that water trap. Hit it hard…

Damn! Oh man, that sucks – right in the water. Right in the middle, even. There goes my best round ever! Good thing I had my back up plan to use the old ball. But… Why did I have to mess up my great round?

Focus. It’s a funny thing, isn’t it? If we focus on something, we typically get it. Focus on a water trap and we drive the ball into it. Use a Water Ball and our brain knows what it’s supposed to do with it – hit it into the water. Or, focus on someone walking towards us on a sidewalk and (especially if the other person is focusing on us) we walk into each other. Focus on a problem and we get the problem. Focus on the back up plan and we need it.

Focus on where we want the ball to go and we hit over the water trap. Focus on the solution and we find it. Focus on making the plan work and we don’t need a back up plan.

Performance is all about focus. We can’t perform well if we’re focused in the wrong place. Whether on the golf course, in business, or wherever, focus on what you want.

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Success Lessons From The World Of NASCAR

Wednesday, November 11th, 2009

nascar.600A recent edition of USA Today (November 6, 2009) ran an article about the consistent success of Hendrick Motorsports’ NASCAR teams. Some would say domination is a better word than consistent success, given that they are closing in on their fourth consecutive NASCAR championship (perhaps taking 1st, 2nd and 3rd). The article is titled, “Happy in the Workplace – Hendricks Motorsports’ people skills key success,” and it provides some lessons that any organization, whether in sport or the business world, can learn from.

General Manager, Marshall Carlson says there are four keys to their success: “Talent, unity, speed, and focus, and all four are about people, not technology or widgets.” Where some teams look to cut costs on hotels and food for their traveling teams (consider that these teams are on the road for at least 36 weekends per year), Hendrick Motorsport “views booking quality hotels and catering healthy meals as essential as top-notch equipment.” In other words, looking after their people.

While most race team managers come from within the sport, Carlson came from Hendrick’s auto dealership empire. He views the running of the race teams no different from running of a car dealership. “They’re a lot less different than you’d think, because the culture is very much aligned.”

“A lot of car dealers put the customer first. At Hendrick Automotive Group, the employee is No. 1 and they’ll take care of the customers because happy customers keep the manufacturers happy. It’s same with the team. We feel if we have smart and talented people happy to be there, we’ll run well. If we run well, the sponsors will be happy. Even in a sport where the technology is very important, the difference is the human capital.”

“Anything that touches people takes precedent, whether it’s food, travel, uniforms, working conditions or health insurance,” he said. “That’s contrary to how some organizations work.”

Hmmm… Happy employees. Ensuring employees are happy is the number one priority, assuming that if they are, they will make sure the customer is happy.

How many companies claim that people are their number one resource, and yet don’t back that up with their actions. In fact, having facilitated strategic planning sessions for companies, I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard senior management make that claim, and yet heard from employees that it’s not true. Leaders claiming that employees are most important, and yet acting as though they are really a distant second – or third, fourth, or worse – to anything that leads to short-term financial results seems to be the norm and not the exception.

Let’s go back to what Carlson said were the four keys to their success:

1.     Talent – A happy employee who does not have the skills and knowledge to do the job will not lead to consistent success. What he doesn’t say is that, for the most part, skills and knowledge can be acquired.

2.     Unity – This is all about teamwork, all about people working together as a unit.

3.     Speed – When one hears a person in motorsport talk about speed, you can’t help but think he’s talking about the car. But in this case, Carlson is talking about people. Having spent years around high-performing race teams (and some low-performing ones), I know that he’s talking about how having the right systems and processes in place, good people will perform quickly and efficiently.

4.     Focus – Happy, talented employees, working together within great systems will not perform well if they’re headed in the wrong direction. Well, duh. Focus is critical.

But here’s the point: Talented employees, working together as a team with great systems, and focused in the right direction will not perform consistently well if they’re unhappy. I can think of one specific race team that I was involved with where this was the case. They had incredibly talented people. They worked well together, as a team. They had fantastic, well-designed systems and processes in place. And they were very focused on what was important and what needed to be done. But it was not a “happy workplace.” And they under-performed.

Lesson learned.

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Don’t Think About a Pink Elephant

Monday, May 5th, 2008

What image do you have in your mind right now? A pink elephant, right? But I told you not to think about a pink elephant!

The human brain cannot NOT think about something…

What image do you have in your mind right now? A pink elephant, right? But I told you not to think about a pink elephant!

The human brain cannot NOT think about something. When told, “Don’t pick on your sister,” what do you think the brain of the child is actually focused on? Because the brain doesn’t register the word “don’t” very well, the child’s mind tends to hear, “pick on sister.” And you wondered why Billy would continue to pick on his sister, even though you told him not to.

For you parents, try it. Rather than telling your child what not to do, tell them what to do. Instead of, “Don’t pick on your sister,” say, “Billy, please move into the other room.” Give Billy’s brain something positive to focus on, not something it shouldn’t do.

When managing people, tell them what you want them to do, and not what you don’t want them to do. Tell them what you expect of them, tell them what outcome you want, tell them how you want them to perform.

Now, don’t think about that pink elephant! Ooops… I mean think about a blue elephant.

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