Pathways to Performance is a book about change and choices. High performance is driven by having a clear vision of where you are going, knowing your customers, your team, and yourself, then choosing a path that will better serve your customers and fully develop the tremendous potential in your team and yourself.
Many thanks to Cam Howey, Stelco Inc,. for his efforts in creating these summaries.
Life is change. Growth is optional. Choose wisely.
Business and personal worlds are changing at tremendous rates. To thrive on change we need to embrace learning, growth, and continuous improvement. When change represents learning, growth, and improvement, it generates energy and is often eagerly embraced.
Improving performance is based on having clear priorities and goals to focus activities on those that add value. Avoid those that provide no added value and focus on the critical 4-5 actions that provide the payback. Track progress on key goals, adjusting when off track and celebrating success.
Seek out feedback from customers, suppliers, and employees to find out what the needs, expectations, and issues are. If you don’t know it’s broken, you can’t fix it.
The more of these factors you have in your business, the tougher the path to performance and the more persistent and passionate you’ll have to be.
The art of progress is to preserve order amid change and to preserve change amid order.
Top performers are able to look at two sides of an issue or problem and find the third or ‘and/also’ option. Fu Hsi 5,000 years ago developed the ‘and/also’ philosophy, more commonly known as yin and yang. These paradoxes do not have to be resolved, only managed.
Performance Balance Triangle
Peak performance comes from balancing all three sides of the triangle. People provide the base and need to be empowered, enlightened, and energized. Lack of training, feedback, communication, or fair compensation inhibits performance. Management systems need to drive value-added work, effective communications, and customer focus. Without up-to-date technology and technical expertise, peak performance is impossible. You can’t make a computer with a sledgehammer.
Effective leaders are able to fire up imaginations, build confidence in people, and develop the ‘go for it’ attitude in their team. Above all, they display an unyielding sense of optimism.
Leaders choose where they want to go and blaze a trail to get there. If we want to change where we’ll be tomorrow, we have to make different choices today.
Success comes from taking responsibility for performance, and not blaming other factors like the economy, bureaucracy, customers, or the union. Victimitis – blaming someone or something else, never leads to peak performance.
Effective leaders are unreasonable optimists. They see opportunities, not problems, glasses 1/2 full, not 1/2 empty.
Developing your personal leadership skills is critical. You cannot lead your people any higher than yourself. Trying to lead people one way, while displaying opposite behavior does not work. Everyone’s ‘phoniness radar’ and ‘BS meter’ goes tilt.
Continuous improvement is a way of life for effective leaders by learning new skills, reading, attending conferences, improving physical and mental health, and seeking feedback on personal performance.
The improvement map for this book is structured around two main balance points, what and how. The foundation of improvement is based on three parts.
Improvement Pathways and Passages
Passion – intense commitment to what they do. It is one of the single most dramatic differences between peak performers and their less productive colleagues. Passionate leaders have the energy and drive needed to push and pull their teams and organizations forward.
Leaders make time to passionately communicate where they are going (focus) and why (context). Technomanagers try to use ‘leader speak,’ but lack any real passion or true communication with their people.
You can’t impassion others about their work unless you are impassioned about yours. You either find work you love, or learn to love the work you have. Get passionate or get out!
Three questions to ask yourself or your team:
The three P’s – Picture, Principles, and Purpose are critically important questions to leading yourself and others.
If you can dream it, you can do it!
Positive pictures in our mind can have tremendous impact on our performance. Peak performers have the ability to imprint images of successful actions into their minds.
Our self-vision or picture of ourselves is a major factor on our performance. We become what we think about most. Too often, we excuse our performance because ‘I am always late,’ ‘I am not creative,’ or ‘I am disorganized.’ These belief statements are the first step in a self-defeating cycle. A more accurate statement would be, ‘I’ve chosen to be late,’ ‘I’ve chosen to be disorganized.’
Until you see your choices and change your self-vision, you will never become the high-performance leader you want to be.
Establishing focus and context helps develop a powerful passionate vision of where you are going. If you have no vision, but only formal plans, then every unpredicted change in the environment makes you feel like the sky is falling.
Picturing your destination is a key source of energy as you blaze your pathway to higher performance.
Our principles, values, or beliefs are the lenses through which we see the world. The optimist sees opportunities and challenges; the pessimist sees threats and problems. Our core values are critical to effectively leading people.
Our values are our own. Each of us has a hierarchy of values, from high to low. Things like health, family, integrity, innovation, teamwork, judgment, love, friendship, adventure, status, and the like. Our values determine our priorities. Do we stay late to finish a project or go home for dinner? Do we watch TV or go for a walk?
Our values will often conflict with one another. They create many and/or paradoxes to be managed. The conflict between work and family creates many conflicts.
Companies have principles and values as well. Studies have shown those companies with ‘high standards of ethical behavior’ or ‘shared values’ have much higher than average performance. Some benefits include:
Morale, pride, and team identity are enhanced.
Failure to live your values creates the ‘rhetoric-reality’ gap. Managers need to ‘walk the talk.’ What managers do speaks louder than what they say. Never make a promise you can’t keep, and keep every promise you make.
The Pygmalion effect is key to achieving peak performance. If managers expect people to behave like immature, irresponsible kids, that’s what they generally get. Whether you think they’re eagles or turkeys, they’ll prove you’re right.
To give life meaning, one must have a purpose larger than one’s self.
Thinking about death can produce a passion for life. What kind of account would you like to give for your life? What would you want your family, friends, co-workers, customers, and community to say about you when you die?
Steven Covey calls this ‘beginning with the end in mind.’ The determination to live out our purpose and dreams is a strong personal motivator. Finding our own purpose takes time, reflection about your values, meditation, and thinking about what your beliefs are.
The paradox for companies is that pursuing profits without a higher purpose or pursuing higher purpose without profit are equally fatal strategies. Purpose and profit are and/also issues. Fulfilling the purpose comes first: then profits follow. Profits are the reward.
Effective teams, organizations, and leaders exist to serve others. Those that provide the highest levels of service/quality enjoy the richest rewards. Study after study shows that outstanding service/quality performance is one of the key contributors to outstanding financial performance.
Many strive to be ‘customer-driven,’ but few achieve it. The key is to be able to take soft customer expectations and perceptions and turn then into hard manageable data. The three major steps involved are:
Analyze the gaps between reality and expectations and develop action plans to address the gaps.
Effective leaders know that management and technology exist to serve people (customers, partners, and employees) not the other way around. This belief is nourished by a personal principle that success comes through serving others, i.e. servant leadership.
On one hand leaders provide direction. On the other they serve, seeking ways to better serve customers, external partners and internal partners. It’s another powerful and/also paradox to be managed.
You can increase your sales, service, and customer support staff by 30 to 50 % without adding any additional overhead. Get them to stop serving the bureaucracy. Get rid of all non-value added work!
Do not follow where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.
Seizing the opportunities of tomorrow calls for leadership. To lead is to look beyond prevailing products, current services, today’s competitors, and existing markets.
Market leadership is driven by:
Knowing your customer is a key part of innovation. If you don’t truly understand their products, marketplace and issues, how will you ever develop outstanding products to meet their needs? Ways to get in touch include:
Spending hours and/or days on strategic plans, in the artificial world of budgets, plans, strategies, and concepts does little to improve market leadership and can consume hours of precious time. Effective planning is a critical success factor focused on improvement and action planning.
Name the greatest of all inventors. Accident.
Innovations, breakthroughs, and major changes often come from unpredictable, chaotic, and random events. That’s why the accuracy record of the confident, logical-sounding projections by economists and planners is so abysmal.
Today’s leading organizations are knowledge-creating companies that thrive on continuous innovation. They allow successful strategies and innovations to evolve, and cash in on unexpected problems or opportunities that are part of a dynamic and organized learning process.
Successful innovation requires many failures. To double your innovation success rate, double your failure rate. Corporate culture has to accept failures and take some risks. Knowledge gained from failure is often instrumental in achieving success.
Studies have repeatedly shown that fanatical champions led most successful innovations. Because most innovations upset established order, ‘going through channels’ will lead to almost-certain death. Many companies have evolved a ‘skunk-works’ to provide a breeding ground to nurture new ideas.
Unsuccessful organizations are often beehives of activity and hard work. People busy making lists and setting action plans, responding quickly to urgent new priorities pushed down. Many managers confuse ‘busy-work’ activity with results, missing the important work that contributes to long-term growth and development. People living in a constant state of crisis and anxiety, moving from yesterday’s top priority to today’s burning issue, produces little real progress and eventually this leads to burnout.
The list of dreams you could pursue is long and lengthy. You have to choose. Set achievable short-term goals and priorities (3 or 4). There are as many or more things that you’ve got to stop doing as there are actions you have to do. Without a clear vision of where you are going, you won’t know what to choose.
You can’t make your team into something you’re not. Managers who are disorganized, have fuzzy goals, and poor time management skills can’t lead their team forward. Establishing goals, setting priorities and time management begins with you.
Time is the most valuable and perishable asset we have. Each day we get only 24 hours. Once gone, it can never be recovered. Don’t waste time on activities of no value. Some examples are:
Good intentions are not good enough. The Law of Improvement Displacement says that short-term pressures drive out long-term improvement activities. Too many managers fail to balance cash flow and wealth. These managers forget that today’s cash is a result of yesterday’s wealth investments.
Few managers would allow physical assets like buildings, production equipment or vehicles to crash and burn out of lack of care and maintenance. Yet they fail to make investments in themselves, their teams, and their organizations. The capabilities of an individual, team or company are the engine that provides tomorrow’s cash.
Change can’t be managed. Change management is an oxymoron. However, whether change is seen as a threat or an opportunity depends on how well prepared we are. Whether we become victims or victors depend on our readiness for change.
Few things are more strategic than the capabilities of your organization. By building an organization that’s continually learning, growing, and developing, you will develop an unmatched competitive advantage.
Personal, team, or organizational improvement doesn’t happen just because you want to get better. Unless you have the structure, process, and disciplined habits for constant and ongoing improvement, it’s all just useless, wishful thinking.
Organization improvement needs to be structured with:
Personal improvement is critical to be an effective leader:
Become a listener. You can get hundreds of hours a year of education, inspiration and instruction by listening to audiotapes in your car.
Strong leaders put learning and personal development high on their priority list. They have developed strong improvement habits that have built strong leadership skills. If we allow short-term urgencies to tyrannize our time and displace long-term improvement, we’re condemning ourselves to the treadmill of frantic, exhausting activities with decreasing performance levels.
Vertically/functionally managed organizations often lead to local optimization, as managers and their teams focus on doing their own jobs. Cycle times and cost increase by:
Alignment of management horizontally, to match process flow results in reduced layers, improved communication, and reduced waste.
Redesigning management structure is not a trivial task. Huge blocks of senior management’s time and attention are required. Large amounts of time need to be invested up front in training and education, truly understanding the process and communicating with employees.
Many managers grossly underestimate the time involved. Poorly planned improvements, actually make performance worse, wasting precious time on improvements that don’t matter, taking people’s time away from real priorities.
Successful process management demands priority setting, organization, discipline, and a systematic approach.
A scout leader was trying to lift a fallen tree from a path. His pack gathered around to watch him struggle.
“Are you using all your strength?” one of the scouts asked.
“Yes!” was the exhausted and exasperated response.
“No. You are not using all your strength,” the scout replied. “You haven’t asked us to help you.”
Where teams have been effectively organized and led, team outcomes have led to dramatic improvements in quality, cost, productivity, customer service, and financial results. Two core types of teams are production and improvement. Effective operational teams are both: they produce, while at the same time seek new ways to improve performance.
High performance teams, significantly outperform all other like teams, and outperform all reasonable expectations given its membership. Team performance increases exponentially with the amount of power and control that team members feel they have.
Building a high performance team takes special skills: strong self-confidence, being able to share power.
A few components of an extensive team checklist include:
You can’t do what you don’t know how.
Expecting people to be successful with new tools or technology, without training, is foolish. If managers lack communication skills and can’t plan effectively, they’ll never lead their people forward.
Research shows that top-performing companies invest substantially more time and money in skill development than an average organization.
Skill development is the difference between being able to master change, rather than be mastered by it. Developing skills in leadership, problem solving, time-management and new technology allow change to be seen as an opportunity, not a threat.
Building new skills is more than just knowing about it. Behavioral science shows that we act our way into new ways of thinking far more easily than we can think our way into new ways of acting.
Training needs to be focused on real needs and identified gaps. Opportunities to use the new skill should be built into the training and as part of the training follow-up.
Having senior managers get trained by the trainers, then train the next level, has some powerful benefits:
This type of training is not without risks, as managers who are poor communicators, make poor teachers.
Gap analysis is a good way to focus training on real needs.
Because most managers overestimate their leadership skills, they under develop them. Feedback from those you are leading is vital to keeping you grounded in their perceptions of your skill reality.
To become different from what we are, we must have some awareness of what we are.
High performers actively seek feedback. They know that’s the only way to change their course and improve their performance. If you don’t know how you are doing, you can’t improve.
Five key areas for improving corporate performance and example measurements of each area are:
Feedback is an essential element of learning and improvement. Having 360 degree feedback, from your boss, peers, and staff allows an accurate picture of your performance perceptions. Knowing the gaps between desired (based on vision, values, and purpose) and perceived performance, allows training and action plans to be focused on real needs.
High performance comes from a high performance structure, one free of shackles, like:
High performance structures require people that are well trained in both technology and performance skills, such as problem solving, teamwork, and goal setting.
Trust plays an enormous role, allowing decentralization and letting mini-business units make meaningful decisions. Having a clear vision, principles, and values, combined with well-developed staff, allows the trust to be given.
Before you say what you think, be sure you have.
Education and communication are cornerstones of high performance. If you want to move people forward, you have to communicate where you are going and provide the tools to get there. Communication skills of leaders are critical to inspire and energize.
Managers routinely underestimate the amount and quality of education and communication required to make improvement efforts successful. People don’t buy into changes necessarily. Before people will want to change they have to agree with why they need to improve. Only then are they ready to learn how to change. A tremendous amount of effort has to go into communicating the vision, purpose, and values.
Effective improvement education is more than just presenting information. Engaging everyone in discussion by providing opportunities for feedback helps deepen understanding, building, commitment, and trust. Having seminars or workshops led by senior managers is a very effective tool in the improvement process, providing:
Some of the communication and education issues to be addressed at different stages include:
Communication methods include:
High performance companies have well-developed recognition programs and provide employees with genuine appreciation. Recognition and appreciation continually show up near the top of lists of motivational factors. They create an atmosphere of fun and excitement, a will and passion to win, which are so vital to continuous improvement.
Money, surprisingly, always shows up as fourth or fifth on any list of motivational factors. While lack of money can be a de-motivator, the chance to earn more is not a motivator. Pay gets people to turn up at work, it doesn’t get many to excel. It can’t create that sense of energy and excitement.
High performance organizations are filled with high performers who are highly paid. Pay people well, and get on with life. Focus attention on building a culture of success, providing lots of recognition and appreciation for everyone’s contribution.
Genuine appreciation is not flattery or any attempt to be manipulative. People’s BS meters go into alert when managers attempt to use flattery or “atta boy’s” to get a task completed. It actually does more harm than good and acts as a de-motivator.
Steps to effective reward and recognition include:
Unfortunately, it’s the rare company that understands the importance of informal improvisation – let alone respects it as a legitimate business activity. In most cases, ideas generated by employees in the course of their work are lost to the organization as a whole… This important source of organizational learning is either ignored or suppressed.
Beware of formal organizational improvement plans; they can lead to rigidity, bureaucracy, and resistance to change. Too many improvement plans are built on the same faulty premise as strategic planning, that there is a right path that can be determined in advance and then implemented.
There is no set path and since you haven’t been this way before, you have to make decisions at the forks about which way you will go and then to decide to blaze a new path through the forest. Having a clear vision of where you are going, values, and principles you hold, helps you make decisions. Thinking corporately, acting locally. You have to be able to take advantage of the unforeseeable opportunities that will present themselves as your journey unfolds.
Developing change champions and supporting local initiatives is part of taking advantage of unforeseen opportunities. Like innovation, it cannot be planned.
As a senior manager, part of the job is to visibly lead the organization and communicate in an exciting way the vision, values, and principles of the organization. Another part of the job is to serve and follow, and a realization that the organization is full of current and potential change champions who need to be nurtured and developed. These people are much closer to the action than anyone in senior management, and have a much better sense of which change and improvement tactics will work.
You can’t encourage and support what you don’t know about. The most interesting and useful local change initiatives rarely make it into reports or through formal channels. That’s because they’re ‘illegal,’ don’t follow the rules or aren’t in the improvement plan and wouldn’t get reported. So get out and poke around.
Make sure changes focus outward, making things better for the customer/partners not the other way around.
A key measure of managers and teams should be how much they’ve changed, improved, and innovated. Managers, who aren’t improving should be coached, trained, and developed. If they still don’t improve, you can’t afford to keep them. Help them find other career opportunities.
If you’re not a senior manager, your organizational change choices are:
Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence.
The pressure of continuous performance improvement can be draining. To restore energy and enthusiasm and provide a sense of winning, stop periodically to:
Getting feedback about performance is critical to success. If you don’t know how you are doing, you can’t improve. A major reason for failure is that many managers fail to periodically review and assess their performance. Who would set off on a long journey to a place that you’ve never been before, without stopping frequently to check the map?
Taking time to celebrate along the path helps restore the drive. Many managers are always looking forward to next quarter or next year as being ‘better.’ Take time to celebrate the successes of today, such as no accidents, meeting budget, an outstanding idea, achieving a business or career milestone.
Effective leaders find ways of breaking a long journey into a series of short exciting trips, finding a multitude of ways to show appreciation and recognition to teams and individuals along the way.
Key milestones and checkpoints along the path to high performance are:
There are many paths to high performance, each person, team, and organization has to find their own. What works for me or someone else, might be totally wrong for you.
One possible starting point is gathering feedback from your team/partners about the progress and improvement urgency of each of the checkpoints above. Using this data and other forms of feedback (especially customer), you can start to put together your change and improvement plans.
The biggest cause for the failure of change and improvement plans, is managers trying to build a organization that’s different from themselves. Pathways to Performance provides a detailed personal checklist. Some of the items are:
Do you want a high performance organization? Are you willing to pay the price? Do you willing to blaze your own path or do you want to follow the herd? It starts with a clear and constant focus on where you are going, what you believe in and why you exist (your three P’s – picture, principles and purpose). It also demands another ‘p’ word, persistence – that ‘bull dog determination’ to never give up.
What are the rewards? Life – one filled with energy and passion, continuous learning, and skill development, unyielding self-confidence, compassion, and understanding.