When Winning Overshadows Performance

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Mike Krzyzewski, head basketball coach at Duke University, is known to be a great leader, demanding coach, and a stickler for performance.  One of his quotes that resonates in both sports and business is “When you win, sometimes it overshadows a poor performance.”


Today, I see companies face this challenge, perhaps without even realizing it.  There are companies who strive to be a best place to work or employer of choice; thus, they put a huge focus on employees, creating a “win” culturally.  They are attracting and retaining employees and people are happy, which is critically important.  However, some of these firms are experiencing poor performance. They aren’t growing or aren’t as successful as desired financially, and they wonder why.


Companies that focus on creating a great culture without holding people accountable or aiming at performance miss the mark.  Don’t get me wrong, building a positive culture is essential to success, but if it lacks the context of performance, potentially the only “win” is having a happy place to work.

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Performance is about delivering, whether it be on goals, on quality, on customer engagement, with excellence on the required results (financial or other).  When you are a performer, it’s about owning these outcomes and being accountable.  When you are a manager, it’s about how you are helping your employees leverage their strengths, enhancing their engagement, and holding people accountable with a performance-orientation. When you are a leader, it’s about creating a great place to work AND fostering high-performance.


You can win through culture initiatives, but you can only achieve your best as an organization if you integrate a focus on performance.  One without the other limits potential.  How effectively are you doing both in your organization?

Unlocking and Unleashing Strengths

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One of our Archos team members, Tom Porter, often says, “You do best what you like to do best!”, and the research on strengths proves he is right.  So, why don’t managers and employers take advantage of innate talents or strengths? The data is actually quite surprising on how often they don’t.  Gallup’s research has found that only 20% of US Workers feel their jobs use their talents.  In other words, 80% do not feel like they have the opportunity to do what they do best! What companies don’t realize, however, is the potential and financial impact being “left on the table”.

According to Gallup, strength is "the ability to consistently produce a positive outcome through near-perfect performance in a specific task." Employers who focus on strengths generate greater profitability and experience less turnover.  Those financial impacts come from improved results and an enhanced employee experience.  Employees whose managers allow them to use their strengths every day are six times more likely to be engaged and 8% more productive.  Beyond the individual, teams who have managers that focus on strengths every day are 12.5% more productive!

As you can see, managers have a major impact on how employee strengths are leveraged. Too often, managers fall into the trap of being more “task-focused” – getting the work done or meeting a deadline – than “performance-focused”. Those two may sound like the same thing, but they are not.  Being performance-focused not only takes into consideration the task, but it also takes into consideration the human nature that is inherently part of work.

To help organizations and people achieve their greatest potential, leaders and managers must understand and influence behavioral economics (i.e., “the mathematical description of the role human nature plays in just about…everything” Jim Clifton, CEO, Gallup).  Strengths and how people use them is one of the key factors in the behavioral economic equation that drives performance.  So, how does a manager unlock that part of the equation and translate the awareness of strengths behavioral economics into their day-to-day actions?  

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A manager must adopt a strengths-based approach that includes:

  • Understanding and investing in their own talents. Strengths-based development starts with the leader or manager.  By becoming aware of your own talents and investing in them to develop strengths, you will put yourself and your team in the best position to achieve success.
  • Identifying and understanding team member talents. Whether it is done using an assessment or informally, managers must prioritize inventorying the talents they have on their team and contemplating how those fit with team roles or elsewhere in the organization.
  • Support team members in turning talents into strengths. Investing in talents means providing space for team members to use them at work, assigning team members to activities that enhance and develop their innate talent, and providing positive reinforcement through feedback and observations when strengths are being applied.

By doing these three things regularly and consistently, managers will start to make a difference, employees will start to feel the difference, and the performance impact will start to be realized.

To tap into the best of your people, put them into positions where they can do what they like to do best and help them develop their strengths. You will unlock and unleash their potential and your own!

Promoting Learning by Combatting the Forgetting Curve

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Training and development is critical for every organization, and most invest heavily in learning each year. Training topics can include technical, technology or process updates, leadership or “soft” skills, and revenue generation (e.g., sales, innovation, practice development, etc.) just to name a few.  With the current dynamic work environment, new requirements for learning are almost ever-present, and the learning curve is clearly evident. Not as evident is that the learning curve is quickly impacted by the forgetting curve, and the forgetting curve can rapidly deplete the ROI on any learning investment IF the organization is not proactive.

The forgetting curve is a concept that was first researched by Hermann Ebbinghaus in 1885.  Ebbingaus studied the effect of the passage of time on memorization and recall of information.  The result of his research, which has been subsequently validated through additional studies, is “the forgetting curve”.  The forgetting curve shows that, on average, individuals forget about 70% of what we learn within about 24 hours! 70%! While that makes it sound like training is a wasted investment, let me be clear: it is not.  In fact, it is one of the most valued aspects of the employee experience.  However, because the forgetting curve is real, companies need to be smart about how they approach learning to get the greatest ROI.

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To maximize ROI, learning strategy and design should include three things:

  1. The original training design should be experiential and hands on. “…Involve me and I learn” is not just a quote, but also a sound learning principle. Participants who apply concepts in a “safe” environment have greater recall and success in execution following a learning event. Solid training design can slow the process of forgetting, but it must be coupled with other reinforcement methods for maximum impact.
  2. Reinforcement and active recall (especially spaced repetition).  Learning must be recognized as an ongoing journey, not an event.  A “training” session can be part of the journey, but greater change will happen if the training is reinforced with spaced “boosters” of content reinforcement.  This could be questions, concept refreshers, or application exercises. Regardless, training should always be coupled with follow-up over a period of weeks and months to optimize behavior change and learning.
  3. Applied examples.  At an appropriate time after initial training, asking the participants to periodically share examples of how they are applying the learning is powerful reinforcement.  It brings content to life and ensures the intended learning is translated into action.

To become a learning organization, you must embed these concepts within your culture.  In addition, make sure that training in not promoted as or seen as a “check the box” exercise or a one time event, but rather is understood as a process.  Finally, make sure learning is about more than just knowledge, it is about true development, behavior change, and sustainability.  If you achieve these shifts, both your employees and your company will benefit!

The Importance of a Purpose-Driven Organization

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A significant change over the past few decades is the shift of employees looking for work that offers a solid pay check and stability to employees seeking meaningful work and purpose. While purpose and meaning has always been part of the equation, it is a much higher priority for team members now.  Beyond the importance of the organization’s purpose, employees also want to be able to see that their role in the organization is contributing to that purpose.  When they can make that connection or have that “line of sight”, they find true meaning in their work. 

According to research conducted by Gallup, Inc., providing that line of sight makes a difference for the organization as well.  “When a company's mission or purpose makes employees feel their job is important, they are more likely to be engaged and, ultimately, to perform at higher levels. Business units in the top quartile of Gallup's engagement database on this element average from 5% to 15% higher profitability than bottom-quartile units.”1

As leaders and managers, regardless of our level or role in the organization, we have two obligations:

  • To know the organizational purpose – not just what we do, but why we do what we do.  What is our purpose? What difference do we make in the world?, and
  • To be able to help others around us, no matter what their role is, understand and connect to that purpose. What is the difference they make? How do they contribute?

If we are successful executing these obligations, there are multiple benefits. First and foremost, employees will be more engaged, which leads to greater energy, higher productivity and lower turnover. Second, the more employees find meaning in work, the stronger the organizational culture becomes and the ability to be resilient in times of change is greater.  Finally, both of the first two benefits can help raise the organization’s brand as a great place to work and attract talent. 

Be diligent in identifying and sharing your organizational purpose.  It can truly make a difference for everyone!