Research Paper By Drew Collins
(Executive Coach, UNITED STATES)
When looking at performance as the act of carrying out a task, images of success often come to mind. In fact, performance is most often measured by how closely the individual was able to get to the desired result, with “success” becoming the ideal. This is especially true when working with professionals in a corporate environment, where “success” and “performance” become synonymous. Employees are usually judged by how they match up to their performance goals, and managers desire employees that can meet and exceed expectations. The employees that fit the performance criteria are the ones that are promoted or allowed to advance…at least that is what most organizations lead employees to believe. However, what if that was not the whole story?
Working with corporate professionals, you often hear questions like, “How do I get to the next level?” “What can I do to rise through the ranks at work?” ”I feel unmotivated to perform. How can I find more motivation?” “How can I unlock my potential?” This population wants to perform, and their sights are often set on doing things bigger, better, faster. They come to coaching (or their employers offer them coaching) to help the employees set and achieve developmental goals to facilitate or even amplify even higher performance.
When thinking about “higher performance”, the word ‘balance’ does not often come to mind. An executive will generally come to their coaching session talking about accelerating, climbing, growing…not finding balance. This is because the environment in which they are successful does not use that terminology in its performance metrics. Regardless, what if the balance was actually the secret sauce?
Performance is simply defined as “the execution of an action; something accomplished”. For businesses, however, performance is more than just the execution of an action. Instead, performance is intrinsically linked to positive business outcomes and the success of the company. In a study of over 700 business leaders, 78% believed that high performance was critical for an organization’s success. Businesses believe this so deeply that millions of dollars and hours have been spent on how to manage performance within an organization for ultimate success. In fact, the multinational professional services network, Deloitte, estimated that over 2 million hours a year is spent on a performance evaluation system meant to understand how human capital performance resulted in benefits for the organization. This type of evaluative system is enacted across industries and businesses around the world, with the assumption that monitoring performance directly affects positive business outcomes.
Despite the popularity of the performance-success link, and the millions of dollars spent on monitoring performance and designing systems around how to make it better, more and more research is showing that the key to success is much more than simple performance. Studies show things like employee engagement, professional development and basic happiness are just as essential (if not more essential) elements affecting success. In other words, instead of looking at how high performance is achieved, more organizations are looking at what can supplement performance for organizational success. As a result, more performance management systems are shifting from looking at results alone. Instead of focusing on what employees are doing, the emphasis is being put on how employees are performing well.
Research is showing that the underlying tenants of employee performance are not about the performance itself, but more about how the employee can be in the best environment to perform. Various factors come into play when thinking about employees’ ability to engage more with their work including relationships with managers, culture, recognition, and trust.However, most of these factors rely on decisions made by the organization. An organization creates culture, trains managers to develop relationships and trust, and puts in place systems to ensure employees are recognized and compensated for good work. But what can the employee do for themselves to be in a position to be more engaged, increase happiness and, ultimately, increase performance?
Arguably, this is where the balance comes in. Work-life balance is not a new concept. In fact, it has been around in some form and concept since the late 1800s when working conditions first came to the forefront during the industrial revolution.The term was revived in the 1980s during the Women’s’ Liberation Movement. Today, work-life balance is a popular term known around the world. Despite its familiarity, it is difficult to define and can be even harder to master. Yet, most agree that work-life balance requires less time at work and/or more engagement or passion for what one is doing.
Despite its apparent elusiveness, work-life balance is widely becoming seen as more important for the workplace. In fact, work-life balance has become a multimillion-dollar industry as advisors and consultants are brought in to help organizations become more aligned with the balance employees now expect. Beyond expectations, as much as 80% of a workforce can be feeling the effects of stress caused by the imbalance of work.The stress and mental health issues associated with workplace imbalance cost businesses in the United States between $125 and $190 billion dollars a year in healthcare spending. As a result, businesses are understanding the importance of balance and its effect on productivity and success. However, because “balance” means something different to everyone, businesses cannot decide what will bring an employee balance. It is something the employee must discover for themselves.
Coaching Around Preconception
The preconception that performance alone equals success can make coaching corporate executives and professionals challenging. High performers want to get it right, and they want to get it right fast. However, understanding that even businesses are shifting their view of how to engage high performers to, well, perform, coaches must be able to help their clients do the same. Of course, it is not the coach’s job to change the client’s mind, but the coach can support the client by helping them look at their performance goals more holistically.
As previously mentioned, balance is not a cookie-cutter state of being. It means something different for everyone. Where a client is looking for more balance, a coach can support the client by asking questions structured to assist the client in defining what balance might look like for them. When a client does not come to the coach looking for balance but rather some performance coaching, the coach can still use questions designed to support the client in understanding their concept of performance. What does “performance” mean? How has the concept of performance affected the client’s current goals? Having the client imagine themselves “performing” in the way the client defines it and then having them explain what that looks like will often present as the supporting structures of balance. A coach can invite the client to then focus on those cues, which may allow the client to view their definition of performance from the perspective of what their performance is made of, rather than what performance can do.
Performance Balance Assessment
There are many ways to support clients to think about their performance goals from the perspective of balance. Where clients are not specifically seeking this perspective, an assessment can be a useful tool. Assessments allow clients to view their goals and situations with a wider lens. They can aid in shifting a client’s perspective by highlighting areas that the client might not have looked at by focusing only on their goals.
Many types of assessments can be used to break down the client’s performance goals. One common assessment used by many coaches is the Wheel of Life or having a client look at the wheel (a circle divided into pie pieces, each piece with a number from zero to 10 in a line from the center of the circle) and map out the important areas of their life, one in each pie pieces. The rating of 0 – 10 represents how much time is allotted to each area/pie piece. The result is a visual illustration of areas where the client might want to focus more energy. Conversely, it may show clients areas of their life that are taking up too much space. This type of tool can be helpful for a corporate client to see where there may be an imbalance in their work-life versus other areas and identify places where the client might like to focus additional energy.
Another helpful assessment is the Performance-Happiness Assessment. Charles D. Kerns, Ph.D., MBA, a professor of applied behavioral science at the Graziadio School of Business and Management, developed the Performance-Happiness Self-Assessment Survey, meant to aid organizational leaders to increase the number of high-performers within an organization. The assessment was meant for managers to use on themselves to better understand how to interact with employees to increase happiness and, with that, performance. The assessment can also be quite useful in the context of introducing the concept of balance to high performers. The assessment asks the client to read through 15 statements related to work and rate themselves on a scale of 1 – 10, with 10 being the highest or most true. Any rating above an 8 suggests the client is relatively content. Any rating below a 5 suggests a client may have areas to focus on or improve to be more content.
Questions 1 – 7 focus on specific functions of the client’s work while questions 8 – 15 focus on dimensions of contentment or happiness, each specifically targeting areas that research has shown to directly affect performance. A client can use the results of the assessment to better understand the “why” of their performance and perhaps broaden or reshape their goals as they relate to development.
Though these two assessments are not meant to be all-inclusive of the tools available for a corporate client, they are two excellent places to start. They are especially effective as tools for assisting the client to achieve that wider angle view of their situation, and great places to kick off a corporate coaching engagement.
There is no denying that performance positively affects businesses and that high performers are sought after employees. However, the misconception is that performance alone is the marker of success. Even organizations are beginning to understand the importance of looking beyond performance to things like happiness, engagement, and balance as important proponents of an employee’s livelihood and ability to perform. While corporate clients may initially come to coaching asking for help to perform better, a coach may find that they actually end up helping the client reset their preconception of what they think performance is. By taking a step back and viewing performance with a wider angle lens, the client may find that their focus shifts to what they can do to help themselves prioritize balance, which might get them to their original goal more sustainably.
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