The Forgotten Secret of High Performance

How can you up-level your results? The secret might not be what you think.

You may have read books on high-performance, taken courses on strategy, downloaded productivity apps, bought multiple courses and information products - and still didn't see the personal effectiveness and business growth you’d hoped for.

You may have had meetings and off-sites, set plans and strategies or agreed new initiatives, and yet realise months later that you are still operating pretty much business-as-usual.

Understanding why this happens is going to be essential if you want to make faster progress in the future than you have up until now.


A virtually impossible state to achieve?

Very often we look to information, ideas and implementation techniques to achieve our goals. But these often aren’t enough.

I remember a grand transformation plan in my very first firm called VISTA. It looked great on paper. However it quickly overwhelmed the people supposed to implement it. One colleauge wryly announced that VISTA stood for Virtually Impossible State To Achieve! The initiative was dead on arrival.

I ended up having my own “VISTA moment” when I led a change initiative earlier in my career. We did see reasonable results, but I knew we could have achieved a lot more.

Looking back, I realised that I’d been throwing tools and techniques at the problem. This created complexity and extra workload for the team, but it didn’t truly address the real barriers that would have taken our success up a level.

A big lie that stops you from getting bigger results

One of the biggest lies of our “information age” is that information leads to transformation. But information is not enough. Two recent pieces of research confirm it:

7 %
Info Product Completion

93% of people don’t complete the information products they buy

8 %
Goal Completion

92% who craft a goal never achieve it

The final nail in the “more information” coffin? We are not all happy, healthy, spiritually-enlightened millionnaires despite the near-infinity of information the Internet has afforded us on all these topics!

The truth is, we’re drowning in information and still not seeing transformation.

No, it’s not enough to say “it’s all about implementation”

Of course, we would all agree that information isn’t enough and needs to be implemented.

OK, so how is that working for you?

Ramit Sethi calls this the “nod and shrug” reflex. Highly intelligent people will read something, agree with it and believe that that the new idea will weave its way naturally into their approach. But in 90% of cases we don’t follow through.

I see this even in my shortest blog articles. I give people a small but meaningful action step and often receive emails saying

“great article - I must find some time to do what you say”

Do those people ever take the step and make the progress they could? In most cases, I suspect not.

And so we stagnate.

The fact is that information alone does not transform us, and moving from information to implementation is more difficult than we think.

The common factor underpinning high-performance

If information alone isn’t the answer to better results, and if implementation isn’t quite so simple, what do we do?

For that, let’s look at the common factor behind high-performance in virtually every domain. A finely-tuned system. From the Roman Army to the Large Hadron Collider and Usain Bolt, finely-tuned systems generate amazing results.

  • Think of a racing car. Its high performance comes from the intricate meshing of many different components - engine, gear box, transmission, chassis, suspension, and so forth. If one element is underperforming or absent, high performance evaporates.

  • Imagine a world-class orchestra. The audience will only feel the true power and emotion of the music if every musician plays his or her part perfectly. If the percussion is slightly off, or if the brass section is not paying proper attention to the conductor, then the music may be passable but not inspirational.

Similarly, our personal and team performance involves multiple essential and related components. These all need to be working together if we are going to get the results and impact that we are aiming for.

The Performance Pyramid - your "Jenga tower" for success!

Let me introduce you to the Performance Pyramid. It visually shows how outsized results come from delicately stacking a number of bricks together. Miss one element, and the edifice crumbles!

As you'll notice from the diagram, only half the pyramid is visible. This the the top three layers: the visible ‘external game’ of activity and action and progress.

In our search for quick fixes, we gravitate to this, which explains our love of ‘productivity hacks’ and the like.

  • Level 1: Purpose. This is the ‘why’ - the ultimate vision we are aiming towards and the near-term milestone we want to achieve.
  • Level 2: Plans. This is the ‘how’ - the strategies that give us confidence that can get from ‘here’ to ‘there’ quickly and effectively.
  • Level 3: Productivity and People. These are the ‘what’ components, governing the efficiency of our day-to-day work and the strength of our relationships with customers, contacts and team members.

The Performance Pyramid's hidden secret

However, underpinning all of this is the hidden ‘inner game’ of our thoughts, emotions, feelings and beliefs. It’s where our fears, doubts, motivations and passions reside, and it's where we move from procrastination to action, from overwhelm to focus, and from lethargy to passion.

  • Level 4: The Inner Game. This is the invisible foundation of high-performance, and it makes the difference between “information to stagnation” and “information to transformation”.

I have broken down the inner game into five components - the “DREAM” model - Desire, Reach, Engagement, Achievement and Momentum:

  • Desire speaks to the motivation that arises when our goals are clear, meaningful, top-of-mind and inspiring
  • Reach is all about the firm belief that our goals are attainable and that progress and success is a tangible possibility
  • Engagement is the drive and determination that comes from a deep personal commitment to the project at hand
  • Achievement is the satisfaction and buzz that you get when you feel you are starting to win
  • Momentum is the feeling that you can achieve more next month by building on the successes of last month

So what's the solution to greater impact?

As you know, my passion is helping people make bigger contributions, achieve better results and truly make a difference in the area they are called to.  So I spend a lot of time researching the components of performance.

It's clear to me that what we don't need is another book, another app, or another New Year's Resolution.  

You see, so often we focus on Levels 2 and 3, and throw plans, tools, systems and meetings at our problems. But the fuel for our high-performance engine is actually found at Level 4, in our beliefs, feelings and expectations.

We need support, accountability and the mastery of our 'inner game' - as well, of course, as the powerful strategy and productivity frameworks for choosing what to do and how to do it.  

What is your experience?  Do you find you are most successful when you are able to manage BOTH the inner game (motivation, drive, focus) and the outer game (strategy, tactics, productivity)?  Which brick in the Performance Pyramid do you struggle with most?  Leave a comment below or engage me on social media and let's discuss!

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