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Lack of Performance Improvement and Splinters in the Finger

December 14, 2007

Why doesn’t performance improve sometimes, even when we (or someone else) say that’s the goal? It has to do with us and the obstacle.  Maybe it’s like having a splinter buried in your finger.  You keep fooling with it, but since it isn’t easy to see or pull out, you put off the painful process of really digging it out.   See if the following makes sense.

When performance is not happening, and you’re in charge of the outcome, one suggestion is that there is a significant obstacle in the middle of the road.  An obstacle that is bigger than your resources, the current approach, and the collective intent.

Time to stop and consider two options:
1. It’s time to stop and inspect.  Instead of continuing with whatever you’re doing; instead of proceeding with your world view on what the facts are… STOP.  At this point you and I don’t have enough data, not hard data, on the obstacle, such that we can improve the negative impact it’s having on performance. 
We undoubtedly believe we have the facts, but in reality we need to go get data.  Some one, some thing is not responding. 

You need to inspect the obstacle; talk to the people; learn more – enough so that you understand the process, not just what people are telling you.  You need to dig under the surface.  If you don’t, you will continue being frustrated, continue doing what’s familiar (with all the comfort that familiarity brings)… doesn’t sound good, does it?  But we are not through yet, let’s go to step 2.

2.  Part of what keeps obstacles so firmly planted in the path of performance improvement is that we have already decided.  Maybe we’ve already decided that this is the correct approach, or maybe it’s that we’ve decided what “should be enough.”  We decide in our brain, “This should be enough resources, time, dollars, etc. to fix that problem. “  The trouble is, the painful part is, we’re wrong.

But it’s not just that we are wrong, but that we have decided on an approach or level of resources that by definition isn’t enough to remove the obstacle – but is in one or more ways justified in our brain.  We’re no longer in the performance improvement process; we’re stuck, repeating stuff, getting frustrated, but often hanging on very tightly.  Maybe you could say we’re in the performance justification or search for a scapegoat process.  We’ve unknowingly become linked to the obstacle, not the performance improvement.

So what’s the bottom line?  Here’s something to think about.  Lack of performance improvement is an indicator that:

1.  We haven’t researched the obstacle enough; we have hearsay, and assumptions instead of hard data.  We don’t know as much as we think, and it takes time and effort to know more… but we need to go dig.

2.  We’ve under-resourced solving the obstacle problem.  The current level of resourcing reflects not what it will take to improve performance, but what sounds fair in our brain, what seems justified, what feels familiar.  We need to get after it with what its going to take to fix the problem, the obstacle, even if that is 5, 10, 100 times more than we think it should.

Boy it can be messy, but it sure feels good to get that splinter out…

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