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Leading Performance Improvement; How to win & overcome the two inevitable challenges on the path (1 of 2)

April 16, 2008

Every person leading performance improvement (whether an executive, manager or business owner), runs into two challenges on the way to reaching the better results.  If these two challenges are not resolved, they derail the performance improvement initiative, and back at the office create a familiar pattern of “on to Next.”  It’s my personal observation that over 80% of improvement initiatives fail, or put another way, every organization’s history is littered with performance improvement initiatives that were not brought to conclusion and were abandoned along side the road.

The two challenges are:
     1. Reliance upon interest vs discipline (internal) and
     2. Coping with resistance (external)
Let’s discuss the internal challenge in this blog.  

THE internal challenge facing every leader intending to lead/drive performance improvement is transfering the driver for change from interest to discipline.  Performance improvement initially starts based upon awareness of some felt need, ex. We’re not making enough profit, I’m working really hard and there’s not enough to show for it, that’s the last time I want to be in front of a customer and be embarrassed by not having the information I need, etc…  That felt needs generates a certain level of tension and interest in a solution for avoiding the “ouch” through better performance.  But, here’s something to underline, The interest factor fades out far before the performance improvement initiative is secured.

The interest factor has a comparatively short half-life with regards to the time it takes to accomplish a change.  Often interest starts diminishing after the “solution” is bought or brought on-site.  The solution isn’t in play, it’s just on-site in the form of software or consultants, or perhaps a new “How to” video or e-book.  There’s some easing of the felt pain over the problem, which seems to be attributable to the feeling of having done something (expressed internally as “I’ve started, I’ve done something about it, made a purchase, etc.).

Ok, so interest doesn’t last long enough to bridge the change adventure.  If you look deeper, you’ll notice something else in this area contributes to it being such a challenging obstacle.  Most leaders are more dependent upon interest and busyness to structure their day than they can possibly imagine.  Note that neither interest levels nor being busy is an adequate substitue for discipline when it comes to driving performance improvment.  Why?

Let’s look at how Interest works as a driver for our work activity.  Interest get’s us focused on what feels immediately rewarding to attend too, and also prompts a switch to “next” as soon as the interest factor fades.  Busyness, on the other hand, represents action without high levels of interest, but also without the additional work of value-add focus or prioritization.  It has a certain pacifying, comforting, mechanical quality… after all you are busy.  It’s represents major chunks of our day for most of us in the activities of attending scheduled meetings, or responding to the onslaught of email.  However, interest plus busily attending meetings and responding to email doesn’t drive performance improvement.  We have many case examples to prove that conclusion.

Here’s an interesting side note.  When interest is a key driver for leadership behavior, mental fatigue is a consistent ear-mark of diminishing interest.  When working with leaders in this area, they often complain of physical tiredness or mental fatigue as their interest fades.  The internal dialogue goes something like this, “OK, so this seems boring, I’m feeling figidity, in fact, thinking of spending more time on this is making me feel down-right tired… I’ll deal with this later, what’s next?”  

That’s right; it is very easy to mistakenly treat fatigue or fading interest as a cue to move onto “Next”, as opposed to something to work through in terms of better business discipline.  Successfully achieving performance improvement requires internally orienting to a process of tracking, follow-up and removal of obstacles, week after week.  This is the discipline that eventually makes improved performance the new standard.  I’ll describe more about what that discipline looks like in a follow-up blog.

Bottom Line: Achieving improved performance takes time and a lot of effort.  It is an effort that will take a longer time to complete than initial interest will last.  Ultimately to be successful at leading change, you have to develope a discipline that keeps you continuing in your focus and follow-up on the priorities you’ve established long beyond the point at which initial interest has worn off.  How about you?  How much of your day is spent on what interests you or being busy, vs. what drives your business priorities?

Performance Improvement Walls – Interest Fade and Personal HabitsPerformance Improvement and the Role of Discomfort From Configuration to Launch – Implementing Performance Improvement Software
Technology for Performance Improvement

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