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Performance Improvement, Valentine’s Day & the Wall

December 21, 2007
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Aspirations to improve, to raise performance, whether personally or through others, inevitably lead to two very consistent gateways or walls. These challenges must be overcome if the performance improvement process is to be successful. Let’s go over them briefly so they don’t lurk in the weeds as a surprise to you.

Wall #1 – From Aspiration to Action
Different people run into the first wall at different lengths of time from the onsite of the improvement campaign. The wall looks the same to everyone, regardless of when it arrives. It is the requirement of follow-though in the absence of declining interest. Up until this wall, a variety of motivators can be pushing the improvement process along, but at wall #1, commitment shows up as a very important component of the follow-through required to continue the improvement process.

At this point improvement doesn’t feel like fun or something of interest, it is definitely work. At wall #1, no commitment means no follow-through, no wall scaled, and the improvement initiative is in trouble.

Let me give you an example. If you work out at a club, you’ll know what I mean by the Valentine Day’s effect. Every year the workout area gets really crowded in January with all the people who signed up coming off of New Year’s resolutions.  They’ve all signed up for some type of improvement initiative. By Valentine’s Day the work-out floor is no longer crowded, because putting together 6 weeks of continued work-out commitment represents a bigger wall than most people successfully climb. The work-outs aren’t any harder in February, it’s just that interest has run out as a strong enough driver for the new behavior. It succombed.

I don’t know what the stats are, but it must be at least 80% or more don’t make it beyond the 6 week or Valentine Day’s wall. The blush is certainly off the rose by six weeks and there’s a full acknowledgement that it is work to change. The effort requirement has exceeded the interest level and people are turning back instead of scaling wall #1.

Wall #2 – You and Your Enduring Patterns
Whatever is setup as the first big milestone, discloses two very important pieces of data… about you. The first piece of data is predictive. If you don’t make it over the first milestone and instead have to accommodate, lower expectations, etc; that’s a good predictor of things to come.

Behavior that is displayed in addressing the first milestone is typically not only an accurate predictor of behavior to come, but in addition it often represents the highest level of results. That means that if you only hit 60% of your target in achieving the first objective, 60% probably represents the most you will achieve on successive milestones without a significant change of course – read habit.

The second piece of data is the surfacing of personal habits that function as obstacles to achieving the desired objective. Most people report that these obstacles weren’t recognized or given much weight when the improvement initiative was launched. These obstacles must get resolved, otherwise they function like increasingly heavy anchors, dragging the initiative down to a stand-still or stand-off over time.

These obstacles don’t go away, even in the face of success, they typically require a sustained confrontational push to get over, not a slide by and “we’ll deal with it later” approach.

These type of obstacles, the ones that emerge on the way up and over the first wall include things like: not allocating enough time, or setting an overly optimistic time expectation so now the effort appears to be taking more time “than expected”; not allocating enough resouces; not anticipating that one would have to say No to other priorities; not planning for resistance from others, even attacks on the improvement initiative.

You get the idea. I describe them as patterns, because if you look backwards you realize the emergence of this obstacle isn’t a new thing, it’s something that has been around for awhile and just hasn’t yet been dealt with successfully. Internal patterns often represent the biggest wall to address, despite what was originally planned.

Bottom Line: Every performance improvement effort goes through multiple “qualifying” walls or phases. To not realize or address this reality, means you end up counting too heavily on initial interest, and its ability to predict future wall scaling. It also means you get disappointed. I think the reality is that there is no aspiration at the front end that doesn’t get re-evaluated, re-thought, and importantly re-invested or committed to as people go through the “putting it into action phases”. It makes it less secure for the person leading or assisting the change effort, but also lays out the rules of the game better, so you’re not dealing with false expectations and hopes.


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Performance Solutions Technology, LLC » Blog Archive » Leading Performance Improvement; How to win & overcome the two inevitable challenges on the path (1 of 2)
April 16, 2008 11:22 am

[…] 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 […]

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