Focus on Performance

Focus on PerformanceI’m going old-school with today’s message – it’s going to be direct, and to the point…focus on performance. One of my pet peeves is the voluminous amount of management speak and self-help propaganda currently in circulation designed to codify a lack of performance. I’m an individual that believes in clear and direct communication, so I’ll spare you the rhetoric and just do what I do best…cut to the chase. Put simply, the formula for success, what truly differentiates you, is that you either PERFORM or your don’t.

The text that follows is not going to nurture you, nor will it serve as a disingenuous pat on the back…I’m not going to tell you what a nice person you are, but I am going to ask you to lose the excuses, rationalizations, justifications, platitudes, theories, and spin and just get the job done. This message is about zeroing-in on the main difference between the impact players and the wannabes…its called delivering a certainty of execution. Don’t give me excuses…give me results.

See if this rings true…have you ever noticed that it seems to be those soothsayers who can wax eloquent in the planning stages, that always just seem to fall flat on their face when it comes to the implementation? Again, in an effort to keep it simple, don’t tell me; show me! A great strategy that cannot be executed is not a great strategy at all…it is a failed strategy. Let me put it this way…It’s pretty darn hard to look smart if you cannot deliver the goods.

Think of any successful leader and you’ll find they consistently get the job done. They accomplish the mission; they find a way to win; they execute. Sadly, all it really takes to stand out in today’s business world is to follow through on your commitments. It doesn’t matter where you went to school, how smart you are, what your title is, or any number of other considerations…if you want to succeed, learn to honor your commitments and execute.

The best advice I can give you is to immediately cease and desist from majoring in minors, learn to harness your passion, leverage your resources, be disciplined in your approach, and always focus on performance. Contrasted with an earlier statement above, it’s hard to appear as anything other than smart when you are a master of execution and performance. Few things speak to a leader’s ability like consistently putting points on the scoreboard…

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    April 22, 2010 at 10:12 am

    Hi Mike, Well said, you either perform or you don't; plain and simple. This is personal accountability to the max, on making myself responsible, no excuses, no buts…
    I personally take hard on myself on accountability, and guess what? It is like the saying the harder you work the luckier you get, the more accountable you are to youself, to your family, to your company, to your customers, the "luckier you get", the more successful you become, the more money you make, more balanced you become,etc.



      April 22, 2010 at 1:57 pm

      Hi Juan:

      Thanks for sharing your perspective. I'm in total agreement with you on the benefits of hard work, personal accountability, and not rationalizing a lack of action with worn-out excuses. Thanks for sharing Juan…


    Mark Oakes

    April 22, 2010 at 6:23 pm

    Excellent post, Mike

    As one who shares your ‘bias for action’, I couldn’t agree more with this short, to-the-point admonishment.

    Here are a couple of additional thoughts for your thread…

    – There is a wide divide between ‘measurable performance’ and busyness. Many mistake motion for directed action. Performance is always a measurable progression toward a pre-defined objective. Hence, motion for motion sake under the guise of performance doesn’t count.

    – Many use the words ‘Responsibility’ and ‘Accountability’ interchangeably as it relates to performance. They aren’t the same thing. There is a word that separates these two words. That word is ‘Culpability’, defined as blame-worthiness. A person who is Accountable takes 100% ownership for performance and its outcomes whether they are good or bad. There is no rationalization, justification or blame ~ just Action irrespective of outcome. It’s this sense of ownership that further refines performance-based action and gives it the metrics so important on the value curve.

    Always a fan…


    Jennifer Miller

    April 22, 2010 at 6:31 pm

    Put a daily reminder in your calendaring system for the next 7 days that reminds you to ask yourself: "What have I done today to remove barriers to my direct reports' performance?" If you go more than 4 days without a concrete answer, it's time to recalibrate your daily activities.



    April 22, 2010 at 6:31 pm

    Mark –

    While I always appreciate the kind words, what I truly value are your keen insights. As is always the case, you have made a great contribution to the dialog. Thanks Mark.


    Tanveer Naseer

    April 22, 2010 at 6:33 pm

    Hi Mike,

    What I see at issue here are two factors – the siren call of planning and the lack of willingness to accept accountability. In the planning stages, everything under the sun can seem possible and that sense of endless possibility can be very intoxicating, especially when compared to the harsh realities outside the conference room doors.

    But this is where the leadership needs to take the bull by the horns and after a point, rein it in so that a select number of ideas can be agreed on to take to the next stage of actually implementing to test the idea for feasibility.

    Of course, in moving from the land of limitless possibilities to actual implementation means that someone now has to be accountable for providing an outcome – either of success or failure. And today's environment, let's face it – we're becoming more risk-adverse than we ever were, so getting someone to take ownership of implementing this idea can be challenging.

    Again, here is where a leader needs to send a clear message that while those put in charge of implementation are to be held accountable for completing the work, they won't be accountable for the outcome because the whole purpose of doing this exercise is to evaluate whether it's a good idea to pursue or not. This is why in sports, players are willing to accept their part in the team's loss because they know it's part of the process of improving and refining how they function as a team.

    By embracing these two aspects as part of a leadership role, it will be far easier to shift focus to getting ideas out of the lab and into the real world to give it spin to see how well it runs.



    April 22, 2010 at 6:40 pm

    Great thought Jennifer – A consistent calendaring of a performance gut check is a solid recommendation. Nothing bad could ever come of implementing this suggestion. Thanks Jennifer.


    john baldoni

    April 22, 2010 at 6:46 pm

    Improve performance? Understand it is a two-way street. Bosses establish direction; employees follow. Employees share ideas for improvement. Bosses listen. Both work cooperatively and collaboratively to achieve intended results.



    April 22, 2010 at 6:54 pm

    Excellent points John. A leader's ability to engender trust through collaborative engagement is often not thought of as a competency – big mistake. Thanks for pointing this out John…


    Brad Austin

    April 22, 2010 at 7:20 pm

    Mike, your words ring so true. In my experience the most successful leaders are able to allow those they lead to stop majoring in the minors. Too many times they simply can't do it. Put another way, unsuccessful leaders are unable to put the minors off to the side and don't allow a laser-focus on the majors. Thanks very much for your insight. I truly appreciate your ability to get to the core of issues.


    Elliot Ross

    April 22, 2010 at 7:21 pm

    Thank you Mike – I think you are asking a hard question. And I don't believe that there is a true 'leadership for dummies' manual that you can just check off the boxes and consider it complete.

    As a full disclosure, if leadership was a medieval 'guild' I consider myself barely into the journeyman stage, so allow me to explain my personal thoughts or values rather than any prescriptive text.

    I think that for leaders to improve they must check their ego at the door. Reflect, and perform a SWOT analysis on themselves. Understand that there will be others who are smarter. This allows you to recognize that you need to learn, not just external practicalities, but your own strengths and weaknesses. If you don't understand yourself, it is hard to improve your own performance.

    Why do I read the words of so many brilliant people? exactly that reason – on the practical side, there is always something to learn.(at least to a relevant level of detail- because if you don't you are just abdicating) And on my personal side I have learned where (at least many!) of my own weaknesses are.

    And look at those weaknesses at both a macro, and micro level

    The macro level can be a tough one. We often look at our skills through rose colored glasses. Referring to the business press that Mike mentioned, they paint many business leaders as excelling in the "turn around' or in 'innovation' or a myriad other contexts.

    Which are you?

    Me? I won't ever be a CEO, There are leaders whose job is to see around corners. To supply a vision that can't be seen right now.

    That is not me. But you describe that vision to me? Then just let me show you how I will get you there.

    I think that understanding yourself to that level is tough. (or maybe just admitting it) – and is why many entrepreneurs build successful businesses, but then lose them by refusing to let go to someone who is better at managing that business than they were.

    The micro level can be easier to work on or identify with. As one example, I have to constantly work on my patience. When I can easily see that doing X will save Y dollars, or improve Z, I get impatient that we cannot agree to do it yesterday.

    Which brings up my second philosophy, we know that change is hard – and changing ourselves can be hardest. So once you have done your personal SWOT analysis, take one thing you would like to improve and put it on your calendar for first thing in the morning for the month.

    And then each and every activity that you do for that month – keep that note top of mind.

    Next month?

    Add a new area that could be improved.

    Because as you hold yourself accountable, it becomes obvious where you need to hold others accountable. And building a team that is goal and execution oriented needs both.

    If you look closely – you will note a strong resemblance in the above to the Shewart/Deming PDSA cycle

    Which of course, is deliberate 🙂

    Best Regards




      April 22, 2010 at 7:37 pm


      Thanks for sharing these thoughts. You outlined a very good process which I'll attempt to paraphrase: 1. check your ego at the do; 2. have clarity of vision; 3. understand your role; 4. Conduct intense and frequent introspective analysis; 5. Consistently hold yourself accountable to work on the outcomes of the introspection, and; 6. Take focused action.

      Great thoughts Elliot. I appreciate you sharing so transparently.



    April 22, 2010 at 7:27 pm

    Hi Brad –

    Thanks for your kind words…your comment reminds me of one of my favorite sayings: The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing. Say that fast 5 times 🙂


    Dave Brand

    April 22, 2010 at 7:37 pm

    I learned a few years back in a workshop entitled Facilitative Leadership (developed by Interaction Associates) that there are various Dimensions of Success. The three they focus on are: Results, Process and Relationships. Each of these dimensions play into the short term and long term impact of what we do. By overemphasizing one area or another there is a ripple effect felt in the others. People are in business to achieve results. The process you use impacts the sustainability of the results. The relationships that are at play impact the viability of the results.
    So the point I would bring forward is that when you couple results in conjunction with process and relationships you get a better sense of the big picture and this holistic perspective is what helps you, your team, your organization and your customers to win over time.



      April 22, 2010 at 8:26 pm

      Hi Dave:

      Astute, practical and actionable. Balancing the need for results, with the certainty afforded by sound process, and the tremendous potential for leverage and influence catalyzed by healthy relationships is a great operating framework for building high performance. Thanks so much for the observations Dave…



    April 22, 2010 at 7:58 pm

    A single idea that can improve performance, results, across the board:

    >>Express what you want as a RESULT.

    In other words, don't tell me you're looking for a programmer with five years experience.

    Tell me you want a programmer who can write code that leaves the end user feeling "Wow! That was simple. It just works!"

    Don't tell me you want a secretary who is "good on the phone."

    Tell me you want a secretary who will make your customers feel wanted and cared for, whether it's in person in the office or over the phone.

    Management speak is full of two things:

    – Ambiguities.

    – The MEANS to an end.

    We need to learn to speak the third option: Just say what you really want the END to be and let people figure out how to get there.

    Dov Gordon http://DovGordon.net



    April 22, 2010 at 8:29 pm

    Hi Dov:

    The power of straight talk is found in its clarity and sense of purpose. Know what you want, say what you mean, mean what you say, and do what you say you will do…Great stuff Dov…


    Kelly Ketelboeter

    April 22, 2010 at 8:33 pm

    Hi Mike,

    Great post! Most leaders fall on their face when it comes to implementation because let's face it, it takes work. Often times the results won't be immediate either. They lack the staying power and allow other things to distract them and lose traction to what they are truly attracted to. We are living in a society of quick fixes. Sure I can give you a pill that will mask your problem but it surely won't solve it. We have to be prepared to do the heavy lifting and stay the course.

    Another key issue is that leaders have a tendency to excuse poor performance in one area for excellent performance in another. Versus developing a well rounded person that can do it all. This is where your point on performance rings so true for me. Either you are doing it or your not. If what you are doing doesn't support the strategy or implementation than we have to have the direct and to the point conversations to get back on track. Or perhaps you will find this isn't the place for you.

    I also strongly believe that excuses don't change results. I am with you on the show me, don't just tell me point. Often times leaders actually entertain excuses by defending them, trying to fix them or actually supporting them. Every time I hear an excuse the question is, "what are you going to do about that?" Excuses get eliminated quickly and our focus shifts to doing and solving.




      April 22, 2010 at 8:57 pm

      Hi Kelly:

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Making a clear statement that excuses not only won't be accepted, but they won't be tolerated is essential to creating a culture of performance. Every time I witness excuses being accepted as an acceptable outcome I absolutely cringe. Thanks again for the comment Kelly.


    Scott Allison

    April 22, 2010 at 8:51 pm

    I'm going to answer this question by focusing on the PRO model — People, Resources, Opportunities.

    First, know your people. What are their strengths? What motivates them? What can be done to build a relationship with them?

    Second, know your resources. What are the human, material, and monetary resources are your disposal? How can you make best use of them?

    Third, know your opportunities. What is the organization's vision? What organizational needs aren't being met? What performance outcomes are most valued?

    A good PRO then blends these components together. He or she involves members of the team in making the best use of resources and in identifying opportunities.

    Thanks, Mike. That my 2 cents.



      April 23, 2010 at 4:23 am

      Hi Scott:

      Thanks for the great input. I noticed some commonalities between your observations those that Dave and Elliot put forth. I guess the old saying great minds think alike is alive and well. The area that stands out for me is the one about resourcing. Acquiring, developing and deploying the right resources, at the right times and for the right reasons will always generate high performance results. Thanks Scott…


    Bridget Haymond

    April 22, 2010 at 5:02 pm

    I’m convinced that getting employees engaged emotionally has often been the missing link to peak performance. People need a target to aim at and a variable structure of rewards can be a huge motivator. Some people might be motivated by a bonus, while others would be motivated by extra time off. If people can see the potential for them to excel at what they do and reap the benefits based on their personal performance, then accountability should be the natural response.

    I also support a variable pay scale for positions regardless of title or rank. A well performing manager should have the opportunity to earn more than an average performing director. If someone is a well suited to a managerial position, why should they be limited in their pay scale, or be forced to move into a position that they are not well suited for due to a pay differential?

    If there are multiple divisions involved, cross collateralize the reward system and pair up people (not just managers) with an accountability partner from another division so that each can see how their performance impacting another department. Get rid of departmental competition and the blame game by getting people moving together vertically as a group, with well-defined checkpoints along the way.

    Great way to get us all brainstorming Mike!



      April 23, 2010 at 4:31 am

      Hi Bridget:

      The topics of incentive compensation, contribution margin and incentive compensation finally enter the fray…While some would argue whether incentive compensation is effective, I would not be one of them. The issue is not incentive compensation, but rather creating the appropriate incentives and liked to the correct outcomes, and as you so astutely pointed out having said incentives connect on the right emotional level. Great food for thought Bridget. Thanks for sharing…



    April 23, 2010 at 12:23 am

    I like the the show "Undercover Boss", so let's find a way to get leaders to walk in the the shoes of their employees—make calls/visits with sales reps; answer phones and the like. Nothing too scientific!



      April 23, 2010 at 4:53 am

      Hi Dan:

      Great comment…there are few things as unproductive as executives who choose to sequester themselves from the reality that is their own company. There is no such thing as ignorant bliss when you're a leader. Not being aware of what key stakeholders and other sources of feedback and input will most certainly cause organizational blind spots that will hinder performance.



    April 22, 2010 at 6:44 pm

    Hi Tanveer:

    Sound counsel very much in alignment with Mark's thoughts expressed above. The alignment of accountability, responsibility, authority and focused action cut a clear path to increased performance. Thanks Tanveer.


    Bert Decker

    April 23, 2010 at 2:30 am

    Leaders use the "Green Light Approach." Assume you have a green light at all times to move ahead. If you see a Yellow Light, pause, look around, check in, and then move ahead. With a Red Light, stop, fix the problem, and move ahead.

    Great post, Mike.




      April 23, 2010 at 4:58 am

      Hi Bert:

      Thanks so much for your comment and I love this thought…It reminds me of the old military adage that observes the futility of attempting to win a battle when in retreat. Great leaders are always problem solving, innovating, adapting, but most importantly they are always committed to making forward progress. Leaders who allow apathy to get a toe-hold in their organization are simply breeding obsolescence and hindering performance. Great comment Bert…


    Erin Schreyer

    April 23, 2010 at 2:39 am

    Great post, Mike!! I'm all about leadership that inspires, but to your point, if it doesn't produce results, then it's not all that great in the end. It is, indeed, about performance.

    For me, the requirement is a knowledge and execution of strengths. When an organization embraces a strengths culture, it's a true win-win. An employee will be engaged and motivated by levergaing their natural talents that they enjoy doing (and do best!) An organization benefits because the employee will be much more productive, efficient and effective.

    If a leader wants performance, they can most quickly and effectively accomplish it by leveraging strengths – his/her own and that of the team. Performance comes when people are doing things they love and making their greatest contributions. When your head and heart are in it, it's hard to beat that combination!!!



      April 23, 2010 at 5:03 am

      Hi Erin:

      Thanks for sharing such an important lesson. I'm a huge believer in playing to strengths. When leaders understand how to leverage their strengths good things tend to happen, but when they learn to leverage the strengths of the overall organization by deploying the best talent to the greatest opportunities or the biggest challenges great things tend to happen. Thanks for surfacing this issue Erin…


    Meredith Bell

    April 23, 2010 at 12:33 pm

    Mike, Great discussion you have going here! Two different but related thoughts to add…

    I believe a key reason leaders don't take action is a combination of fear and low self-esteem. The fear of failure and looking bad to others can paralyze some people, so no matter how compelling the objective, it's safer to spend more time analyzing options and considering what to do. The solution here is to work on building a stronger self-image (Maxwell Maltz's classic The New Psycho-Cybernetics is excellent IF the ideas are acted upon!). Leaders who are confident and not afraid of making mistakes inspire others just by their attitude and behavior – and make it safe for their direct reports to take action because they know it won't be the end of the world if they make a mistake.

    The second point relates to the responsibility-accountability issue. One thing we do in my company when we've agreed on a project and defined the outcomes is something very simple (some tech wizards may call it primitive..) that works very well. We set up a spreadsheet with columns for task, person responsible, date due and date completed, and it's placed where everyone on the team can access, check and update their tasks. We've found that it motivates each of us to get our part done because we don't want to be the bottleneck and our performance (or lack of it) is VISIBLE to everyone else.

    I also agree with Mark's keen observation that activity does not equate to performance. At the end of the day, I check what I've actually accomplished that I could SHOW to someone else. On the days I have a lot to show, I know I've performed well. I think that's a key piece that's often overlooked. "Busy" does not necessarily contribute anything meaningful to the organization and its goals.



      April 23, 2010 at 2:30 pm

      Hi Meredith:

      Great insights…Improving confidence levels, using a project management framework for accountability and focusing in on the "right" activities will all enhance performance levels. Following are the two items that jumped out at me from your post:
      1. Confidence – All leaders must continue to develop, stretch, and grow. Personal & professional development doesn't end when a title is bestowed.
      2. Accountability – Manage promises like projects by having a framework for accountability, transparency and collaborative feedback. Whether it's milestones or inch-pebbles measure, verify, refine and keep moving forward.

      Great thoughts Meredith. Thanks for adding to the conversation.


    Pablo Edwards

    April 26, 2010 at 1:56 am

    Great stuff… If you can't perform and follow through, everything else you have done falls apart. Glad to hear someone talking about the follow through in marketing!

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