1. Raise expectations

For many people, the word ‘performance’ is pretty vague. Leaders will often talk about ‘getting a team to perform’… when at some level they obviously already do. The key issue is clarity about the expectation. How good is good enough? What does excellence actually look like? Most importantly, is what we’re all doing good enough now and for the future? Probably not – or at least, not for long. We all need to get better, all the time. Raise the bar on everything.

2. Be absolutely clear about the height of the bar

It’s easy to fall into the habit of using mundane, everyday language or old-hat platitudes when talking about performance. Slogans generally aren’t helpful. What does ‘be the best’ actually mean? What do you want people to do about it? You need to think very carefully about the words you use and hone your communication to ‘press the right buttons’. See also tip 1!

3. Talk about specifics

In truth, there’s no such thing as ‘performance’ in general, only the level of achievement of a team, person, process or outcome.  You can’t set out to generally improve the performance of a business, only the specific performance of one thing at a time. Let’s be clear about what needs to improve, why and how we’re going to do it.

4. How will we do it, together?

This may seem like a contradiction to points 2 and 3, but it isn’t really, once you think deeply about it. You always need to bring people together to achieve higher performance. If not, there is a danger that people, teams and processes may improve at the expense of other aspects of performance. Efforts to improve need to be congruent, coherent, complete and collaborative.

5. Don’t be dull, be Quirky

When people see and hear anything a lot it can soon become invisible or inaudible. Blah, blah, blah. Just Muzak. Wake them up and reconnect them by coming at things in odd and even downright weird ways. Think about the way adverts will often use very odd imagery and straplines to change the way you view a product. Try to do the same.

6. Improve individual performance, but make it about the Team

Most of us are inspired by being part of something we care about. It is often said that soldiers in wars don’t die for their country, they die for their friends. We are a tribal people and will generally give our utmost for the good of our friends and families. Not always for ‘bosses’, not for shareholders, not for regulators or rules, maybe not even for ourselves – but we’ll do it for each other. Use that power for the greater good.

7. Choose aspects of performance that matter to people

It may be that what you really want to do is improve profitability or share price – or achieve competitive advantage – but those things won’t motivate everyone to give their best. Focus first on things that people care about and will fully commit to striving to improve.

8. We succeed – and fail – Together

Great success can be really inspiring, but only if people can see the part they played in it and can feel proud of what they and their team did. When a CEO talks about the firm’s achievements, it’s often so disconnected from people’s daily lives and work that it means nothing or even demotivates. Equally, failure can be hugely motivating and can galvanize teams and individuals to give their best. Its all in the way it gets communicated and the way people are engaged and involved in deciding what to do about it.

9. Measure things people can – and want to – influence

Often, firm’s measure the things they’ve always measured, that are easy to track or that are typical in their world. Is that the stuff you can strive to improve? If so, great. It often isn’t though, so think about indicators that people and teams can directly have an impact on and will want to change.

10. Improve performance All the Time

Performance is everything. Good, bad, mediocre or world-class (if you can judge that) – the performance of every component and constituent part of your operation should be in your sights. Always.

Written by Nigel Girling, 

Nigel Girling is a founder member of the Guru Group supporting the Government’s Task Force on Engagement. He has acted as chair of two task force working groups and writes extensively on leadership subjects. He promotes leadership in his roles as subject matter expert for the Chartered Management Institute and Director of the National Centre for Strategic Leadership. He leads post-graduate and doctoral programmes and mentors hundreds of senior leaders.

Please note, the views expressed by the original article author are theirs alone and do not necessarily represent those of Washingtondowling Associates Ltd or The SHE Show and therefore we take no responsibility for the content or accuracy of this post.