Guest post by Keith Hatter
I used to know a decorator called Louis. Louis was always late and he had the biggest book of excuses in the world to explain why. Some were plausible, some were funny and some were just stupid. The truth was that Louis didn’t really care about turning up on time, though he knew that he was supposed to, so he had loads of excuses.
Fast forward 25 years and Louis the decorator seems to have friends and relations who hold leadership positions in different businesses. All these leaders know they should be working on high performance, express great frustration at the current state of play in terms of beliefs, attitudes and behaviours they witness and at the unrealised potential that surrounds them – yet they seem to have borrowed Louis’ book and updated it for modern corporate life.
The time’s not right. We haven’t got the budget. We’re too busy. Results aren’t great. I don’t know how we’ll measure it. The team’s not complete. The team’s too old. The team’s too young. Maybe next year. I need to think about it some more. I’m not sure it’s perfect. The team seems to be OK at the moment. We need to focus on the quarter. We tried that once and it didn’t work. My tummy hurts.
It’s a great list and they all sound pretty reasonable. Well most of them. And that’s the point. High performance isn’t reasonable. It’s unreasonable. It’s not what everyone else does, it’s what the few do. They find many reasons why they can’t do things they know to be vital for success because they just seem too hard. The few find a way to do them because that way lies success and competitive advantage.
How many athletes in the lead up to the London Olympics will be giving those excuses? Not many. They’ll find a way.
The time to work on performance is always right now. If results aren’t good, then those people who are truly committed to being the best they can be – let’s call them athletes – work on performance. If things are OK, then athletes work on performance to make them better. If things are great, then athletes work on performance to see just how good they could be. Athletes who are too busy to work on performance don’t stay relevant for very long. Old or young, athletes work on their performance – it’s not something they grow out of. Athletes would no more think about whether they need to work on performance than they would think about whether they are going to breathe next week – it’s a given.
Expecting perfect is an academic indulgence – perfect is your enemy, progress is your friend – athletes strive for perfection but don’t expect it. And since when did performance become a function of age or having a perfectly formed, injury free team?
Yeah, but the budget…well you know that you can always find budget to invest in what’s important to you – it’s just a choice. And in any case, working on performance needn’t cost a thing and is a lot cheaper than the current involuntary investment too many business leaders are currently making in under-performance.
So be honest. If you are serious about high performance, you could be working on it now. If you’re not, you’ve either taken a leaf out of Louis’ book or are adding a new entry.
You don’t have to be great to get going. But you better get going if you want to be great.
Keith Hatter is the CEO of K2 – coaching the business world to think, prepare and perform like elite athletes. He is working with companies such as Eurostar, Evenbase, Axa, Toshiba, Sony, The Olympic Delivery Authority… Follow him at @keithhatter and K2 and @planetK2