The one thing others need from you to improve performance

How to create new behaviours and results

Pay-off: do this and you and your teams can improve their performance in just about anything

Investment: 6 minutes

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I’ve written this post for anyone leading a team or a business who wants to see improved performance in their people. But it equally applies to ourselves as individuals.

Serious about improving performance and results?

Are you hoping to see improved performance in other people you work with? Or in yourself? Improved performance that leads to exciting and consistent new results that move your business and career in an exciting new direction?

If so, you probably know that you and your team have quite a challenge ahead of you.

A challenge, though, that’s important and worthwhile.

It’s important because it enables you to achieve your vision. And it’s worthwhile because businesses and people want to grow, improve, and progress whilst tackling the right level of challenge.

We wouldn’t want it easy

We wouldn’t want it to be easy. Because the easy stuff is rarely worthwhile.

Anyone can do the easy stuff (and most people are). So there’s no value in the easy stuff. And there’s little joy or reward. But the relevant, hard and interesting stuff, now that’s worth doing. That’s why we engage in what we do. Success and rewards are on the other side of the hard stuff.

The “hard stuff”

And helping others to accelerate their own behavioural change to become even better versions of themselves and better assets to your business, is “hard stuff”.

Good. We’re focusing on the right thing then to keep our employees strong, valuable, engaged and happy.

So, what’s this one thing they need to improve performance?

We’re coming to it. We had to establish first that behavioural change is hard but worthwhile.

We cannot expect people to make behavioural change by just putting our money in the slot and pulling the lever. It doesn’t work like that.

But unfortunately, many businesses and many people try that approach by organising one-off workshops or e-courses for their teams. These may inspire a few driven people and put them on a new trajectory to self-direct their learning further. But this approach lacks the one vital thing I’m about to share with you.

The clue is growth

To understand this ‘one thing’ consider that the clue is in the word ‘growth’. Growth, as you know, is a gradual process. And all growth happens because of consistent incremental attention.

Growth needs frequently feeding.

Your people (and your own growth) is like a bonsai tree

I was given a bonsai tree recently. You may know that they’re delicate things. Really hard to keep alive and growing. And the feedback comes fast with a bonsai; the leaves drop quickly when you’re not doing it right.

My first few weeks were frustrating caring for this bonsai tree. It didn’t look well. You could say that it, or perhaps I, was underperforming.

So I had to grow myself in order to help it grow (I spent a lot of time on YouTube picking up tips and using trial and error). I gave it sufficient, frequent attention to rectify the problem. And over the last week or two it’s looking much better with hardly any leaf drop at all. The leaves have a shine to them. Despite having no green fingers, I think I’m winning and getting the rewards.

So, what was the secret?

Well, taking responsibility and committing to helping this thing survive and thrive was essential. But responsibility and commitment lead to the “one thing” we need to manage purposefully to improve performance….

They enabled me to give the bonsai the required sufficient enough and frequent enough attention in order to make it grow.

The one thing we all need in order to grow is sufficient enough and frequent enough ATTENTION to improvement.

Put your attention on growing towards your vision

Without sufficient and frequent enough attention to improve our required behaviours, our own leaves fall off pretty fast too, and we lose our shine.

Your people need the right support to steer their attention on improving their value, not just once or twice, but frequently enough to have the desired effect.

And it’s hard (we’ve explored why). Because your attention and time are finite. But the question you need to ask is, “without frequent enough attention on this growth, where will I and my business be in relation to our vision further down the line?”

What happens when the shine fades and the leaves fall off your vision?

Do you have a structure in place to help your team manage their attention towards improved performance sufficiently and frequently enough?

Basically, are your people performing consistently in the way you and your customers want them to?

The surprisingly magical compounding effect

The good news is that although time and attention are finite, you can still optimise them to increase impact, and doing so frequently has a surprisingly magical effect.

Because your mind, when focused on a challenge consistently over time tends to compound the benefits and solutions, much like compound interest. Your learning builds and compounds with frequent attention on the same topic, partly thanks to the effect of spaced repetition. It becomes ‘stickier’ to the topic and makes more sense of ideas in other fields that could translate or provide even more meaning to the topic. (See my article on “How to get 10 times more out of what you learn“.) As your attention increases, your interest in the topic also tend to increase. Often, the more we learn, the more we want to learn (especially when we start enjoying the results). And often it’s the case that the more we learn, the more we earn.

And your actions, skills (and results of those actions and activity) also compound. Keep investing your attention little and often on growing your relevant high-value capabilities. It pays off. It’s like a positive form of the slow boil frog effect. You hardly notice that your consistent attention on any one thing tends to grow it over time. Drip, drip, drip.

“A small daily task, if it be really daily, will beat the labours of a spasmodic Hercules” – Anthony Trollope

A plan to manage your attention

So, how can you begin to manage your attention in order to help other people manage their ongoing attention?

First, you could borrow from other less important time-draining activities. You’ll need to take a moment to work out what they are.

Second, you could improve your self-management and efficiency in other areas, freeing up attention towards growth. People are incredibly ineffective if you watch them. Yet they complain that they’re time short. It’s fixable. You and they could even create an ongoing plan to put your attention on that?

Third, you could commit to dedicating a small window of time for ‘attention on your growth’ daily.

If you’re truly committed, you find the time. If you can’t find the time, you’re not yet committed.

If you’re telling yourself that you don’t have time, and you’re ready to commit, just get out of bed 15 mins earlier each day and go to bed 15 mins later. Thirty minutes a day on growth is probably sufficient, but if you can’t do that, simple – do twenty. Still too much? Do 10. But make it deliberate and make it count.

Keep in mind that to get the edge on your competition, you could consider just getting the edge on your attention management for growing your team’s capabilities. Remember the guy running from the lion who told his friend also running away that he doesn’t need to outrun the lion, he just needs to outrun his friend.

How many minutes each day does your competition spend on improving and delivering on business development activity, for example? This is clearly a simple way to get a competitive advantage. Get your teams, including your non-sales people to contribute to generating opportunities, improving customer value, and generating revenue. Pay attention to that, and it pays off.

Fourth, learn how to use that dedicated thirty minutes effectively (doing the right things) and efficiently (doing those things in the right way). You won’t make maximum impact if you just dabble. You need to direct your attention in a structured manner, and you need to know what to do. All learnable.

You also need to remind yourself that what gets measured gets done, and that by focusing on a number tends to make that number go up. That’s the hidden power of attention. So you need to pick the right number and the right scale. And put your attention on it, frequently enough.

Put your attention on the solution, not the problem

Remember the bonsai. Don’t ignore your team’s capability growth for too long or else the leaves start falling off. Then your finite attention gets spent on the snowballing problem you’re facing and all it’s associated frustrations.

Far better to purposefully spend your finite attention on creating the solution you want, attending to it frequently enough, and growing towards your vision.

So how can you action this?

As an individual with your own growth in mind

You could clarify your vision, pick a scale, and commit to paying attention to your number on that scale and where it needs to be. Then create thirty or twenty minutes each and every day to efficiently direct your attention to the growth of that number. Learn what you’ve got to learn, and apply what you’ve got to apply. Learn, apply. Repeat. If you struggle to maintain the commitment, you could get some external support. Give me a shout.

And as a leader of others who’s growth (and ability to subsequently grow their numbers) matters

You could remember that they’re like the bonsai tree. They need your attention. They need your sufficient and frequent enough attention to help them direct their attention sufficiently and frequently enough on growing. I don’t just mean that they should spend time learning and training. I mean they should spend time executing, practising, progressing, and learning. By simply carving out deliberate small windows of time for focused attention.

Two excuses that don’t work

Finally, I should take the opportunity to remove two potential and costly excuses to doing this that may be on your mind or on the minds of your people.

“I haven’t got time”

I’ve spent this article talking about growing our capabilities and value in order to create and connect more value to our customers, so that we can achieve the desired vision. Saying “I haven’t got time” is actually an announcement that “I haven’t got time to help achieve our vision”. If I didn’t make time to attend to the bonsai tree, it would have died, together with my vision.

We all have time to put just enough attention towards what’s important. Think little and often, structured, efficient and measured, and you’ll see your number go up.

“But Mark, you get paid to put your attention on performance improvement”

Yes, I do. And you and your business do too.

Want support to increase the attention on your team’s development?

If you want support to direct yours and your team’s attention sufficiently and consistently enough, I can probably support you. It’s exactly what I help businesses to do, specifically around business development activity and behaviours. And I can do it in person or virtually. So give me a shout (or check out my site here).

Increase attention on your growth, just a little, for free

One immediate and free way to increase your attention on growth in what I call “The Big 4 Skills” is to sign up to my weekly posts. I dedicate my attention to growing mine and others business development and learning capabilities. So it’s not a bad idea to join me in directing our attention together in small, weekly doses.

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