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A perpetual search for weakness and some uncomfortable truths about most businesses.

‘Consistent high performance requires a perpetual search for weakness’.

For the moment, assume this statement is true (it is). I received a question recently; “How do we approach this perpetual search for weakness without it getting you down?” I.e. how do we keep our workplace positive if we are to spend a lot of our time focussing on the negative?

The answer is a philosophical one; we simply change how we view weakness and errors.

How do you view weakness and error in your organisation, your team, your own life?

Do you have negative feelings about the words error and mistake?

Do your staff try to cover up errors; are there feelings of shame associated with making a mistake, leading to hesitance to ‘own it’?

What if we change our viewpoint and start to see errors as valuable pieces of information…?

Consider a body builder. As the months and years go by, he builds his body up by a repeated cycle of training, adequate nutrition, and recovery. When he looks in the mirror, he purposely looks for muscles which are lagging behind, as by focussing on these, he will improve his performance (his metric for performance is a large, balanced, symmetrical physique). The bodybuilder doesn’t become depressed by focussing on these areas of comparative ‘weakness’; he knows that it is ONLY by seeking these out that he will continue to improve.

So, in our teams, we must make this philosophical shift. We are aiming to make the organisation better, (not aiming to make ourselves look good for a promotion, bonus or pay rise ), and to do so, errors and areas of weakness are valuable pieces of information. We must never hide them. To borrow the Mercedes F1 team’s mantra, we must “see it, say it, fix it”.

How to implement this practically…?

  1. Give your team a vision,

  2. Provide an example with your errors, and

  3. Provide an example with staff errors

Let’s expand on these very briefly…

1. A large part of the ‘art’ of leadership is providing a powerful vision for the organisation which motivates your team. Don’t settle for mediocrity. Most businesses do, which is why most businesses are average. 'Average is easy, that's why it's popular!'. Let your staff know that ‘this place is different’.

2. Start your next meeting by openly admitting an error you made. It should be an error you are ashamed of, and is hard to admit, but don’t dwell on the negative aspects. Your staff will sense this is hard for you to admit, which dramatically increases this step’s effect. You are creating a 'vulnerability loop'…your team sense you are vulnerable, and they are therefore willing to display their own vulnerability. Explain what changes you will make in your own execution to avoid that error in the future, and how the organisation can learn from it. Humility is the key here. For more about this step…

3. Encourage your staff to admit errors, but don’t force it out of them. Provide plenty of opportunity for analysis, and continue to set the example by admitting your own shortfalls. When staff DO come out and own a mistake, do everything you can to protect their ego (without going overboard). Show that this is a normal part of being in a high performance team; we identify errors, we look for ways to fix them, we get better. For more about this step…

That’s the end of this short discussion on seeking out weakness.

I’m going to continue with some uncomfortable truths which will explain why almost ALL businesses fail to follow the process detailed above. Read on, but beware; you may be offended…

The cold, hard truth…MOST BUSINESSES ARE NOT TRYING TO BE HIGH PERFORMANCE TEAMS. This is because most business owners are motivated by profit, and most people working for most businesses are there for themselves. Their own career progression, their own remuneration, and their own interests.

This is the single biggest delineator between true high performance organisations (those who consistently dominate and have a continued legacy despite leadership teams changing). ‘People in high performance teams are aiming to make the team better, not achieve personal gain.’

‘Most people’ will not search out error, because they have been shown that to do so threatens their next promotion.

‘Most people’ will not actively look for ways to improve their organisation, because leaders have not provided a powerful vision for the future.

‘Most people’ are in it for themselves.

Profit is NEVER the purpose behind high performance teams. If you want to build something exceptional, your organisation must have a crystal clear, meaningful purpose which you translate into an exciting vision of the future for your workforce. This is the foundation for the other components of high performance teams, and we can’t start without it.

This may be uncomfortable reading, but I'm just the messenger. Look at the latest research on employee engagement; it's appallingly low and getting worse. But, this gives motivated and empathetic leaders a HUGE opportunity. Maybe now more than ever, it is easier to stand apart from other organisations and to provide an environment where your workforce can really excel.

If you are different than most and would like help with introducing high performance team attributes into your organisation, please feel welcome to contact me for a free consultation. I absolutely love the energy around high performance people and teams, and would welcome the opportunity to assist you with your path ahead!

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