The Unknown Performance Parameter

Have you ever wondered about this thing called “form”? I am referring to the word used by and for people in sports. Why does a Roger Federer or a Nadal look invincible on court one day and on another, just another mortal like the rest of us? Of course, it has got to do with the choices they make and the decisions they take on court. So why are they good or bad on a given day and inconsistent when they are known to be players with great skill, dedication and devotion to the game they play? This is true of musicians, businessmen or simply, people from any walk of life.  It cannot be just that someone else had a better day or a better way of doing things, is it?

When I stretch the thinking to team sports and business enterprises from individual players to organization of professionals, the above question becomes even more baffling. The same pass that fetched a spectacular mid-field goal the other day today has been intercepted by the opposition player to reverse the play to the opposite half of the field. And yes, we are excluding the possibility of match fixing here!

Performance is definitely controlled by practicality and perseverance. But there is also something beyond the control that dictates performance. Such mysterious energy propels one into the realms of both extraordinary and the abysmal, where the regular / normal seems to be the average performance. Have you thought about that uncontrollable mysterious energy / force and how it can be propitiated?  Because, as we discover, we may need this force / energy in extraordinary times when normal doesn’t seem to work. Even if it does, it is not doing anything to the purpose or quality of life!

At the center of all this is the question of talent performing for the enterprise. I was looking for some answers and completely freaked out on reading “The Talent Myth” from the Malcolm Gladwell authored “What the Dog Saw”; a compendium of articles published by ‘The Observer’. Carol Dweck, a psychologist at Columbia University after an experiment with Hong Kong university students concluded that “Students who hold a fixed view of their intelligence care so much about looking smart that they act dumb”. It transpired that students were tested for their English proficiency and when the scores were published, only the ones who believed in malleable intelligence took up the remedial course. The students who believed that their intelligence was a fixed trait were so concerned about their appearing to be deficient that they preferred to stay home. In another experiment, Dweck gave a class of adolescent students a test filled with challenging problems. After they were finished, one group was praised for its effort while the other group was praised for its intelligence. Those praised for their intelligence were reluctant to tackle difficult tasks, and their performance in subsequent tests soon began to suffer. Then Dweck asked the children to write a letter to students at another school, describing their experience in the study. 40% of the students who were praised for their intelligence lied about how they had scored on the test, adjusting their grade upward.

There isn’t really an answer in my opinion on why the performance of an individual or a team is great on one day and absolutely poor on another. But there is certainly an answer for what goes into performance from a control perspective. Especially in an enterprise context, performance is caused both by talent that produces hard-work as well as the intelligent ones. A brilliant idea needs a lot of hard-work to make it work on the ground. The startling thing about performance though, is the ability to be honest about the recognition about what causes performance in the enterprise. Failing to do so will create the behemoth such as Enron, which believed it had the best talent and we know now that most managers wouldn’t be very proud of the consequences of their actions in quest for what they believed was the real performance. I don’t believe that all the talented ones who worked relentlessly to grow to the next higher level were corrupt and devious. It is just that, there was no honesty at the leadership level on the true significance of performance and its causes and therefore, how people in the enterprise needed to respond to the challenges. The fraud allegations on Goldman Sachs was waiting to happen if one believed that escaped unscathed in 2008.

The need of the hour more than regulation and controls is a serious introspection on the part of leadership and management of business enterprises globally on what should be their legitimate aspirations for performance. Perhaps, they can revisit their Mission statement that demands them to understand and illustrate “the fundamental economic purpose of their business enterprise”. When they have found the answer, they must be able to chart out the course for the next ten years with respect to what, why and how they will perform for their universe of customers. This is not going to guarantee them against a bad quarter but this is certainly going to give them the strength to turn the bad ones into better ones more consistently in the future. That inherent spirit, strength and / or energy is lacking in business corporations across the globe and business leaders should not negotiate out of the duty to re-energize their business enterprises.

About Subbu Iyer

Subbu Iyer is an Innovation & Transformation Leader as with 28 years of serving customers globally. He is currently the Chief Designer & Transformer at Energizing Innovation, an enterprise that is being founded to facilitate continuous growth in enterprises and as a consequence create societal wealth. The Radical Shift that this enterprise intends to employ is focusing on the Potential rather than the Performance of a business. He has been a serial entrepreneur and an intrapreneur in his past life, having founded Nihilent Technologies and Nandaki Systems besides being associated in senior leadership roles with firms such as Coopers & Lybrand, Cambridge Technology Partners, Tata Consultancy Services, Wipro Technologies and Steria.
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