Maintaining high performance for yourself, within a team, or for a business can be difficult. Day-to-day life contains many hurdles and challenges. Whilst we often think of success as a straight line from A to B with linear progression, the reality is very different: People are subject to a cyclical process of ebb and flow, growth and decline. So what strategies can you develop to go after continuous improvement?
Setting a culture
Firstly, it is important to prepare your team. A good leader will understand the needs of their team and provide the necessary support. One strategy is to sit down with your team and set clear roles and responsibilities at the start of any big project to ensure everyone understands what is expected of them. This is also an opportunity for individuals within your team to inform the group of any outside commitments such as sport, choir practice or parenting responsibilities. This discussion helps to create an open and honest culture where everyone can work together to be in the best position to maintain performance over long periods of time.
Understanding the process
Businesses have goals and objectives to meet. This often leads to focusing on only the outcome, with little thought on how to practically get there. What enables a business to reach a set of objectives? A productive team. What affects team productivity? The processes and routines. Being clear with everyone as to what a good day consists of helps individuals have an understanding of what needs to be done on any given day to create a successful end result. Just focusing on the outcome will not. This daily approach also allows for flexibility with the ability to compensate, for example, a team member being off sick.
Prepare for change
When considering the natural cyclical process, Charles Handy in The Empty Raincoat talks about three phases. First the learning phase where dips in performance are often experienced as new skills are learned. Secondly, the growth phase where learning becomes embedded and momentum and growth increases. Lastly, the decline phase, where underperformance is initially seen as an anomaly but then becomes the norm.
The trick is to, therefore, understand when your team is at the top of its game and to change the strategy. Handy calls these Sigmoid leaps – taking a jump while you are at the peak of a growth phase.
“What steps do you need to consider taking so you can prepare for the second curve without prematurely leaving your current success (on the first curve) behind?” – The Encyclopedia of Leadership
The timing of the leaps is key. When should you be changing around teams? Bring in new talent? Invest in new products? Expand to new geographical regions? Change your strategy altogether? Educating your team on this process and inspiring them to make the changes when needed can help businesses seek continuous development and improvement.
Stepping away from a team-wide approach, it’s also important to have an understanding of how you can be sustainable with your levels of energy and motivation. This means not working yourself into the ground each week only to find at some point you’re burnt out. It might mean going a bit slower initially, but it will result in continual progress over longer periods of time.
To build personal resilience there are two key areas of focus; proactive and reactive.
- Proactive resilience is building coping strategies to protect yourself from the physical or psychological demands of upcoming tasks. This could involve looking after your health – exercise, healthy eating, and getting enough sleep. Or it could involve planned rest and relaxation, walks in nature, meditation and talking with supportive friends and family.
- Reactive resilience is about how to manage and cope with unexpected situations. This could be for example using breathing techniques to regulate your heart rate and emotions in a high-pressure situation, taking time away from a difficult situation, re-adjusting your thinking styles or talking to someone you trust.
Maintaining high levels of performance over long periods of time is challenging. Naturally, humans and businesses are subject to peaks and troughs. But, by preparing your team and setting a strong culture, understanding the processes that need to be done on any given day to reach the desired outcome, preparing for change as well as having a personal resilience toolkit can help to maintain success over longer periods of time.