The Roots of Top Performance

Tree arch

Practical activities from the Mapping Motivation books.

Welcome back for the final instalment of this series of articles in which we use practical exercises to explore motivation and more. Over the course of this series, we have explored the Roots of Motivation, Coaching, Teamwork, Leadership, and Engagement. In this final article, we shall explore the Roots of Top Performance, which is of course interrelated with all of the previous topics, but in particular Motivation and Teamwork.

In Mapping Motivation For Top Performing Teams, we return to the idea of how a true team is distinct from a mere group (for more information on this, please read the article The Roots of Teamwork) but also take it one step further.

The basic concept is that teams have four distinctive factors that distinguish them from groups:

  • teams have REMIT
  • they practice INTERDEPENDENCY
  • they have a strong BELIEF about the power and importance of teams
  • and they are ACCOUNTABLE

These four pillars create the foundation for truly great team performance. However, they are not the whole story, because whilst we may build our house with these four pillars, we then have to live in it! Many teams (like any venture) start strong, but soon waver. It is easy to perform well at the start of a venture when the energy is high. But what do we do when performance begins to decline? Organisational leaders need a strategy. Let’s turn to the practical exercise.

This activity comes from Chapter 1, Activity 1.8, page 22 of Mapping Motivation for Top Performing Teams.

“I discussed earlier about addressing issues and we now come to that point. What would you recommend as activities that this team/company might do to strengthen its teamwork… and to become more successful?”

As we have mentioned in previous articles, it helps to write the answers down physically, rather than just thinking about them. This engages a different part of the brain and helps concretises the link between ideation and action. And taking action is what this series is all about!

Before we reveal our answer to this question, it is worth bearing in mind a few points. These may or may not guide your own responses.

In our article on The Roots of Engagement we shared the not-so-secret formula for Performance, which is:

Performance = (Skills + Motivation) x Commitment

Where Commitment = The Value of a Goal + Likelihood of Success.

Chapter 1 fig 6 Performance Formula Number 2 (2018_05_02 14_50_02 UTC)

from Mapping Motivation for Engagement

Already, this gives us a lot to think about when it comes to measuring and predicting performance in our employees. At a basic level, all the skills in the world are worthless if the employee has no motivation, aka, no energy. Similarly, if the employee is highly motivated and energetic, but has no commitment to what they are doing, then this will result in a deteriorating performance over the long haul!

Measuring Commitment is complex, but two key indicators are derived from the Value of a Goal (to that individual person, bear in mind) plus the Likelihood of Success (consider that if you give your employee a goal that is absolutely impossible, then their Commitment to said goal is likely to waver dramatically). So, if Commitment is 0, then even having both Skills and Motivation will not help achieve high performance in – an important qualification – the long run! The issue in this case is neither energy nor competence but the how that energy is deployed. If Skills and Motivation constitute the engineering and fuel of a car (respectively), then Commitment reflects its quality, its sustainability, its resistance to break-downs.

Let’s look at a basic example: If I am a skilled and highly motivated programmer, but you ask me to do a week’s worth of administrative data-entry in a single day, then you can expect very poor performance despite the fact I have lots of skills and high energy levels. This is because:

  • I am highly unlikely to value the goal (it’s not relevant to my interests or skills)
  • and, the likelihood of me succeeding given the amount of work is next to zero

Of course, this is what some organisations do all the time: we erode high performing individuals’ skill and energy levels by undermining their commitment – via valueless work (as perceived by them) and unachievable targets (usually through absurd and restricted time frames)! We have perhaps laboured the point, but it is worth exploring the nuances of this model as fully as possible in this brief space because of what it reveals about the way businesses are run. You can likely already see how so many organisations completely miss one element or other when it comes to considering their employees’ performance.

So, how might a strategy designed to improve performance in a team (or indeed an individual) in decline relate to the equation of Performance? The answer is startlingly simple, and yet, it is often the simple and obvious things we miss. Rewards.

Since our earliest childhoods, most of us were conditioned to perform via rewards. When we take our first steps, our parents clap and praise us. When we do well in school, we are given a gold star. When we behave well, we get treats from family. There may be some people reading this who reject this methodology on principle, and they are welcome to challenge the status quo (indeed, the status quo needs to be regularly challenged and questioned for society to remain healthy). However, this does not change the fact that the majority of us, bar some tragic or specific exceptions, were raised with this simple formula: perform well and get rewards.

Therefore, any business or organisation looking to get the best out of its people must formulate a reward strategy. But what we find is that even the organisations that do use reward strategies fail spectacularly in implementing them. We even see many instances where the rewards actually begin to demotivate the staff, having the reverse of the desired effect. Why is this? Well, one reason is that generally organisations take a “one size fits all approach”. The majority of organisations offer rewards that align only with one of the nine motivators of human behaviour, aka The Builder, which is focused on material gain and tangible rewards. In other words, they offer financial bonuses.

But our studies show that only about one in seven people have Builder in their top three motivators. One might argue that extra money never hurt anyone, but we beg to differ. For a start, these financial rewards usually are not rewards in the true sense, because they come with a whole load of strings attached: expectations of additional responsibilities or hours to work. This can mean many employees actively seek to avoid being noticed, cultivating mediocrity so they don’t stand out from the crowd! We need not explain the deleterious effect this has on productivity!

Secondly, we find that when financial bonuses are administered without sensitivity and care, they can often breed resentment and conflict. For example, if everyone in the organisation receives a bonus based on organisational performance, it can seem unfair to those exceptional individuals who really do go the extra mile. Should Sally in HR really get that extra money when she slacked off two days a week? Conversely, if only the stars get huge, grandiose bonuses, it can lead people to question by what metric performance is assessed and bonuses deemed appropriate.

A friend of mine once told me a harrowing story that illustrates this latter point. He (we shall call him Damon) and a colleague (we shall call him Billy) essentially possessed the same level of responsibility as financial directors in an insurance organisation; they had parity in all but a single word in their job title, which indicated Billy was senior. By the end of the financial year, Billy had taken a whopping twenty weeks of the year off in order to resolve various issues with his house, spend time with his kids, and also through recurring illness. Damon resented none of this—he had no children himself and thought it was great to see a dad spending so much time with his kids despite a demanding corporate job. Damon was happy to take up the majority of the slack at work as he loved his job. Though at times it was gruelling and difficult doing two people’s work, Damon not only kept the company going but also proactively started several cost-saving initiatives, such as improving the organisation’s customer experience (specifically around their online checkout experience), with the end result of saving the company in excess of 1.5 million pounds. Damon arrived at the end of the year exhausted but feeling positive about having made a massive contribution to the organisation and shown himself to be an exceptional employee.

Then came the bonuses. Damon discovered—he had no choice or agency in the matter—what bonus Billy had been paid versus himself. Damon told me quietly, “If I had received half of what Billy got, I would now be a millionaire. I worked myself half to death this year.” The company had completed disregarded his contribution and minimized him for the sake of appeasing Billy, who had worked at the company longer than Damon, and was technically senior. It is also perhaps relevant that Damon suspected the powers that be at the organisation believed he would be satisfied with a smaller amount because of his age, that he was not yet mature enough to roll in the “big leagues”. Needless to say, Damon tendered his resignation shortly afterwards, and the company lost one of its most competent and hardest working members of staff.

This is obviously an extreme example, but it serves to show just how badly organisations can get rewards wrong. So, how do we get it right? It goes without saying we need to find out what is really driving our people, what motivates them, and then customise our rewards in line with those motivations. In Damon’s case, he actually was a Builder motivator, which makes the shortcomings of his “reward” for a year of monumental work all the more staggering.

In Mapping Motivation For Top Performing Teams we include, in the Resources at the back of the book, a comprehensive list of Reward Strategies for all nine motivators. This is too exhaustive to reprint here, so instead we shall simply give you a sample of five Reward Strategies that apply to the Spirit motivator, the motivator driven by the need for autonomy, independence, and freedom.

Chapter 1 figure 8 Team Map Reward Strategies for Spirit as top motivator (2019_11_16 13_25_17 UTC)from Mapping Motivation for Top Performing Teams

As you can see, these rewards are geared around the employee’s specific needs—which is the true secret to unlocking top performance!

For more information on this topic, consult Chapter 1 of Mapping Motivation for Top Performing Teams as well as the Resources on page 165.

Visit the Mapping Motivation Books website for more information about Mapping Motivation For Top Performing Teams and the other books in the series.

And for more information about Motivational Maps please contact one of our Licensed Practitioners

The Roots of Coaching

Hands holding plant

Practical activities from Mapping Motivation

Welcome back for the fourth instalment of a new series of articles in which we use practical exercises to explore motivation and more. You can find the first article, which explores Roots of Motivation,  here. In the previous article, we discussed the Roots of Engagement. Today, we’re shifting the focus back to the individual and examining how Coaching is interrelated with Motivation. Unlike the previous three articles, rather than beginning with an exercise, we’ll instead lay down the foundations of context and then guide you towards a powerful practical exercise at the end that might just help you discover your inner coach.

As stated in the introduction to Mapping Motivation for Coaching, “[coaching] now has become a mainstay process for developing people in business and in their personal lives. Indeed, coaching and coaches have become ubiquitous.” However, despite the significant growth of coaching in the last 25 years, the idea of a coach is nothing new, and has ancient origins in the concept of a “mentor” or “tutor”.

The word “mentor” is derived from Homer’s Odyssey: Mentor is the wise friend of Odysseus who acts as a guide and teacher to Odysseus’s son, Telemachos, though in actuality Mentor is the goddess Pallas Athene in disguise. Many of the Greek mythological heroes possessed a guide or teacher of some kind, often with divine or magical lineage, whose role was to educate them not only in the ways of war but also wisdom and courtesy. This role of the mentor, however, was not merely the province of myth. In ancient Rome, tutors (the Latin word meaning “a watcher, protector, guardian”) were so highly esteemed, despite often being slaves, that noble families left their children’s care and education entirely in the tutor’s hands. The modern coach, of course, is rarely responsible for children, but the principle of acting as a dedicated “guide” to an individual remains. The roots of coaching, therefore, run very deep, and carry with them great responsibility for shaping a person and facilitating them to reach their highest potential.

But how do coaches achieve this? And why is a coach different from, for example, a teacher or a therapist? In our view, coaching describes a very specific dynamic (we have adapted our definition from Professor Nigel MacLennon’s powerful one):

Coaching is a planned intervention(s) by one person (the coach) for another (the client) in which the central purpose is either to motivate, enable, and improve the performance of the client in a specific area or for a particular task, or similarly to motivate, enable, and improve their capacity for sustained and progressive personal development.” —Mapping Motivation for Coaching, “Coaching Questions”, p12.

The key word, here, as you have probably guessed, is motivate. That is the difference between a coach and these similar but distinct roles. Indeed, though the ancients did not possess the word “motivate”—it’s a relatively new construction—Gregory Nagy observed, “a mentor is someone who instills a heroic mentality in somebody.”What could more accurately describe the effect of high motivation than that? We see this “heroic mentality” reflected in the modern day in those who are extremely highly motivated. All things become possible to those who are fired up and fully energised, and their physical and mental resources seem limitless to the point they appear like demigods or heroes to those without the same level of motivation.

Of course, we discussed how Leaders also have a responsibility to motivate their Teams in articles. However, the role of a Coach is different in that their attention is focused on the development of a particular individual. Thus, whereas the Leader looks to guiding the flock, the Coach acts as a personal guardian angel, divine emissary, and wise counsellor to a single person. There is overlap between these two skillsets, but they are not the same.

The Leader required four (plus one!) skills to be effective. Teams required four traits to distinguish them from an ordinary “group”. The coach, however, operates on a different basis, instead positioning themselves upon a cruciform pair of continuums that encompass the four major dimensions of the coach. Note, we still have the magic number four! However, we arrive this number via an entirely different route.

The continuums are support versus challenge.

New chaper 1 fig 1 support v challenge (2017_05_31 10_05_10 UTC)Support v Challenge from Mapping Motivation for Coaching

And empathy versus objectivity.

New chaper 1 fig 2 empathy v objectivity (2017_08_02 10_18_52 UTC)Empathy v Objectivity from Mapping Motivation for Coaching

New chaper 1 fig 3 4 dimensions of coaching (2017_05_31 10_05_10 UTC)

The 4 Dimensions of Coaching from Mapping Motivation for Coaching

If you overlay these in the cruciform, then you get the four dimensions of coaching.

These four dimensions: support, challenge, empathy, and objectivity create four roles: The Motivator, The Goal-Setter, The Friend, and The Observer. There is insufficient space here to unpack each of these roles in great detail, but no doubt you can already take a guess how they apply to coaching. A coach must, after all, motivate, as we have already discussed. They must help their clients set and reach goals. They must offer comfort and support. And they must remain an objective observer who can, at times, bring their client back to reality, and cut through the subjective fog.

But now, at last, we come to the practical exercise—and maybe a moment of self-discovery!

This activity comes from Chapter 1, Activity 1.3, page 14.

Give yourself a score out of 10 in each of the four dimensions. A score of 1 means that you barely have that element whereas 10 indicates that you have a superabundance of it. Do this quickly and without too much premeditation. Once you have done it, look at your scores. Which of the four roles do you think is your particular strength – Motivator, Goal-Setter, Friend, or Observer? Which is your weakest link? How does this process of reflection help inform the development of your coaching in the future and with which friends/colleagues/clients?

Hopefully, you have found this article and exercise useful. For more information, consult Chapter 1 of Mapping Motivation for Coaching by James Sale and Bevis Moynan.

And for more information about Motivational Maps please contact one of our Licensed Practitioners.


The Roots of Engagement

Engagement trees

Practical activities from Mapping Motivation for Engagement (James Sale and Steve Jones, Routledge, 2019) 

Welcome back to the next instalment of a series of articles in which we use practical exercises to explore motivation and more. You can find the first article, which explores Roots of Motivation, here. In previous articles, we discussed the Roots of Teamwork and Leadership.

Today, we’re taking the ideas explored in previous articles onto a broader canvas and discussing the critically important—but still relatively new—concept of Engagement.

As observed in the Preface of Mapping Motivation for Engagement, “Whereas it has always been obvious that leadership is of critical importance in the success of any organisation, or endeavour for that matter, engagement and its significance has been a relatively recent phenomenon…” (Mapping Motivation for Engagement, p. xii). It is easy to see why. Engagement is essentially an employee-centric idea. It is a “bottom-up” approach rather than “top-down”. This runs antithetical to traditional notions of how to run a business.

It is easy to forget in the Twenty-First Century in the West, where we take our rights and democracy for granted, that throughout the majority of human history all leadership and governance has been predicated on “command-and-control” principles: I am the King, I am in charge, and you must do what I say and when. There are many parts of the world where this is still the case. What’s more, the very civilised model for western democracy, aka ancient Greece, was only able to support its people’s freedoms via slavery. So, only a partial democracy, if truth be told. Business has naturally followed the suit of politics in its organisational models; therefore, most businesses deploy command-and-control, hierarchical management styles.

And yet, there is a growing body of evidence that shows just how costly and ineffective this old-fashioned methodology is. Indeed, to pick two simple statistics that tell a grand story: the cost of employee disengagement to the UK economy in 2008 was between £59.4—64.7 billion per annum! A sobering figure if ever there was one! But now, according to Perkbox, the figure is “a staggering £340 billion a year. This is an accumulation of productivity, recruitment spend and much more.” The figure is staggering AND the situation is not getting any better. As Perkbox add, “Poor engagement can impact employee productivity, cause you to lose your best talent, and stop you from attracting new candidates.”

So, engagement is not a mere buzz-word, though it may seem that way, but is a relatively radical concept when taken seriously and not as a tick-box exercise, and clearly vital to the very survival of most modern organisations! As we shall see, there are massive benefits and rewards for those prepared to engage their employees (and, as we have already seen: titanic losses for those who do not).

But how does engagement work? The MacLeod Report sheds some light on this bidirectional and symbiotic concept: “We believe it is most helpful to see employee engagement as a workplace approach designed to ensure employees are committed to their organisation’s goals and values, motivated to contribute to organisational success, and are able at the same time to enhance their own sense of well-being.”  (MacLeod, 2009)

There are many important ideas to unpack from this—too many for the space of a single article! However, I want to zoom in on one in particular, and it will come as no surprise to those who have been following this series: MacLeod highlights the importance of motivation. Employees, when engaged, are motivated to contribute to organisational success. This is a more revolutionary concept than it may appear on the surface. This is essentially an act of transcendence (if I may be grand!), for the employee puts the organisational success on par with their own needs, desires, and wants. MacLeod says that engaged employees “are able at the same time to enhance their own sense of well-being”, but what this truly means is that organisational success becomes a means by which well-being might be achieved. Now that is another staggering concept!

The way that this process works is, of course, complex and necessarily ambiguous (as all things concerning human emotion and beliefs must be), but one can grasp the essence of it via this relatively simple formula:

Chapter 1 fig 6 Performance Formula Number 2 (2018_05_02 14_50_02 UTC)

Figure 1.6 – from Chapter 1

We will break this down in detail, but first, it’s important to mention this equation is a development of a simple model for understanding performance which is given in Mapping Motivation (Routledge 2016, page 87). This (abridged) model is: Performance = Skills x Motivation. Employee performance is really what we’re talking about when we discuss “organisational success”. High-performing employees will deliver results, and results—even in domains that are not traditionally associated with revenue—will always positively impact the bottom line. Highly motivated administrators, for example, will save everyone time, which will reduce costs. Highly motivated HR professionals will be better at recruitment and retention, which means less overheads to acquire talent. The list goes on. So, performance is what we desire, and the simplest way to understand this is our motivation multiplied by our skillset. If you have no motivation, then even the best skills in the world will achieve nothing (think of a sports car with no fuel in the tank)! Likewise, all the motivation in the world will not help the employee who knows absolutely nothing about what they need to do (think of a sports car with plenty of fuel but no steering wheel)!

However, the “P = S x M” model is incomplete when it comes to engagement, which is where the more advanced model detailed in Figure 1.6 comes in. This equation factors in that other critical word identified in the MacLeod report: “commitment”. Commitment is the mediator between the organisation’s goals and values and the employee. Without commitment, the employee may be high performing in the general sense, but only when pursuing activities aligned with their own values and goals, not those of the organisation. Commitment is what creates synergy (we dislike this word, but sometimes it has to be used) between the employee and the organisation, and we formulate this commitment as being the sum of the Value of a Goal plus the Likelihood of Success in achieving.

Now it’s time for our practical exercise to understand this in pragmatic terms.

This activity comes from Mapping Motivation for Engagement, Chapter 1, Activity 1.5, page 22.

Let’s re-consider this data… Skills and motivation are now to be scored out of 5:

         My current skill (S) level out of 5 is:

         My current motivation (M) level out of 5 is:

         Add these two numbers together (S + M) = a score out of 10.

Consider now the biggest or most important or consequential work-related goal that you are trying to achieve? Write it down.      

         My biggest work goal is:

Score yourself out of 5 of how valuable that goal is to you. Then do the same for how likely it is that you perceive you can achieve that goal.

         The value of this goal (V) to me out of 5 is:

         The likelihood (L) of my achieving this goal out of 5 is: 

Add these two numbers together (V + L) = a score out of 10.

Finally, to get your probability of performance success multiply your two numbers (S + M) x (V + L), to get your % score.

As stated in Mapping Motivation for Engagement: “Having done this, you will be in a much better position to begin to understand that this means for any employees you are managing. These variables are critical for you to understand and utilise if you are going to overcome barriers and get employee engagement.” (p.23).

Hopefully, you have found this article and exercise useful. Please let me know what you have discovered in using this, either on yourself alone or in considering others within a team. For more information, read Chapter 1 of Mapping Motivation for Engagement.

And for more information about Motivational Maps please contact one of our Licensed Practitioners.