Many things in life are guided by trial and error, but this is especially true when we try to improve our performance. We take the best advice we are given, throw out what doesn’t seem to work, and hope for the best.
Yet according to Marc Effron, a top-level consultant on how to build high-performing talent, there is another way.
In his new book, 8 Steps to High Performance: Focus on What You Can Change (Ignore the Rest), Effron lays out the clear, conclusive science that shows how we can improve our performance.
Much of the problem in achieving high performance is that we often focus solely on one strength while ignoring our others.
Effron writes, “As a corporate executive and management consultant, I have seen too many smart people underperform because they didn’t know or believe in the eight steps.”
Success often means that we work in a different way and adapt our style to better fit the changing demands placed on us.
“I’ve seen leaders become high performers,” Effron says, “when they moved from setting fifteen to twenty goals to focusing on the few, most important things they could deliver to their company. Other leaders sought more challenging career experiences and found that the larger, riskier moves accelerated their development.”
Yet improving our performance can seem overwhelming in light of our perceived abilities. What Effron suggests is that we simply choose one step we can take each day.
The first step is that we set big goals. He writes, “Goals have incredible power to focus and motivate us; more focus and motivation positions you for high performance.”
We also need to acknowledge that high performance requires additional time, effort, and willingness to make personal sacrifice. Of course, there are some things we can’t change — Effron calls this the fixed 50 percent – but our ultimate success depends on how hard we work.
“For example, if you’re in a one-hundred-meter race and three other runners start two, five, and ten meters ahead of you, each has a starting advantage. After the starter’s pistol fires, preparation, motivation, and skill decide who moves how far and how fast. If you’ve trained harder, eaten smarter, and understand the mechanics of sprinting better than they do, you can make up for their initial advantage and win the race,” writes Effron.
Because high performance requires that we prioritize our performance over other things in our lives, it can take time from other areas in our lives.
Writes Effron, “You can slice your time pie any way you want, but a larger slice in one area requires a smaller slice somewhere else.”
However, the additional time we pour into our work creates a virtuous cycle where we learn more, become more capable, and receive more opportunities.
Part of the learning process is also that we get out of our own way, avoid ignoring or externalizing our failures, assigning intent to others’ actions, and ignoring information that can help us perform.
“Strangely, our brain works against us because it seeks out information that reinforces our self-image and ignores information that doesn’t. We’re surrounded by information that can help us perform better, but we often miss the opportunity to listen for it and apply it,” writes Effron.
Our behaviors are responsible for 15 to 40 percent of our total performance, Effron tells us, and much of the task of performing at a high level is deciphering which behaviors most influence our success.
Effron writes, “High performers work hard to identify the most productive behaviors, learn new behaviors where needed, and stop showing the less helpful ones.”
Like behavior, high performance requires that we understand which development activities lead to the most robust growth and do as many of them as quickly as we can.
“You need to be very clear about your desired destination on that development journey — an obvious item that’s often missing from a development plan,” writes Effron.
How we connect with those around us also plays a significant role in our success. When we can ingratiate ourselves with others, we have a greater chance of gaining access to what we need from superiors and peers.
Effron writes, “A strong network will bring you the contacts, insights, and resources that will help you be a high performer.”
Knowing what our skills are, how they fit into an organization, and where we can be successful helps us choose environments that fit us and position us for success. Similarly, taking responsibility for our health, exercising regularly, and taking control of how we practice — minimizing distractions and employing a growth mindset — helps us develop the habits that lead to success.
Offering the research, tools, and tough-minded advice that leads to success, 8 Steps to High Performance is a powerful book that will resonate with anyone looking to improve their work performance and take charge of their career.
8 Steps to High Performance: Focus on What You Can Change (Ignore the Rest)
Harvard Business Review Press, August 2018
Hardcover, 240 pages