Leading High Performance – one simple process

The following 4 steps provide a simple process which, when followed with a consistent discipline, are essential ingredients in the pursuit of sustained excellence. It’s a process that we’ve used successfully with high performers and with the leaders of high performers (e.g. coaches, performance directors) in a number of arenas.

Each step in the process, when done well, can be a source of competitive advantage.

Reading time: 7 minutes

The 4 steps

  1. Predict – They look ahead and anticipate the demands.
  2. Prepare – They prepare themselves and their people to meet the anticipated demands.
  3. Perform – They perform under pressure by keeping it simple, controlling the
    controllable and create focus on “what’s right now”.
  4. Review – They review and learn and share that learning to improve future

Predict - Prepare

Step 1: Predict

Choose a timescale and look ahead. Anticipate what’s coming.

Here are some questions that will help to get you started. Choose the ones that work best to help you anticipate what you’re going to need to deal with…

  • What are the goals you’re seeking to achieve?
  • What’s your field of play going to be like?
  • What other demands are there going to be on time and energy?
  • What will be the big issues, challenges and opportunities?
  • What’s the working environment going to be like? What challenges will this present? What opportunities will this give you?
  • Is there anything potentially helpful around you that you could look to make the most of in your preparation?
  • What could happen to prevent you from succeeding?
  • What else might you need to anticipate?

In our work with Olympic athletes, we have to anticipate what it’s going to be like in their next major event and the performance system that supports those athletes will also be working on what it’s going to be like in events long into the future. Leaders are always thinking 2 or 3 Olympic cycles ahead and seeking to build a really clear understanding of what it’s going to be like and to understand what it’s going to take to succeed.

You can’t anticipate everything that’s coming, but do what you can and then get yourself ready…

Step 2: Prepare

The performance pie is a great framework for building readiness to meet the demands – in yourself and the people you lead. Perfect preparation may not always be possible, but be aware of and do what you can to build resources and readiness to cope with the demands you’ve anticipated.

In particular, when the pressure comes on, be aware of your essential ingredients for success and be ready to do what you can to keep these in the best shape possible and to stay resilient to pressure.

Here are some suggestions for things to work on around the 6 areas of the performance pie. There are plenty of potential 1% improvements in here. If enough of these are done consistently they could add up to make a big difference.

The Performance Pie by Planet K2 on The Performance Room

The Performance Pie by Planet K2 on The Performance Room

By building the contemporary and relevant knowledge and skills you will need. By being able to make best use of the tools and processes you’ll have.

By knowing how you can operationalise your goals and priorities into practical form day-to-day. By being ready to adapt to all the scenarios that you or your people might face. By knowing how to most effectively get things done within the organisational structure. By being able to respond well and quickly to setbacks, shifting goals, or changes in your playing conditions.

By working on the recipe of activity/exercise; nutrition and hydration; and rest and recovery you and your people will need to best manage health and well-being. This provides the energy needed to perform throughout a day, week, month and year.

By thinking about what you need to think about and focus on. By practicing staying in the moment, being able to concentrate on and complete a task without distraction. By being mentally agile and able to transition effectively between different tasks. Being able to adopt the right attitude, mood and mindset to achieve the best possible results in each situation. To respond helpfully to things you’re worried about. By having the ability to learn effectively from setbacks.

By building the relationships to provide the required support at the right time. Support that might be needed to: boost confidence; deliver a timely reminder; challenge; be brutally honest; provide balanced feedback; listen; bounce ideas around; give clear focus; suggest a different approach; share insights; give perspective; help recover from setbacks; cheer you and the team on; intervene and offer help at the right time; or give you the right space to think. How can you get more of what you’ll need in place? People can’t read minds, so let them know what you want and need from them to help you and your team perform.

By setting the available workspace up to work as well as possible. By agreeing how people are going to work together in that space to create an environment that’s conducive to high performance.

Perform - Review

Step 3: Perform

If you’ve predicted and prepared well, high performance is more probable and the best possible results will likely be achieved. However, even the best prepared people can crack or make poor choices under pressure. As a leader, here’s where your approach perhaps needs to shift. If things are going well, your job may well be to minimise interference and stay out of the way of people doing their best work. You’ll be leading a team of expert performers by coaching, setting the right tone, supporting, encouraging, giving praise and recognition and leaving space for people to do the best job they can. If you’ve not got things quite right you might find yourself feeling the need to intervene, push, critique and micro-manage at each step on the way. Think about how your role as a leader might need to adapt when the pressure comes on. Your mindset shifts. It’s not about development now. It’s about delivery.

Here are some things we see leaders doing when it’s time to deliver:

  • keeping people connected to each other and the purpose of what they’re
  • balancing out the different potential priorities and establishing clear focus
  • making the most of the strengths and capabilities of the people in the team
    (this is not a time to focus on what’s missing)
  • providing perspective and keeping people focused on the things they can
  • keeping confidence robust and resilient, especially when the results being
    achieved are not tracking performance levels
  • minimising potential distractions
  • keeping check on the dashboard, reporting into the team and helping them
    to course correct tactically so the best possible results are achieved
  • thinking carefully about how best to share any change of plan
  • making regular appraisals of the resources of the people in the team to
    make sure that:

    • the focus is on the right things
    • the mood in the camp is good
    • the relationships are working well
    • the energy levels are right and people are staying healthy
    • the workspace is working
    • people are able to flag up worries and concerns early

When you’re leading through a time of high pressure, what role do you need to play to keep the team resilient and performing well?

Step 4: Review

Then, the final step in the process for ongoing excellence in performance is to review, learn and use that learning to inform future performance. Reviewing performance relative to desired results is a skill that takes practice and it’s a step that often gets missed. We tend to review results, but we don’t always use it to improve performance.

Reviewing can be seen as a bit like a pit stop in Formula 1. You pause mid performance, but this pause enables you to go faster over the next section of the race. Let’s call this a micro-review. As you get more skilful at micro-reviewing (and, importantly, learn to assess and reflect as you perform) the length of time you need to stop for decreases and the gains you get as a result of this pause increase. Reviewing can also be across a larger timescale, like at the end of a year. Here reviewing is more focused on setting strategy for the period ahead. This is more of a macro-review. There might be something in between, perhaps at the end of a sales quarter. That might be called a meso-review. Reviewing is not a luxury, it’s essential for sustained improvement in performance.

As a leader, first, you’ll need to decide on the rhythm of micro, meso and macro reviewing that works for the things you’re leading on and that will enable you to go in the right direction at the optimum speed. You also need to work on how best to review in a way that delivers maximum learning about performance. Any defensiveness or blame in a review is likely to hinder useful learning. So make sure you position reviewing purely as a means of learning about and improving the recipe for performance.

An emergency helicopter crew we worked with called it – with the kind of dark humour that maintains sanity in people who deal with life and death on a regular basis – a “no blame autopsy”. They established the practice of reviewing the result of their work – whether the patient 1. survived and 2. their quality of life – and they review their performance individually and collectively. With no blame and no defensiveness, and with lots of honesty, personal responsibility and mutual support. They review with one view – how can we do it better in future? They use performance reviews to get better at predicting, preparing and performing.
Practically, we recommend that you review all results in the same way.

  • When things have gone well and you have achieved the results you wanted to – review and understand what you did well AND also look at what you could do even better in future.
  • If things have not gone well or you’ve not achieved the results you wanted to – review and still understand what you did well and look at what you could do better.

You’re reviewing performance and using the result or progress towards goals as one element of the information that tells you how well you performed. Performance is doing the things you need to do to get the results you want. So, what did you do, how well did you do it and what could you do better in future? If you’re committed to high performance you’ll keep asking yourself and your team those kind of questions for the rest of your career.

Here’s some review questions that you might choose to use and adapt them to fit the rhythm of micro/meso/macro reviewing that will help you to improve.

  • How well did you predict what would happen?
  • How well did you prepare for what happened?
  • Did anything surprise you?
  • What did you intend to do? What was your plan?
  • How well did you execute your plan? Did you do what you wanted to do? What went well? What could have gone better?
  • What things have you learned?
  • What will you do the same next time to predict, prepare and perform?
  • What will you do differently next time?
  • Who else needs to know? How can you share this most effectively with others?

Following these 4 steps won’t necessarily make you a world beater. But people who are the best in the world at what they do will be following them in some way. They’ll be working with discipline and focus to continuously refine the recipe to get the results they want. Doing so means you don’t rely on talent, but make the most of it. Doing so means you don’t just have a desire to improve, but you demonstrate and apply that desire in your actions. Doing so means you gain more control over the situation rather than letting the situation control you.