Performance Improvement: Understanding What it Means to Work from Neutral

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Not always, but often enough, when I get called in to talk with clients about performance improvement coaching for their people, I spend time educating them about the art and science behind it. 

Because today’s work environments are highly complex and highly matrix, let’s use the analogy of running a race to explain performance at work.  

When the starting point is the same for everyone – a place behavioral scientists call neutral, a race is deemed fair, as it gives everyone participating a chance at winning. 

However, if a runner at the start of a race, is not on the start line, but somewhere behind it, they have to overcome that deficit.  

Depending on how far back they are when the race begins…….getting to the start line serves as its own goal to achieve ahead of running and trying to win the race, increasing their workload. 

To help further your understanding of this analogy, let me map it against the Traditional Psychology – Positive Psychology Continuum. 

From Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s work into Flow, we know that in order to access Flow, the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity, we need to have command of how our strengths operate in the day. 

In an ideal world, neutral would be the place to start our day, but the place marked with an X is probably more representative of a normal “starting line” to a work day for many in highly complex and highly matrix work environments.  

In overcoming this challenge to reach neutral, those of us in this situation run the risk of depleting our energy simply because the more energy we exert below the point of neutral, the more it takes out of us.

As you can see below, anytime we’re not working from strengths, our performance atrophies. 

                                                       Source: Strengths Strategy, Inc.

Previously, I shared our strengths are accessed when there is a balance in our energy and performance. Any deviation away from disciplined practice to build up the resiliency and skill to access strengths and work from flow, the state of performance will not improvement in any meaningful way. 

What I mean by that is while it may seem like people on our teams are productive, how many hours did they need to work to achieve their goals….40…50…60? 

To regularly work above 55 hours a week would be to ensure your people are operating from below neutral, with an increase of risks to their health, and the killing of productivity outputs

Well, you say highly complex and highly matrix work environments need long hours and expect long hours, but…

at what cost? 

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David Ribott International is a socially conscious coaching and consulting company empowering clients who are committed to a triple-bottom-line approach focused on people, performance, and profit by cultivating leadership effectiveness.

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