The 10 Million Dollan Question: The Slippery Slope Between Performance Coaching and Performance Management
For those of you who can’t or won’t read to the end of this article to find out about the 10-million-dollar question, here it is:
“If you won 10 million dollars tonight (15 million dollars if you live in Vancouver or Toronto), would you continue to work at your job? That means, as is, no changes or cherry-picking. And would you continue to work there until retirement age, as if you didn’t have the 10 million dollars?”
If you are curious as to why I ask it, please read on . . .
As both a team and executive coach, I have been noticing some trends over the last few years that have given me cause for pause.
Initially when individual clients or organizations approached me for performance coaching (either individual or team), the focus was to enhance the overall ability and development of the individual and/or team. There was no specific focus other than to support the natural growth and organic development within and among individuals and groups. The intent was to make even better, something that was already great. This mindset recognized that healthy humans and healthy systems need regular inputs to remain healthy and to grow to their fullest potential. Like a plant or tree that bears fruit, people and systems need to be supported in their intrinsic nature, oriented to the appropriate climate, soil, access to light, drainage, fertilizers, rest and occasional pruning. In addition, they all need to live in supportive and symbiotic relationship with other organisms.
This metaphor is a proactive approach to create and maintain sustainable human beings and systems who remain healthy in their professional milieu. It provides the right conditions for the human to flourish and as a natural consequence—in the workplace—optimal performance is a by-product, not the intent.
Lately, it seems that performance coaching is more frequently being used as performance management, a strategy to remediate or fix something that isn’t meeting expectations, such as “hitting” one’s numbers or missing KPI’s. Exceptions noted, there are usually deeper and more complex reasons why someone’s performance is not meeting expectations than what performance coaching can sustainably resolve. While not an exhaustive list, the following factors might also be impacting someone’s performance:
-Mental health issues
-Unhealthy workplace environment (physical and/or emotional lack of safety)
-Stress and/or unreasonable workload
-Too much or unnecessary change
-Lack of attuned purpose and/or meaning in their role
-Unresolved conflict in the workplace
- Non-attuned fit between the employee and his/her role
What might be more appropriate to support these issues would be counselling, mentoring, workplace interventions, training, team-building and change-management support.
I recall a recent coaching client who was offered executive coaching through me. The performance outcomes were specifically identified, in advance, by his leaders and not by the client. It was clear to the client that his advancement in the organization was at risk if he did not meet these expectations. By our third session, he indicated that most of his self-care and wellness practices had ceased, as he had to work long and unpredictable hours as the regular nature of his job. As a result, his long-term capacity to function optimally was impaired. We did our best to support him to work smarter and not harder and some enhancements were made, but ultimately—at least in this case—it was the nature of the role that was the main issue. In it, he found little to no real purpose and meaning in his role and hence his intrinsic motivation was very limited.
In some of my other writing, I have mentioned that a sufficient level of intrinsic motivation in one’s professional role directly influences one’s neurochemistry, specifically: serotonin (physical and emotional regulation), dopamine (pleasure and intrinsic reward system), norepinephrine (sustainable energy) and endogenous painkillers such as endorphins and enkephalins that help to cope with stress, discomfort and pain. Of course, these are all highly sought phenomena we would like to have in our people, and one way to encourage this is to have meaningfully intrinsic motivations embedded within workplace roles, attuned to the needs and desires of the individual; the right person in the right role!
As I have said many times in my in-person trainings: “If your true nature and passion is to be a spontaneous, unique and creative artist waiting for the muse to possess you for your next masterpiece, yet you are spending 7 ½ hours a day sitting in front of a computer screen looking at numbers, it is not if, but when you will become ill, either physically or emotionally.” You can be on your yoga mat and eat your broccoli but the best that will do is some harm reduction.
Now I live in the real world with the rest of you and recognize that most people do not want to work in their current jobs as they are defined. I base this observation by the response I get when I frequently ask the following question in many of my in-person trainings: “If you won 10 million dollars tonight (I suggest 15 million when I am in Vancouver or Toronto), would you continue to work at your job, as is, no changes or cherry-picking and continue to work there until retirement age as if you didn’t have the 10 million dollars? If so, please raise your hand?”
Invariably, there are always one or two people who put up their hand, but the overwhelming majority do not. Think about that. Also consider that the majority or people I work with are white collar, have post-secondary education, have well-paying jobs with benefits and most are in leadership positions. Typically these are the most-satisfied people in the general workplace who have higher levels of authority, autonomy, creativity and resources.
Now don’t get me wrong. I love my work, but if I had that kind of money I would not be doing it, or as much of it, or in the same manner as I am now. I’d volunteer to do this work for groups aligned with my values, maybe a couple times a month, but I would be spending my time living closer to nature, living in a yurt, playing music with friends, training kung fu with my students and having close friends and community within walking distance. Oh yeah, I’d grow my hair long again. Yes, I am a closet hippie!
What keeps me sustainably healthy in not being able to actualize my ideal . . . yet . . . it is the deep intrinsic motivation I have for helping other human beings which is related to some of my deepest values and most authentic self.
So before you quit your job and leave your family to run off to Fiji to become an artist, maybe start with taking an art class on Wednesday nights and see if that tips the balance for you. Sometimes that is all it takes. In the professional realm, if we can help identify and amplify some part of a person’s role that has intrinsic meaning for them and support them in their creativity, growth and success within that, then performance management may not be needed and we can return to using performance coaching as it was meant to be used: to support the authentic growth of the individual and trust that optimal performance will be a bonus!
My own personal wellness journey has been steeped for decades in Eastern practices as a practitioner as well as a teacher; traditional Chinese martial arts, trauma-sensitive yoga and vipassana meditation to name a few. Imbued in these embodied practices is an underlying set of perennial philosophical truths from Taoism, Buddhism and Confucianism that have stood the test of time. They are true, sustainable and aligned with natural forces larger than any one individual or belief and they rely on direct experience and the wisdom that comes from it. Ultimately, it is learning to align to what is.
How can organizations move from a place of reactivity, short-sightedness and unsustainability into a place or responsivity, intention, long-view and sustainable creation of real value?
Here are 5 fundamental principles:
1-Create a foundational structure: An ideal organization creates strong structure. Like building a quality home, we invest in the foundation and structure to make sure it is stable and can withstand stress without significant damage. No point having a lovely penthouse with a luxury hot-tub if the structure cannot withstand a storm or earthquake. Stability in finances, governance, leadership, human resources, vision and ethics are some of the key realms that require this stable and strong structure. If we short shrift this essential principle and move more urgently to marketing, advertising, promoting or sales, we are at risk for crisis or implosion. The house of cards will fall. In the martial arts realm we call this having a strong horse-stance that allows us to maintain static or dynamic balance – we don’t fall down.
2- Know yourself and the environment: As the saying goes, knowledge is power. Self-awareness and knowledge combined are invincible! With this depth and awareness of what an organization’s capabilities are in relation to knowledge about the external environment (market, competitors, trends and conditions) an organization will always position itself from a place of strength and minimal risk. This is about creating the ideal environment before one actions the intent or goal. Having great ideas is never enough, it is in the preparation and execution that manifests them into reality. As Sun Tzu says from his seminal work The Art of War, “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.” This acquisition of awareness and knowledge takes time, patience and diligence. As my martial arts teacher has said so many times, “Don’t be in a hurry to be bad”.
3-Sensitivity and adaptability to change: We have all heard the truism, the only constant is change. Yet what do we need to do with this understanding. Taoism repeatedly highlights that in all natural systems there is a state of constant change that is occurring, even if it looks like it isn’t. A deep noticing and sensitivity to the signs of change will allow an organization to be more responsive and attuned to what is required to succeed and flourish. Of course we need to set a course, have a strategic plan and set concrete goals, but we must not be enslaved to them. When we recognize change is coming we want to align with it, not resist it, run away from it or freeze in its presence. We need to understand that in reality we are very limited in the things we can control, yet we are not powerless. We need to cultivate the ability and have resources put aside anticipating change so will be empowered in its presence; the ability to be responsive vs. being reactive in a crisis situation. The metaphor I like to use is around surfing. We are not in control of the ocean. The waves will keep coming toward us if we put ourselves out there. We cannot tame the nature of the waves, however we can cultivate the ability to surf and align with the force of the wave with skill, balance, creativity and direction. If not, the waves of life will pass us by or overwhelm us.
4-Harmony and Balance: In all natural and living sustainable systems, there is an indomitable principle at play; homeostasis. An organization’s leadership needs to recognize and accept this in order to thrive sustainably. The tendency to create balance is inherent in this principle. What this means is that when we take an action there will be a countervailing response to create homeostasis – balance. If we strive to attain extreme outcomes, it will be short lived, as homeostasis will try to correct this with an opposing force or consequence. In Taoist philosophy, this relates to the principles of yin and yang. This reminds me of what the very first counsellor I ever saw said to me. “Jim you will never get rid of your problems, but you can continue to get better and better problems as life goes on.” When we accept these truths we can align ourselves to what is possible vs. engaging in a constant battle of trying to “push the river”; to force things to happen and then deal with the homeostatic response.
5-Social concern: Confucian philosophy was greatly concerned with how society should act for the betterment of society of a whole. The focus was about collective wellness vs. individual concern. If an organization’s vision and values are predominantly oriented to its own success and survival to the exclusion or consequence to others, it is not sustainable. Paradoxically, when an organization orients to creating real value and benefit for the broader society, it in turn will be cared for and valued by society. Unfortunately in a socio-economic environment that promotes individualism and competition instead of collectivism and collaboration, it is challenging, yet possible to achieve this.These principles work in a cyclical and harmonized way. An attuned response that appropriately harmonizes the right amount and balance of these principles is what is required in the moment. It is not a static formula used in a cookie cutter approach.An organization with visionary leadership recognizes that looking back to these perennial truths is the only sustainable way to function and to enhance society. This comes from the wisdom of experience vs. ideology, dogma or spin.If you are interested in how I can support you and your organization to implement, integrate and harmonize these principles, please contact me at email@example.com
“The whole is more than the sum of its parts.” Aristotle
As an Executive and Team Coach, I have noticed that consistently healthy, functioning and creative workplace teams have certain qualities that actualize the above quote. Healthy, engaged, creative and high-performing teams do not happen by accident, but by design. Let’s look at one critical element for this design to take shape.
Hire Intrinsically Motivated Team Members: This may seem like a truism that doesn’t need to be said, yet it does. In many of my workplace training and team coaching engagements, it is easy to spot when or if team members have intrinsic motivation to be part of that team. This brings us to the recruiting and hiring processes in organizations. In the hiring of an employee, many factors are considered in the final decision of who gets selected for the position. Qualifications, skill sets, certifications, work experience and references tend to be the main criteria. Of course these are important. When organizations only look at these criteria, they are at risk for making a critical error. On some level, engaged team members want to be there for their own reasons. They have a genuine interest, passion or desire to be in that role and it gives them deep purpose and meaning in their lives. I would rather hire someone with genuine intrinsic motivation to be part of my team with lesser rating in the above-mentioned criteria than someone who is eminently qualified, experienced and skilled but really does not genuinely care about their role, the team or the organization. Intrinsic motivation cannot be learned, but the other skills and qualifications can. Think of how many people go to university for a degree or to college/trade school for a certification to find out mid-way or at the end that this is something they are not interested or passionate about but was maybe a practical choice suggested by a friend or family member. Now they find themselves having invested significant time, energy and money (and are maybe in debt) and now feel obliged or coerced to take a position that they really do not want.
When I teach Mental Health in the Workplace trainings, I often ask my 10 million dollar question. The question goes something like this: “If you won 10 million dollars tonight, would you continue to do your current workplace role as is, no changes and no cherry-picking and keep doing it until the age you were planning on retiring?” The overwhelming response in groups is NO. The dominant theme in the NO is that most people do not want to go to work under their current circumstances. A big reason for that is they do not have intrinsic motivation to be there and are often there for extrinsic reasons, namely a paycheck. The challenge for organizations and executive leadership is to create roles and opportunities that offer these qualities of interest, passion and meaning and to hire only those who align with them and not make the mistake of just getting a “bum in the seat.”
If you are wanting support on best practices around finding, recruiting, hiring and supporting intrinsically motivated people to join and remain on your team, contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Studies from the Conference Board of Canada indicate that investments in training result in a significant return on investment (ROI) in an increase in employee satisfaction, productivity, retention and engagement. These studies also confirm a decrease in sick leave, employee conflict as well as disability and benefits costs in the workplace.
“For every dollar spent on staff training programs, they gained 30% in productivity. And that was just within three years.”
Please read full article here: https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/275842
“Organizations with strong learning cultures—defined as an organizational commitment to ongoing learning—reported stronger organizational performance than their competitors and also tend to have stronger leadership development practices. These organizations indicated better performance in the areas of employee performance, customer satisfaction, overall productivity, and leadership performance, when compared to organizations with moderate learning cultures.”