Performance reviews in the dark

We worked with a team recently in a very large business where there was quite a lot of unhelpful noise about performance reviews being linked to pay rises. In this team, of about 15 people, the view of the leader and of the team members was that everyone was performing very well and we saw evidence to back that up. However the leader had been told that under their system, this was not possible and only a certain number of people in the team could be performing excellently (and get a higher pay rise) and that a certain number had to be underperforming (in order to get a lower pay rise).

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Performance is a choice

“There are so many other men that could be sitting in this seat, but he’s sitting here (as Olympic champion). The reason that he’s sitting here is because of the choices that he’s made and that’s something that’s valuable to each and every one of us”

Mike Singletary, American Football Coach (talking to camera when meeting Mark Hunter, Olympic gold medallist)

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The Great British Bake Off

The latest series of the Great British Bake-Off has been filling our TV screens and the column inches of our national newspapers over the last week or so. Now in series 5, it’s strangely compelling mixture of comedy, drama, cooking and competition, and has consistently captured the public’s imagination as essential TV viewing since it’s first series. We’ve been watching ‘Bake-Off’ avidly (well, some of us have), and inevitably we’ve been viewing it through a performance lens (which might seem odd but then again we’re a pretty strange bunch of people). Here are our top 3 insights on what Bake Off reinforces about performance:

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Smart Meter

We’re proud to work with some of the UK’s largest energy providers. One of the things we’ve observed is how hard these “traditional” businesses work to embrace the opportunities and challenges of the latest technology.

For example, over the last few years smart meters have been installed into approximately 1 million British homes. These gadgets engage customers with cause and effect on their energy usage using a simple and user-friendly gadget. This means about 1 million households in Britain can conduct ongoing research into how to better manage their energy consumption. Yes, much of the stuff you find out from these things is common sense, but the meters help engage people with doing the things they need to do to get the results they want – a more efficient home and lower energy bill. In effect, they help engage people with turning commonsense into common practice.

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Sustained Excellence

Roger Federer is currently preparing for the US Open. One of the true greats of the game, he’s vying for his 18th Grand Slam title. He holds a host of modern day records – like winning all 24 finals he reached from July 2003 to November 2005. But in the debate about ‘who’s the greatest’, the most impressive and compelling argument for Federer must be his longevity at the very very top of the game. The US Open will be his 60th consecutive Grand Slam, having competed in his first in 1998. He won his first Grand Slam in 2003. His career as a tennis professional spans nearly 20 years – which is fairly remarkable by modern day standards. But what is almost completely unique is that he’s consistently been delivering at the very highest level – he’s been in the world’s top 6 since 2002 and has only failed to win a Grand Slam in two calendar years during that time.

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Desire to Improve

You’re probably familiar with the story of the tortoise and the hare – the hare all lightning acceleration and speed but running out of steam, the tortoise slow to start, slow to move but winning on perseverance. But rather than tortoise or hare, what would be the qualities of an animal that has the best of both worlds.

The graphic part way down this post about the world’s top golfers http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/0/golf/28745314 looks at success in majors against age, a kind of tortoise v hare equivalent. The chances are that whether you’re looking at Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy or any of the other players, the reason they’re on the graphic is because they all have a constant desire to improve their game, coupled with a willingness to work hard at doing that. It’s the two things combined that are essential and powerful.

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Advantage Scotland

Well, the bonanza summer of sport continues and the Commonwealth Games are in full swing in Glasgow. Approaching the half way point, Team Scotland have already surpassed their greatest ever medal tally. While sport in Scotland is undoubtedly thriving, it’s no coincidence that so many Scottish athletes are producing career best performances on their home turf. So what’s different about competing at home, and how are Scottish athletes using this to their advantage?

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Are you waiting for or expecting perfect weather?

Today sees the starts of the British Open golf in favourable weather conditions, so far. The first day of cricket’s second test has started at Lords on a very green pitch which will favour the bowlers, and the first week and a half of the Tour de France has begun in some wet conditions that have contributed to a significant number of crashes amongst the riders.

For elite athletes the playing conditions are simply part of the challenge. They’re not constantly waiting for perfect conditions to perform in and complaining when they’re not. Instead, they’re looking for how the conditions can be exploited to help them more than the competition (wet roads may have favoured the more technically skilled cyclists but not necessarily the fastest) and when the conditions are not so good then their mindset is to see how well they can perform in those less than perfect conditions. They might well welcome unfavourable conditions as an opportunity to test their mindset, develop new skills and see how good they can be at responding to those conditions Even when the conditions are perfect this isn’t the signal to rest on their laurels but to go out, perform at their best and set new standards.

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A Choice of Coach


Wimbledon is here and that must mean our traditional preoccupation, if not obsession, with the progress of British tennis players and in particular, one Andy Murray. Andy has started the tournament in pretty good form – and in the absence of any tight early round matches, much of the media spotlight has been on his choice of Amelie Mauresmo as his new coach. With an absence of female coaches at the highest level in sport, and in particular female coaches coaching male athletes, predictably the focus has been on the gender issue.

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Writing this the day after England’s football defeat to Uruguay is partly about sharing some thoughts on human performance and partly therapy!

The emotional reaction to defeat is one of huge disappointment, and perhaps some anger. When talented performers fail to deliver their best possible performance there is some frustration too. Yet at the same time life does not stop and the competition goes on and so a more rational reaction, and at the same time a very human one, can serve to help move forward. What is needed in the face of setback is some resilience.

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