How to create a successful Performance Drumbeat
We are what we repeatedly do. The secret to success is practicing the the right blend of Direction, Momentum and Agility.
A performance drumbeat is simply a term we have adopted to describe a cycle of success habits that makes working life better for everyone. It is based on the principle that it is better to spend more time on things that really matter to success, and less time on the things that don’t. By doing this, it helps to prevent unnecessary chaos, overwhelming to-do lists, and having to work too many extra hours.
More importantly, it helps to support an organisational Growth Mindset – a term made famous by the research of Stanford professor Carol Dweck and colleagues and what Microsoft has recently attributed to their recent performance improvements. The idea is that people who believe they can continue to develop their capabilities and intelligence are more likely to do so. This puts them in a better position to solve problems and overcome challenges. This is a good thing, and is best supported through a few simple habits.
Within this in mind, the secret to a successful performance drumbeat is to first ensure that there is a commitment to a suitable culture and environment where problem solving and operating within a suitable challenge zone is encouraged (goals are not too easy, and not too hard). Another important factor is that everyone in the workplace must agree to, and then commit to, the same success habits. A successful organisation is one where people are working together effectively towards common goals. The only way people can work together effectively is if they are all operating from the same ground rules.
Here is a starting point that we suggest and that our software platform supports really well, but you may also choose to tailor it according to your own preferences…
Important: it’s the process that is important here, not the software (we will get to that later). Note the fundamental pieces of the puzzle:
- Direction: A small number of highly-important Goals (outcomes) that provide enough structure and direction so that everyone can make better day to day decisions. If someone is not sure about something, they can make the decision that best supports the highly-important goals!
- Momentum: Identifying the ‘high-leverage’ key behaviours and actions that are most likely to support the successful achievement of important goals. We call them key results because these are the best things to measure. These take a little practice to identify properly, and they aren’t necessarily easy to measure, but getting this right helps to encourage forwards momentum.
- Agility: Clear guidance about what everyone should update each other about each week (we call it a Work Log), as well as any other essential feedback loops that are important to understand what needs adjusting. This is based on the science of nudging where each person self reflects on their own performance and the supervisor’s job is to help keep everyone in their own challenge zone. If any adjustments are required, the best time to discuss is in real-time rather than waiting for a point in time in the future.
- Repeat: A repeatable cycle that continues to embed these simple success habits.
Whether or not your workplace chooses to adopt these suggestions precisely or not is up to you. What matters most is that you create your drumbeat in advance, make sure it is clear enough for everyone to follow easily, and that everyone agrees to commit to whatever is decided. And this means everyone, not just employees, leaders too!
Creating your own drumbeat
We like to think of it as the outcome of answering four fundamental questions that everyone right across the workplace should be able to answer at any given time.
Also bear in mind that there might be various drumbeats that are happening at any given time within an organisation/team. The most common is the organisation-wide drumbeat, which is typically a 12-24 month planning cycle, followed by a team drumbeat that is most likely to be quarterly and aligns to the organisation-wide drumbeat. If you need help, remember you can always contact our support team who will be glad to help out.
#1: What really matters? (Direction)
There is only so much attention available at any given time. Therefore, the trick to creating clear direction is to ensure anything that is important to the future is clear. A small number of highly important goals, considerations for standards of behaviour, ground rules that apply to everyone. These are all important. For this purpose, think of a Goal as a really important intention or future outcome that everyone should be focused on – it is what success looks like once everyone and everything has performed as it should. For most workplaces, it is usually something to do with Financial Performance (revenue or profit) Customer Performance (Repeat Customers, Customer Growth), and/or People Performance (Values, Culture) which then influence everything else. Some might also call these ‘lag’ indicators/goals because whilst the actions and behaviour that drives performance have already happened by time it is evaluated.
One of the things that made Apple a great success is their ability to become laser focused on a small number of big ideas. It was what they said no to that made them successful, everyone knowing exactly what they were pursuing at any given time. Once the company has these in place, each team and/or individual can have their own really important goals that contribute to the bigger picture.
Goal setting is not easy, it takes practice, and at various times you might even feel as though you aren’t quite sure what the goals should be. The most important thing to focus on is setting a smaller number of highly important goals and focusing attention on ‘how are we going to get there’. Let’s cover this now.
#2: What needs doing? (Momentum).
The only way to get important things done is to get important things done. The trick here is to ensure everyone is clear about the actions and behaviours that most matter to success and most likely to achieve the desired outcomes. We call these key results, because these are the things that really need attention and are worth measuring ‘are they happening’. Busy doesn’t necessarily equal the achievement of desired outcomes, so guidance about what someone should be busy with is what matters. Let’s take a game of football (this could be any version of football you like). Whilst there are statistics for almost every aspect of the game, there are certain key statistics in terms of actions and behaviours that are most likely to lead to success (winning the game). Each team may have slightly different versions of these, and that’s ok.
So it is in the workplace. Whilst there are many possible behaviours and actions that a workplace could deem as important, there will usually only ever be a small handful that are most important. The trick is to make sure the important ones aren’t lost in the day to day noise. We are certainly not saying that everyone should only do things that are important, that’s not going to work. It’s more about making sure that if a choice has to be made, that priorities end up in the right order.
The problem is that key results (leading actions and behaviours) are not necessarily easy to identify, but can usually be determined with a team discussion using important goals (#1 above) as a guide. For example, if an overall company Goal is to achieve $25m turnover in the next 12 months, the sales team could be focused on the number of profitable proposals presented to qualified prospects, or the number of conversations about a particular ‘upgrade’ to existing customers. These are actions and behaviours that will predetermine the achievement of the sales goal (as opposed to simply the number of sales appointments).
The best way to go about identifying Key Results is to make a list of everything that is going to influence the goal/outcome. Then, keep identifying the ‘root causes’ until it all starts to become clear. Once all of these are agreed and committed to, they can be entered into My Employee Life.
We strongly recommend that this is all done through conversation rather than email or other non-personal exchanges. There is nothing that will get in the way of success more than something that isn’t clear from the beginning.
Another recommendation is to keep goals and key results within the ‘challenge zone’. What we mean is that if something is too easy to achieve, people lose interest. But if it is too difficult, people lose interest. If something is a stretch, but possible, that’s the challenge zone. It might be different for different people, and that’s part of the secret to being a successful supervisor/leader/manager.
#3: Encourage regular self-reflecting and adjusting (Agility)
For a long time, many people associated ‘managing’ as overseeing the work of others. Whilst this is still partly true, it can get a little boring after a while if one person is always hovering over another to check their work. Modern Managers are instead viewing their role as more of a coach in the sense that they are there to get the best out of those they are supervising. The best way to do this is to ensure people are self-reflecting on their own progress, and staying in touch with what they agreed (goals, key results). Having the right feedback loops that allow necessary real-time adjustments is also important. To most people, making progress is highly motivating and engaging, and so we created the Work Log to support all of this (we’ll explain this very shortly). Whilst it is possible to feel like progress is being made, it is really important for everyone to feel responsible for their own progress.
Just in case you aren’t familiar with the term, a work log is simply a weekly opportunity for everyone to self-reflect on what went well for the week, what didn’t go so well, and what needs to happen next week. Within My Employee Life, it is possible for you to create your own custom work log, see our ‘creating a custom worklog’ section below. When everyone in a team is drawing attention to important things, it increases the chances of success. It also makes it easier to pick up on problems and challenges early, and also help those who need to make adjustments to do so in real-time. It is the small subtle adjustments made at the right time that can make all the difference. Without a process to make sure this is happening, opportunities are missed.
Feel free to experiment with this part of the process, some teams will choose to work differently to others and we think that is ok. The most important thing is that you as a Leader are up to date, and know that everyone in the company is self-reflecting and adjusting and sharing important information in real-time.
#4: Review, Reset, Refresh and go again.
Performance reviews are very common in workplaces around the world, and we don’t think they are necessarily a bad idea. What doesn’t really work though is saving all feedback for a point in time in the future as opposed to addressing issues in real-time. We are not talking about continuous feedback, who really wants continuous feedback? See our article What If Performance Reviews Weren’t Invented. If #3 is working properly, then the ‘review’ process becomes a really simple exercise to bring one period of time to a close, let go of any unnecessary baggage, press the reset button, and set sight for the next future. It is also a great chance to celebrate the wins, no matter how small, which is important. My Employee Life provides a way to do simple performance review preparation, but we have ditched the whole idea of ratings which actually don’t work. Nobody likes being judged and besides, our view is that supervisors should feel it is part of their job to get their team members to the finish line successfully. If someone isn’t performing, isn’t a poor review prompts the question ‘why wasn’t performance addressed and improved earlier?”.
Creating A Custom Work Log
The weekly work log is a simple but really important part of the performance drumbeat, simply because it is an opportunity to have everyone focus attention on how the week went, what needs happen next week, and what help is required. It also helps to ensure everyone is communicating about things they need to communicate about. This is why we call the work log a conversation starter. We recommend creating your own set of weekly worklog questions which could look something like this:
- What are your highlights of the week (Goals & Key Results)
- What didn’t go to plan?
- What are the most important things that need to happen next week? (Actions list)
- What help do you need?
- What else would you like to share?
A few things to avoid if possible…
From our own experience dealing with companies of all sizes, here are a few tips we can share that might save you a heap of time down the track:
The data trap. The modern world is all about data, and the right data can certainly help to make better decisions. However, the only reason one collects data is to make better decisions and take action. Sometimes, workplaces get stuck on the data, and don’t get to the action. My Employee Life is all about taking necessary action to get things done.
The digital conversation trap. We live in a time with all this fancy technology, yet there is no technology that can fully replace a real-time personal conversation between people. Until machines can read our minds (and this is still a long way off), the best way to understand the context of circumstances, which is incredibly important, is through a effective conversation. Encouraging the replacement of these with technology is a bad idea. The more conversations are driven into the digital world, the higher the chances of misunderstanding.
The Goal-Setting Trap. I don’t know about you, but my crystal ball doesn’t work very well. The future is impossible to know, and all goals are simply based on imagination until reality rolls around. Rather than judging people on their ability to guess the future, judge their ability to set a clear intention and make the right choices about actions and behaviours. A person’s ability to roll with the punches and adapt as required is far more important than someone setting safe goals and in reality offering mediocre performance.
We can help you create an effective performance drumbeat.
In this guide, we’ve provided quite a bit of information about our process and you may already feel comfortable to go about doing it yourself. However, you may also choose to get some help from our experts. We offer a service where we can work with you to create something that works for your workplace.
The reason you may want to consider this option is because we do this all the time. We can help you save time by avoiding common time-wasting choices.
Prices start from just $3,500.
Book in for a free initial discussion and we can work out whether we can add value. We don’t charge you until you agree we can help.