Performance = the Doing of Something

July 23, 2012

When we have some time to take a breath, read a newspaper, watch a TV show, and relax, we find a continuation of what is common in the work place. A lot of what is presented and written about is describing how well – or not so well – others did, organizations did, sports teams did, – in a nutshell, how well they performed.

Every walk of life seems to be inundated with competition. We feel we constantly have to compete with others, show that we are worthy and that we deserve to advance based on our performance.

As you have seen in many articles and writings, I call myself a Performance Coach. When we say our motto is: Helping other succeed “, or Helping other help themselves achieve their goals and dreams “, we actually want to help them to improve their performance.

On first glace that seems to be pretty obvious and easy to understand. When we look into the meaning of the word performance, we can learn a number of things, but also get a little more confused. Here are some samples:

Kernerman`s English Multilingual Dictionary says performance = the doing of something.

Fair enough. We probably can all agree with that. The question is: what is the something and how well is it done?

The Encyclopedia Britannica looks at the legal aspects and offers this explanation:

Performance in law, is the act of doing that which is required by a contract. The effect of successful performance is to discharge the person bound to do the act from any future contractual liability. Each party to the contract is bound to perform promises according to the stipulated terms.

I guess that means: If you do what you promised in a contract, you performed as expected and are entitled to the compensation that was promised to you. Wouldn`t it be nice if things were that simple? You tell your boss what you are willing to do, and when you do it, you are good to go? In most cases that won`t work, because we all have come to understand that what was originally promised is seen as the minimum requirement and sets the basic expectation.

The first lesson to learn from is this: Don`t over-promise, so the foundation of the expectation regarding your performance isn`t too high. Then, over-deliver and surprise those who need to compensate you.

A word of caution: You want to find realistic values when applying this lesson. If you play low-ball and then blow everybody away by your final delivery, you run the risk of loosing trust. Give realistic figures, set realistic expectations, and then try everything you can to best them; that is the approach that will help you in the long run.

Back to the definitions: Webster`s Dictionary gives us these choices for the term:
Performance =
•    the execution of an action
•    something accomplished
•    the fulfillment of a claim, promise, or request
•    the action of representing a character in a play
•    a public presentation or exhibition  (a benefit performance)
•    the ability to perform
•    the linguistic behavior of an individual
With all these version of performance in mind, we want to see if it always has to be competition. I say = NO!

What we want to achieve is a way to act and do things in our way. That is the way we want to be known for, the way we are proud of, the way we acknowledge for ourselves, the honest way we are and we act. Remember the saying: “How you do something is how you do everything!”

Our performance should always be the best we can do. That requires to give our actions some thought ” and don`t forget, what we say is an action too, so give that some thought as well.

The recent tendency to turn everything into a competition makes life and work appear as if someone has to loose for someone else to win, and naturally, the winner is always seen as the better performer.

In some cases when that argument of someone or something being better doesn’t necessarily apply, other reasons for awarding a winner to a competition are thought. You might recall the recent award of a huge contract by the US Air Force to the American company Northrop-Grumman. They have created a new tanker airplane for the military that won in 4 out of 5 critical performance areas. In addition it has the shorter take off distance with the same take off weight, meaning it can take off from shorter runways all around the world.
When our troops are involved in battle, they don`t always have the luxury of perfectly prepared airfields with never ending runways, so this point has global importance. Still, Boeing tried to make the argument that they should win the contract anyway, because some of the parts and work is going to be done by a company outside the United States, namely Airbus.

What does that mean for our initial question? Well, performance is not a matter of who wins the competition (assuming there even is one), but a matter of integrity. You don`t just want to perform to you highest level when others are watching (or judging, like about the tanker plane), but always. You want to be able to provide your best effort all the time, or the best of your team, and the best of your company.
Yes, you may not always win, but that is because others try their hardest too, and every once in a while their best is a little better than yours. Rather than finding reasons outside yourself, you want to look at what can be learned, and do better the next time around.

If you live and work in an environment where you can motivate others and yourself to always bring the best possible performance to the table, you will win the vast majority of situations. The effort and the integrity with which you perform it actually counts much more than the fact that you are the last one standing at the end of a competition.

Bottom line; performance is not always a competition, but it should always be a sign of your best effort, brought with honesty, integrity, and pried to those that ask for it. If you set your values and your attitude in this way, you will become very successful, and everybody around you will love and respect you.

Try it, – you will see how good it feels!

Axel Meierhoefer


Five Tips to Make Accountability Your Friend

July 20, 2012

In more and more situations in life and at work we hear the word “accountability”. Many people outside of the accounting world take it to be synonymous with “responsibility”. For a lot of us it means that we are responsible for the results of our actions.

William Reyes in his book “Leadership Accountability in a Globalizing World” (2006), stated “In leadership roles, accountability is the acknowledgment and assumption of responsibility for actions, decisions, and policies including the governance, and implementation within the scope of the role or employment position and encompassing the obligation to report, explain and be answerable for resulting consequences.”

What does this really mean for our daily life and work?

I like to look at it like a bank account. Not an ordinary bank account, but one that I am managing for someone else. When I make a commitment to do something, it is like taking the other persons money and putting it in the bank account and promising to take good care of it, not waste it, grow it if possible, and make sure it is safe. When the other person likes to check in and find out what has happened, since I made my commitment, they can look at the account. In return I can account for what I did and explain why I did it.

You might ask yourself: “How does that work when we are not talking about something tangible, like money, or providing a product, or completing a simple task?”

Here are five (5) tips you can apply and use immediately to make sure your accountability will always be seen as something that puts you in a positive light:

1.When making a time-related commitment, make sure that you can keep the deadline you committed to  this is a fundamental behavior that sounds simple but is often violated. When you first check that you can do what you promise, it builds trust, improves the way people judge your dependability, and makes you a go to-person when things need to be done on time. Rather use a little more time and complete your commitment than trying to be fast and asking for an extension. Time is accounted for very similar to money, so don’t let your time-account go into the red.
2.When committing to something tangible, make sure that you and the person or team you are making your commitment to have a full understanding what it is you are going to do or deliver – way too often we don’t make sure and then work off a premise that is not shared. This leads to frustration and insecurity. Spending a little extra effort on making sure what exactly it is you committed to and what the expected outcomes are allows you to meet and exceed expectations. A little side-effect is that you are seen by those you engage as someone who cares because you make the effort to fully understand and find agreement before you jump into action.
3.Be as precise as you can – often we are in a hurry or we believe we have a reasonable understanding about the things needed to move forward. That leads to promises, commitments, and acceptance of tasks that are poorly defined or cover a substantial amount of work, subject matter, problem, etc. As with many things in life, delivering on time, on budget, meeting expectations, etc. is also a matter of frequency. If you do something all the time and it appears to others as if you have to give something all the time, they see you as dependable, accountable, and they like you. The best way to achieve this reputation is by accepting rather smaller, very precise tasks. Don’t agree to plan the whole party – even if that will be the ultimate outcome. Instead, first agree to find a suitable venue and secure it. Then agree to find a suitable band and book it. Then agree to find a suitable caterer and agree on a menu, – and so on. Deliver each time as promised and your account will be growing by leaps and bounds
4.Be open and offer, don’t wait to be asked – if you are clear in your mind what you can do, what you like to do, what you are good at, what’s easy for you to do or achieve or provide, offer it when the opportunity arises. That way you get to do what you know will make you shine and keep your commitment and promises. If you wait for others to ask you for help or assign you tasks, you leave it to them to make assumptions about what you might be good at or what you might be able to do. Just because you did something in the past that was meeting expectations does not mean you loved to do it. For others it will remain in their mind as something that you did well and they keep asking you to do it again. If you like to avoid it and have fun while completing your commitments, offer what you know you do well.

5.Don’t be afraid to say no or seek help – When asked to do something you know you don’t like or aren’t god at (hopefully it’s not so bad that you hate it), don’t muddle your way through it and end up delivering a mediocre result. Stick to your guns, improve yourself in what you are good at and become an expert, a guru, a wise adviser or mentor. It is much better to be really good at something than average in a lot of things. For accountability and your own sanity, its so much better and easier to do what you know well and keep expanding your abilities, than doing what you hat or know you struggle with just because you refuse to say “NO!”

Following these five (5) tips will help you to have very positive experiences with accountability and soon people will come to you and ask: “How is it or how do you) always get your stuff done on time, within or beyond expectation and you even keep a smile on your face doing it?” Give them these five (5) tips and they will enjoy fulfilling their commitments as much as you will.

There is more to accountability than five tips, for sure. These are a starting point. If you like to learn more, feel free to explore the CLP Program  at our sister site or contact us directly.

How the Hell Do We Implement?

July 19, 2012

Today’s article is a collaboration between three strategy gurus from McKinsey and me. About a year ago they sent me a lengthy article and I read it with interest. At the time I didn’t know what to make of it or how it applied to me or our company. Then, a few days ago Randy Rhodes told me that she found the following:


…Leaders in companies are successful not only because they have superior services or models they push onto their clients, but because they are controversial in a sense. They have formed a strong opinion about something and they stick to it, fill it with life, make it known, write books and articles about it, speak about it and use it to motivate their people. They are not loved by everybody and often polarize. Those who love them can’t get enough of them and those who hate them wouldn’t ever hire their services. When they get hired though, they can charge higher rates and still make their clients happier than the average provider with many grey, inoffensive views.


We help companies to achieve their goals, develop their leaders, managers and employees and we strongly believe that this has to happen based on a strong strategy that is translated to all members of the organization in a meaningful, understandable way. That’s why we use visual maps called everything form Innovation Maps™ to work maps to Roadmaps. All are pieces of art that help translate the vision that we helped the leaders of the organization to develop. So, how do you get to strategy and vision and what’s the deal about it? Here is where our three guru’s come in: (text underlined and in italics is from the McKinsey article Jan 2011)

“What’s the next new thing in strategy?” a senior executive recently asked Phil Rosenzweig, a professor in Switzerland. His response was surprising for someone whose career is devoted to advancing the state of the art of strategy: “With all respect, I think that’s the wrong question. There’s always new stuff out there, and most of it’s not very good. Rather than looking for the next musing, it’s probably better to be thorough about what we know is true and make sure we do that well.”


Exactly. Why reinvent the wheel? We know what vision and strategy are supposed to achieve. Let’s get in a room or to a retreat, stick out heads together and begin brainstorming. When we do it using our visual technologies, it goes faster and better and puts the foundation for the translation in place.


What’s the relevance of a good strategy and vision, you ask?


All companies operate in markets surrounded by customers, suppliers, competitors, substitutes, and potential entrants, all seeking to advance their own positions. That process, unimpeded, inexorably drives economic surplus-the gap between the return a company earns and its

cost of capital-toward zero.


For a company to beat the market, by capturing and retaining an economic surplus, there must be an imperfection that stops or at least slows the working of the market. An imperfection controlled by a company is a competitive advantage. These are by definition scarce and fleeting because markets drive reversion to average performance. The best companies are emulated by those in the middle of the pack, and the worst exit or undergo significant reform. As each player responds to and learns from the actions of others, best practice becomes commonplace rather than a market-beating strategy. Good strategies emphasize difference-versus your direct competitors, versus potential substitutes, and versus potential entrants.


To beat the market, therefore, advantages have to be robust and responsive in the face of onrushing market forces. Few companies, in our experience, ask themselves if they are beating the market-the pressures of “just playing along” seem intense enough. But playing along can feel safer than it is. Weaker contenders win surprisingly often in war when they deploy a divergent strategy and the same is true in business.


So our role is to help update strategy and vision for those who haven’t done it in a while, using our visual technologies and approaches. When currently weaker contenders want to gain market share we are ready to help them, again bringing our visual ideas and proven methods to full advantage.


Companies need to… inside and those outside high walls. For example, in Australia, two beer makers control 95 know their competitive advantage, and have answered the question of why they make money (and vice versa). Competitive advantage stems from two sources of scarcity: positional advantages and special capabilities. Positional advantages are rooted in structurally attractive markets. By definition, such advantages favor incumbents: they create an asymmetry between those percent of the market and enjoy triple the margins of US brewers.


For most of our clients and best suited for the help we can provide special capabilities scarce resources whose possession confers unique benefits are the main advantage. The most obvious resources, such as drug patents or leases on mineral deposits, are called “privileged, tradable assets”: they can be bought and sold. A second category of special capabilities, “distinctive competencies,” consists of things a company does particularly well, such as innovating or managing stakeholders. These capabilities can be just as powerful in creating advantage but cannot be easily traded.


Just sitting on one’s historic successes is not a solution and especially does not allow for success in the future. Just look at companies like Apple. They reinvented themselves at least 5 times in the last 30 years. If you wait too long it can be too late to mount a strategically effective response, let alone shape the change to your advantage. Managers typically delay action, held back by sunk costs, an unwillingness to cannibalize a legacy business, or an attachment to yesterday’s formula for success. The cost of delay is steep: consider the plight of major travel agency chains slow to understand the power of online intermediaries.


In implementing any new strategy, it’s imperative to define clearly what you are moving from and where you are moving to with respect to your company’s business model, organization, and capabilities.


That is where we come in to provide the tools, models and approaches that allow our clients to stay ahead or catch back up to where the company needs to be.


We help to develop a detailed view of the shifts required to make the move, and ensure that processes and mechanisms, for which individual executives must be accountable, are in place to effect the changes. Quite simply, this is an action plan. Everyone needs to know what to do. Be sure that each major “from-to shift” is matched with the energy to make it happen.


If it is created in a visual form and supported by experiential tools, as we do it for our clients, success is inevitable. If you like this idea, let us know. If you hate it, there are probably others who will gladly give you the typical binders to be put on a shelf and forgotten – for a lot of money – it’s really your choice!


Chris Bradley is a principal in McKinsey’s Sydney office, Martin Hirt is a director in the McKinsey Taipei office, and Sven Smit is a director in the McKinsey Amsterdam office.


Axel Meierhoefer

The Puke Effect Redux

July 19, 2012

Today I like to educate you about a phenomenon most of us have experienced before. I became aware of the description through an investment newsletter I received. I first published this on July 14, 2008 in Ezine Articles but it still has relevance today.

In it Jeff Clark describes it. It’s called the Puke Effect. Don’t be mistaken. It doesn’t only apply to investing. It applies to many things and in some cases has become a behavior. Look at your team meetings:

Have you put meetings on your schedule that you feel are totally redundant or unnecessary, and only waste your time? Ask yourself how many of these meetings just get created because one person wants to impress another person in the hierarchy.

How often do you think it happens because nobody wanted to make a clear decision, so it was elected to have another meeting about a subject?

Here is how Jeff describes the Puke Effect:

“The cruise was going along just fine.”
Captain Bill was describing the worst sailing trip he had ever chartered. “We were about halfway to the island when one of the passengers started to get sick…”He didn’t quite make it all the way to the railing and he threw up on a bunch of the passengers who were sitting right there on the starboard side of the boat.”

Captain Bill then went on to describe how the passengers who had been puked upon started vomiting as well. Some of them managed to vomit over the side of the boat. But they were throwing up into the wind, and a good portion of “breakfast shrapnel” blew back into the boat, soaking the clothes, hair, and faces of anyone standing nearby.

“Pretty soon,” Bill continued, “everyone was puking. The stench was so bad, even my crew members were blowing chow.”

I first heard this story about 15 years ago, when I was learning to sail. I now recall it at the end of just about every quarter. On Wall Street, they call it “portfolio window dressing.” I call it the puke effect.
At the end of every quarter, portfolio managers dress up their accounts by purging stocks that haven’t performed well. After all, who wants to show shareholders they’ve been hanging on to the worst-performing stocks in the market?

So, one by one, the portfolio managers jettison the equities overboard. As the selling pressure mounts and the losses deepen, more and more managers feel the need to purge.

Eventually, even the most experienced money managers are throwing up stocks at bargain-basement prices. It happens every quarter.

Jeff Clark

If you are wondering how this applies to leadership, management, and success, think about this scenario. You are in a discussion. Can you recall the times where a discussion about a topic got controversial? One person came up with a totally ridiculous idea, somebody made a flip remark, and then you get the Puke Effect into full swing and everybody begins purging ‘niceties’ about ideas and individuals. It all ends in a shouting match, and if nobody stops it, it can lead to real harm, and hurt feelings.

It is rather simple. You need honesty, confidence, and communication skills. If you are confident to voice your opinion in a clear, non-threatening way, and communicate convincingly, you will avoid meetings that nobody needs.

You will be able to make decisions when all aspects have been discussed. You will be in a role that keeps discussions from escalating into a Puke-Fest.

Best of all, you will be respected, maybe even adored, and people will want to work with you and seek your advice. One way of learning to have the required combination of confidence, honesty, and communication skill is coaching.

You might want to try it for 3-6 months and see how much you can gain in a fairly short amount of time. This is especially recommended if you find yourself in a position of power and responsibility and recall events that qualify for the Puke Effect.

On a lighter note, I like to suggest watching the video (link below) and getting a clear perspective on wheretime has gone – in case you have days you ask yourself: “I did things all day long, but it appears as if nothing got done – otherthan that stupid meeting with the Puke- Fest in the middle. Where did all the time go?”

Dr. Axel Meierhoefer

Get Inspired

July 3, 2012

David Corbin taught me that we need to have a new approach to success.

You might say: What now, another new approach; again a new formula for leadership?  Haven’t we read, written and heard enough?

I believe leadership these days can be divided into two major parts:

1. The things you need to know in your particular field of leadership to be successful.

What are these things, these skills and the associated knowledge? Depending on your role, you might know how to develop strategies, you might know accounting inside out, you might need to be a master marketer, a master sales person, a super HR executive, etc. For each of these roles and all other roles in leadership, specific skills are required to be successful. There are many many books about the processes, rules, laws, procedures, etc. helping you acquire these skills. In addition you can get degrees, take classes and seminars and refine your expertise.

2. The behaviors you need to live and demonstrate and apply in leadership to be successful.

That part of the equation is just developing recently. In some places you can get certified as a coach, speaker, facilitator, and lately as a mentor. Each of these skills are provided as separate skills, most often as a pathway for a private practice. What is missing is a coordinated behavioral skillset that takes the behaviors that make a modern leader successful and put them into a program where each component in modular and comes from the same mold of experience.

What did David Corbin teach me? He pointed out that we can’t just look at our environment with a positive attitude, as many “experts” have led us to believe at the end of the last millennium. That does not mean that positive thinking is bad or wrong. It just isn’t the sole component that leads to success.

When we want to get inspired and be able to inspire others to follow us, we need to be able to create environments filled with trust, empathy, respect, accountability, energy, integrity, ethics, and several similar traits. As role models we need to walk our talk and exemplify these traits. When we want to be believable as a whole person, we need to demonstrate our specialty of skills as described in 1. above together with the behaviors described under 2 above.

Culturally this means we can learn from others. If our culture is known to be mainly skeptical and prone to see things as “glass half empty”, or we come from a culture of positive thinking, optimism, and a “class half full” approach, we can and need to learn from each other. The skeptical negativists need to open up and give new ideas, behaviors, and approaches the benefit of the doubt. The optimists and positive thinkers should apply David’s idea of illuminating the negative things by finding them through inquiry, discuss them to find ways to overcome – or fix them, and then implement ways to avoid them from resurfacing.

Being rounded, whole, holistic in our balance between positive and negative as well as our hard skills and leadership behaviors allows us to become the best we can be and in the process, inspire others to follow us.

Dr. Axel Meierhoefer

Social Media Marketing Authenticity: You Make the Difference

July 14, 2011

With the social media marketing world expanding at virtual light speed, it may seem intimidating for newcomers and small business professionals to make their mark amongst the 350 million Facebookers, 75 million Tweeters and 50 million LinkedIn folks. But there is hope! With a simple strategy, social media hopefuls can certainly engage their audience.

Engage is a key word cited in many how-to’s on social media marketing. Amongst the masses, how does one engage his or her audience? According to a new book by Jennifer Aaker and Aaron Smith, The Dragonfly Effect, there are four main ingredients. Authors Aaker and Smith encourage aspiring social media marketers to first tell a story. Being candid about how and why you started your business, charity or organization and why it’s important to you can have a powerful connection with your audience. You are not just another brand trying to sell people something or raise money, but a real person on a journey toward an important goal.


Another key to engaging is empathizing with your audience. Using photos and videos to connect people with your story in addition to testimonials of other consumers like them using your products or services allows your target audience to visualize themselves participating in your brand or service. Many large and small companies also post questions asking about personal opinion or experience to the main wall or feed in various social media sites to get their audience members thinking and creating buzz by commenting back and forth. All of this activity draws attention to the business while allowing a forum for audience members to be heard.


One of the most important factors of connecting with a social media audience is authenticity. According to Aaker and Smith, “True passion is contagious, and the more authenticity you convey, the more easily others can connect with you and your cause.” It is essential to be professional, but speak in your own voice. Overdoing the marketing lingo or faking trendy language will fail to impress audiences who want to connect with a real person.


Once an audience has been established and engaged, it is vital to match the media with the message. If you are selling a service or product related to travel: post videos, reviews in the latest Condé Nast, comments about new movies set in exotic vacation locales or links to travel deals so your audience has access to the full experience surrounding what you provide, and its based in the type of media they typically consume. This makes a connection between what you are offering and what they already enjoy. – Social Media Marketing Statistics 2011

Singer, D. Feb 2011 The Power of Storytelling: What Non-Profits can teach the Private Sector about Social Media. McKinsey Quarterly.

Small Group Work Breeds Fresh Ideas

July 6, 2011

Whether hosting brainstorming sessions at a business meeting or teaching a group of students, integrating small group sessions or break outs can help bring new perspective to any gathering. Not only does this method help keep participants interested in the topic at hand, but it also gives them to opportunity to engage in the learning process and participate in productively finding solutions.


There are several advantages to placing students and professionals in small groups. Breaking down the barriers of a company or classroom’s hierarchy can lead participants to feel more comfortable sharing ideas or discussing why past ideas didn’t necessarily work. Having the opportunity for each person’s voice to be heard can be very validating in contrast to a lecture-type setting where ideas are called for in front of an entire audience of peers.   

Breaking a larger group into several small groups can also be very effective when each group is given one or two specific issues to focus on, allowing them time to thoroughly work through ideas and determine which are really substantive. Having to explain and convince other small group members of why an idea works can effectively help weed out the good ideas from the ineffective.


Small group work can also breed better interaction among colleagues by taking each person out of their typical setting or comfort zone and allowing them to understand their peers’ perspectives. Students who may feel detached from fellow classmates can also learn from and connect with their peers, consequently benefitting from a collaborative learning environment they may not have sought out on their own.


This kind of interaction can also teach participants to work through disagreements in theory or perspective in constructive ways, with the safe environment of a meeting room or classroom to discuss their reasoning without fear of judgment or repercussion.

Lastly, small group work caters to people with different learning styles and preferences. It allows opportunities for them to participate in a variety of tasks and activities not usually available in the more formal settings of lectures and seminars. Stimulating each of the senses by talking, writing, sharing and creating visual explanations of group conclusions can bring a truly great idea to light for not only each participant, but the group as a whole.

Each of these scenarios ultimately benefits the company or classroom, as people engage and connect with fellow participants in learning and sharing to reach a common goal: the betterment of themselves and/or their company.



Coyne P. and Coyne S., March 2011 Seven Steps to Better Brainstorming, McKinsey Quarterly