What do you have in common with NFL football players, Oscar-winning actors, or world renown musicians? At some point in time, you – like they – have likely given some thought to your job performance. While you may not suffer quite the same type of criticism from the "Monday Morning Quarterbacks" or get panned in the press for your less than stellar performance on stage, understanding what's expected and knowing how to deliver on the job is a critical part of career success.
- better understand how to create and manage peak performers in ourselves and others,
- individual attitudes including other aspects of psychological makeup and how it impacts upon the ability and willingness to set goals and priorities,
- how a positive attitude coupled with a skilled person can lead to greater effectiveness and efficiency.
Justice Clearinghouse Editors (JCH): Jeff, this might be obvious, but when you say “peak performer,” what do you mean?
Dr. Jeff Fox: Great question. The answer is, as is often the case, it depends on the context. A peak performer is someone who performs their job to the best of their abilities, or rather to very high standards in regard to the amount of work done (excellence of work), its efficiency and effectiveness as well as quality and quantity.
Peak performers are not limited to line or entry-level employees. What about leaders as peak performers? Then we have to ask other questions like, is a person an all-around consistent peak performer. Is it even a good idea to maintain optimum peak performance or can one afford not to be a peak performer? Does it depend on the job? Is the person an ethical peak performer? Maybe the person is a peak performer in one area and not other areas. The person might be great at conducting investigations and report writing but not so good at testifying. Maybe this same person is good at being proactive in enforcement activity but not good at following up with paperwork or gets a lot of complaints. So is this person really a peak performer? Well yes and no. What if a person was a great running back as far a gaining yards, but was terrible at blocking? Would that person really be a peak performer? Are all peak performers equal performers? No. Maybe the best way we can ask this question of ourselves and our employees is this, are we and our employees performing at their absolute best (peak). Of course, this is still relative, isn’t it? Peak is defined in this moment in time. Can we still improve – yes most likely.
What if a person was a great running back as far a gaining yards,
but was terrible at blocking?
Would that person really be a peak performer?
JCH: Often people aren’t the greatest judges of their own performance. Don’t many people believe they are already peak performers?
Jeff: I am not sure most people do feel they are peak performers. I have not seen any hard data such as polls on this. I am not sure if people really ask themselves this question. One might say they work hard. One might say their work is hard. When I use to train people one on one I liked to ask them how they thought they did on a particular situation or even overall say for the week. I did this for many reasons. I wanted to see how aware they were for one thing. Of course, a person has to know what is expected and what good performance looks like, don’t they?
Many years ago, I sat in on a quarterly evaluation one of my sergeants was doing with a relatively new employee. The employee was by no means a peak performer. He hardly performed at all. I listened as the sergeant tiptoed around the really poor work the employee had been doing. The employee said his candle was burnt out. I must admit that I thought my head would explode. The sergeant was not getting the point across. I spoke up and told the employee that for one’s candle to be burned out it first had to be lit. Thus far in his short career, the candle had not been lit nor had a match even been struck. This is something you might expect to hear from a 30-year veteran. Here was a situation where the employee thought he was performing and he wasn’t even doing that really. However, the sergeant was not actually performing well either! In our webinar, we will address this question in-depth by examining the words introspection and kaizen.
JCH: What’s the role of the supervisor in bringing out the best in the individual? Or is the supervisor as important as we might think?
Jeff: The leader has a very important role to play. First, they should try to hire great people. They want to build a great team. They then must train and lead their team. They might be able to motivate people. I say might because people are different and what might motivate one might not motivate another. Some people are self-motivated and others not so much. A leader can also demotivate people. Think of great athletes in team sports. You can put that same person on most any team and they will still be great. Now the team atmosphere might positively or negatively impact that person. The coaching style might also help or hurt that person's overall performance.
I think it is hard for a supervisor who is a marginal performer to instill greatness in their employees. Supervisors should be worthy of emulation. A supervisor should not ask someone to do something they wouldn’t do or haven’t done. It is hard to lead from the rear, isn’t it?
A person has to know what is expected and what good performance looks like.
JCH: What do you think is one of the biggest misconceptions leaders or managers have regarding performance improvement?
Jeff: Pay motivates is probably a misconception in some cases. I have heard that pay is a mover — not a motivator. Another myth, some say, is the idea that the job itself is a motivator. I think that might depend on the job and person. For me, the job was a great motivator but that was just me. Probably the biggest myth is that fear is a good motivator. Fear is probably the worst of all motivators. One last myth is that the same motivators will motivate all people equally. One of the very best motivators is when a manager recognizes a person for their work and treats him or her well.