Promoting Performance
March-April 2010

Know More, Innovate More

The greatest innovators in a wide-range of fields—business, science, painting, music—all have at least one characteristic in common: They spent many years in intensive preparation before making any kind of creative breakthrough.  Creative achievement never came suddenly, even in those cases in which the creator later claimed that it did.  Whether it was the transitor or the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper album or the cell phone or Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, it always followed a long earlier period of extremely hard work, and in most cases the creative products themselves were developed over a significant period.  Great innovations are roses that bloom after long and careful cultivation.  The bigger picture is that great innovators aren’t burdened by knowledge; they’re nourished by it.  And they acquire it through a process we’ve seen before, involving many years of demanding deliberate practice activities. Source: Colvin, G. (2008).  Talent is Overrated.  New York: Penguin.  p. 151

Purpose Power

To cultivate competence, you must continually revisit the purposes behind your actions.  If your purpose is simply to maintain status quo, accomplish a task or just get through the day, you are mired in a novice’s perspective.  If, however, your purpose is to think several steps ahead so your collective efforts amount to something cumulative, a characteristic of competence is evident.  Competent people rely on long-term goals and plans to help insure that their efforts work toward the ‘bigger picture’ of progress and success.  Stephen Covey describes this characteristic as ‘beginning with the end in mind’.  “By keeping the end clearly in mind, you can make certain that whatever you do on any particular day does not violate the criteria you have defined as supremely important, and that each day of your life contributes in a meaningful way to the vision you have of your life as a whole.”  In short, competent people have clear purpose for doing what they do. Source: Schempp, P.  (2008).  5 Steps to Expert.  Mountain View, CA: Davies-Black.

Engaging Your Staff

After studying 8 companies with 180,000 employees, researchers classified workers into 4 groups and identified effective ways firms have customized programs. Our findings suggest that such efforts lead to more-engaged employees, who in turn perform better, are more loyal, take less sick leave, are less likely to quit, and enjoy better health and personal well-being. Grand Prix Drivers: Nearly always strongly engaged with their work, they’re ideal employees much of the time–but they’re also at risk of burning out. Challenge: Prevent them from carrying too much of the load, especially in projects they’ve initiated. Pole Vaulters ‘re strongly engaged, but their episodes of engagement are less frequent than those of Grand Prix Drivers. Pole Vaulters tend to be energized only by certain aspects of their work–cutting the important deal, for example. Challenge: Get the most out of their on-again, off-again enthusiasm. Long-Distance Runners ‘re reliable and consistent, but they’re less engaged than Grand Prix Drivers and Pole Vaulters (when the Pole Vaulters are engaged).Challenge: Keep them involved, and increase engagement. Flatliners ‘re rarely engaged and never strongly so. In fact, they can easily become actively disengaged–that is, negative and hostile–and have a demotivating effect on colleagues. Challenge: Reverse their negative feelings and foster engagement. Source:  Truss, K., et al. (2010). Engaging the “Pole Vaulters” on your staff.  Harvard Business Review, 88(2), 24.

Stimulating Corporate Entrepreneurship

Leading corporations realize that nurturing an entrepreneurial culture through various strategic human resource management (HRM) practices enhance an organization’s ability to gain competitive advantage and achieve superior performance.  A recent study attempted to determine the degree to which various HRM practices stimulate corporate entrepreneurship in 20 large companies in the Phillipines.  Findings reveal that the companies are extensively and actively implementing multiple practices related to HRM functions in order to cultivate corporate entrepreneurship.  Employee relations, training and development, and recruitment and selection were all found to be significant enablers of corporate entrepreneurship.  Employee relations proved to be the most significant.  Specifically, this represented strategies that emphasized team-based orientation, open communication through multiple channels, positive organizational climate, respecting and treating people fairly, empowerment, and flexibility. Source:  Edralin, D. (2010).  Human resource management practices: Drivers for stimulating corporate entrepreneurship in large companies in the Phillipines.  Business & Economic Review, 19(2), 25-41.

Reinforcing Feedback

An experiment involving cued recall of trivia facts, several theories of feedback-timing effects were tested. Results were not consistent with theories assuming that the only function of feedback is to correct initial errors but instead supported theories assuming delaying feedback strengthens initially correct responses.  That is, delaying feedback increased the probability of correct response perseveration on the final retention test but had minimal effects on error correction or error perseveration. In a 2nd experiment, the effects of varying the lags between study, test, and feedback trials during learning provided further support for the spacing hypothesis. It, therefore, seems important to estimate expected performance success. If many errors are expected, then learners would benefit from feedback delivered as soon after the performance as is feasible in order to correct their mistakes.  However, if the expected errors are low, then delayed feedback would to be more beneficial because it leads to the strengthening of correct responses; in the context of instruction, this could be at the next lesson or class. Source:  Smith, T., Daniel, R.  (2010). Learning From Feedback : Spacing and the Delay–Retention Effect,  Journal of Experimental Psychology / Learning, Memory & Cognition, 36(1), 80-95.


Ambition is essential for both sustained superior performance and for the dedication necessary to continue learning. Even when loosely defined, the desire for accomplishment can propel a person through the early and often trying stages of learning.  Ambition alone is not sufficient for superior performance.  Desire might run deep but it is rarely limitless.  For anyone hoping to make the leap from novice to eminent performer, continued evolution requires something richer than just winning a contest.  It may mean finding a way to gain deeper insight into the dynamics of a topic, including its aesthetics, or it may mean facing challenges such as the desire to transcend established convention.  Champy and Nohria describe this trajectory as the ‘arc of ambition’: the upward incline of an idea and its originator, the peak of success and the inevitable decline that eventually occurs.  The challenge for the eminent artists and leaders is to repeat the arc, first by letting go of an idea or a mode of performance that has lost its luster and then by continually searching out new genres to master. Source:  Thomas, R. (2008).  What leaders can learn from expert performers.  Leader to Leader; Vol. 2008(50), p28-33.

How Effective Are Goals?

338 athletes from 12 sports completed a goal-setting survey that assessed goal frequency, effectiveness, commitment, and barriers. The multifaceted goal-setters scored highest on all variables, goal nonbelievers were lowest, and disillusioned and competitive goal setters fell in between these extremes.  Multifaceted goal-setters reported the highest scores for three goal frequency and two goal commitment dimensions as well as higher self-confidence and greater career athletic success than did the remaining three groups. Moreover, multifaceted goal setters reported 42% and 25% greater career success than did disillusioned goal-setters and goal nonbelievers respectively, demonstrating a substantial relationship between goal-effectiveness profiles and performance. The implication is that goal-setting is related to confidence and performance, and goal frequency and commitment may mediate this relationship between positive perceptions and improved performance. Source:  Burton, D., et al., (2010). The Competitive Goal Effectiveness Paradox Revisited: Examining the Goal Practices of Prospective Olympic Athletes. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 22 (1), 72 – 86.

Patton’s Chain

“Each man must not think only of himself, but also of his buddy fighting beside him. We don’t want yellow cowards in this Army. They should be killed off like rats. If not, they will go home after this war and breed more cowards. The brave men will breed more brave men. One of the bravest men that I ever saw was a fellow on top of a telegraph pole in the midst of a furious fire fight in Tunisia. I asked what the hell he was doing up there. He answered, “Fixing the wire, Sir”. I asked, “Isn’t that a little unhealthy right about now?” He answered, “Yes Sir, but the Goddamned wire has to be fixed”. I asked, “Don’t those planes strafing the road bother you?” He answered, “No, Sir, but you sure as hell do!” Now, there was a real man. There was a man who devoted all he had to his duty, no matter how seemingly insignificant his duty might appear, no matter how great the odds. And you should have seen those trucks on the road to Tunisia. Those drivers were magnificent. All day and all night they rolled over those son-of-a-bitching roads, never stopping, never faltering from their course, with shells bursting all around them all of the time. We got through on good old American guts. Many of those men drove for over forty consecutive hours. They were part of a team. Without team effort, without them, the fight would have been lost. All of the links in the chain pulled together and the chain became unbreakable.”

Source: General George C. Patton, address to the 3rd Army, June 5, 1944, somewhere in England.