Promoting Performance
May-June 2010

Personality and Performance

Two studies from the United Kingdom examined the relationship between personality traits, performance strategies, and training behaviors. Ninety-three competitive male and female gymnasts participated in the studies. The results revealed additive and interactive effects of personality and performance strategies on training behaviors. Three findings were consistent. First, personality was related to training behaviors. That is, conscientiousness was related to quality preparation; extraversion was related to distractibility; and emotional stability was related to coping with adversity. Second, performance strategies consistently explained training behaviors over and above personality. Specifically, goal-setting and emotional control predicted training behaviors over and above personality. Third, goal-setting consistently moderated the relationship between extraversion and distractibility. This interaction suggests that extraverts can attenuate their distractibility with the use of goal-setting techniques.Source: Woodman, T., et al.,  ‘Do Performance Strategies Moderate the Relationship Between Personality and Training Behaviors? An Exploratory Study’, Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 22(2), 183-197.

Problem Solving

Superior problem solvers tend to work “forward” from known facts to the unknown.  “Forward” reasoning contrasts with backward reasoning, in which the problem-solver works from a hypothesis or speculation regarding the unknown backward to the given facts.  Due to skill and knowledge limitations, they have a restricted set of solutions available.  Therefore, when a problem arises, poor problem solvers are usually quick to select the solution they think will likely work, and then justify their selection (backwards) based on the available facts.  The old adage “when all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail” applies here.  In contrast, the superior problem solvers have a greater range of both knowledge and skill, are driven to devise the best solution possible, and are willing to construct a unique or innovative solution if necessary.  They, therefore, invest time in carefully collecting all the facts before making decisions.  They realize if they don’t get the problem right, they have no hope of getting the solution right. Source:  Schempp, P.  (2008).  5 Steps to Expert. Davies-Black Publishers.

Make it Routine

Experts develop routines to help them process information quickly and at the same time handle everyday tasks with minimal effort.  A recent study with 6 English elite golfers explored the nature of pre-performance routines. The golfers were interviewed to gain an understanding of their perceptions of the nature and function of their pre-performance routines. The golfers all identified focus as a key component of their preparatory routines.  The 2 specific focus components were a) the ability to switch on and off and b), staying in the present and not dwelling on the past or future. Self-talk was also identified as important. Imagery was the third enduring skill for all 6 golfers. The development of these routines appears to have been sporadic at best with a range of sources cited as the influences on the routine development. In some cases the influence of a coach had been crucial in the formulation of the routine, but just as prevalent was the use of behavioral components or actions observed in other golfers’ routines. Just about any source of information was mentioned including books, magazines and videos as contributing to the routines. Routines should be developed based upon the personality, coping resources, and situational appraisals of each individual performer. This approach would recognize individuality, avoiding a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach. Routines should, therefore, be built around the enduring psychological skills that the performer is likely to employ regardless of the situation.

Source: Cotterill, S., et al. (2010).   Developing Effective Pre-performance Routines in Golf: Why Don’t We Ask the Golfer? Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 22, 51-64.

A Little Self-Doubt Helps

Testing the hypothesis that a decrease in confidence on a well-learned task will increase effort and performance, researchers studied 28 expert rope skippers (no, I’m not kidding).  Their experimental protocol called for the skippers to have their confidence reduced through a series of actions and activities (i.e., changing equipment, tasks and competitive demands).  Performance was measured by the number of skips in a 1-min period. On-task effort was measured using a verbal reaction time to an auditory probe. The results revealed a significant decrease in self-confidence and a significant improvement in performance from practice to competition. No significant effort effects were revealed. The researchers concluded that a small measure of self-doubt can benefit performance.  This finding clearly calls into question the widely accepted notion of a strong relationship between self-confidence and performance. Source:  Woodman, et al., (2010).  Self-confidence and performance: A little self-doubt helps.  Psychology of Sport & Exercise, June, 1.

…shall not perish

Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation or any nation so conceived and so dedicated can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field as a final resting-place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead who struggled here have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.  Source: Abraham Lincoln, Gettysburg Address, Gettysburg, PA  November 19, 1863,

Advocating Nonviolence

I praise such courage. I need such courage because in this cause I, too, am prepared to die. But, my friend, there is no cause for which I am prepared to kill. Whatever they do to us, we will attack no one, kill no one, but we will not give our fingerprints — not one of us. They will imprison us, and they will fine us. They will seize our possessions, but they cannot take away our self-respect if we do not give it to them.I am asking you to fight! To fight against their anger, not to provoke it. We will not strike a blow, but we will receive them. And through our pain we will make them see their injustice, and it will hurt — as all fighting hurts. But we cannot lose. We cannot. They may torture my body, break my bones, even kill me. Then, they will have my dead body — not my obedience. Source: M. Ghandi, September 11, 1906, Johannesburg, South Africa

Decision Driven Organizations

A team of Harvard researchers confirmed the tight link between performance and decisions. In 2008, they and their colleagues at Bain & Company surveyed executives worldwide from 760 companies, most with revenues exceeding $1 billion, to understand how effective those companies were at making and executing their critical decisions. They used the responses to assess decision quality, speed, yield, and effort. They found that decision effectiveness and financial results correlated at a 95% confidence level or higher for every country, industry, and company size in the sample. Indeed, the companies that were most effective at decision making and execution generated an average total shareholder return nearly six percentage points higher than those of other firms. What’s more, the research revealed no strong statistical relationship between organizational structure and performance. The conclusion they drew was simple: In a reorganization, decisions rather than structure should be the primary focus. Source:  Blenko, M., et al., (2010) The Decision-Driven Organization. Harvard Business Review, 88 (6), 54-62.

Sales Contest!

A common practice in stimulating higher performance among salespeople is the use of ‘sales contests’.  The success of these contests has revealed inconsistent, and sometimes negative, results.  Two researchers recently devised a study to examine four characteristics of sales contests in an effort to identify which types of sales contests best preserve customer-oriented behaviors.  Their findings suggested that the characteristics most favorable to promoting a customer orientation in the sales process were a) low frequency of contests, b) a medium number of winners, and c) have an open budget (no fixed number of winners or amount of prizes awarded).  The limited number of contests maintains the uniqueness of the contest.  A medium number of winners promotes the idea that the contest goals are obtainable, and the open budget suggests the effort to compete will be worth the time.  Finally, it was found that contests that were team-based were better suited for relationship-based selling practices.                             Source: Poujol, F., Tanner, J. (2010) The impact of contests on salespeople’s customer orientation.  Journal of Personal Selling & Sales Management, 30(1), 33-46.