Archive for ◊ August, 2012 ◊

• Monday, August 27th, 2012

Every manager has at least one person who isn’t hitting their targets. You really want them to do better, but do you sometimes sabotage that by managing them like underachievers?Here are some tips for helping those who are languishing.

We want our people to perform at their best. No doubt about that. Regardless of your personal intentions – whether you want to look good as a manager or you want to make sure your business stays healthy, we all want our people to do their best work.

When people start to underperform, when they start to let us down, our initial impulse is to take back some control. We might decrease some responsibilities, take back some of the project, or micro manage them just a little in order to make ourselves feel more comfortable. This is human nature. We have a goal that is being threatened, so we take back some responsibility.

But how does this impact the person doing the work?

If we look at the way we manage our top performers, versus the way we manage our underperformers, we’d see two completely different management approaches. And while this seems logical on the surface, it seems ludicrous when you dig a little further. I’ll break down the logic:

You do ABC – and someone performs really well.

You have someone that isn’t performing well – and you really want them to do well – so you do XYZ, instead of ABC.

In other words, we manage high performers like high performers. And we manage underachievers like underachievers – even though we want them to be high performers.

That doesn’t sound so logical.

And a big component of this is a feeling of control. When we take control away from people, their ability to think critically, to problem solve and to control emotions and behaviours is compromised. As leaders, we tend to give our high performers a lot of control, and our underachievers less. This might end up being a self-fulfilling cycle.

In a study last year, a group of people were given a problem solving test and their scores were recorded. Each of the participants were then asked to describe a person in their lives that they thought was controlling. For 15 minutes, they were asked to describe the person, their actions and specific situations. After this interview, they were given another (equivalent) problem-solving test and each and every one of them performed about 30% worse.

Just the thought of someone controlling us decreases our ability to problem-solve by 30%!

But it turns out actual control isn’t completely necessary. In many research experiments using computer tasks, just the feeling of control can reignite someone’s performance. As with most things, perception is more important than reality.

So here are some key considerations for giving people the feeling of more control.


1)    Be more organized to delegate

To delegate well and give people control, you have to be more organized than when you simply do it yourself. Give yourself and your direct reports longer lead times, that allow them to get their work done, get some feedback and then redo it it if necessary. When your direct report gets it wrong too close to the deadline, you have very little choice but to take it back and do it yourself


2) Delegate pieces of projects, rather than the whole thing

In doing this, you’re bound to find things that people are proficient at. Remember, the sweet spot for development is at the juncture of challenge and support – too much of either is a poor recipe for learning. Give people pieces of the project that you are happy for them to control, rather than setting them up to fail by asking them to do the entire thing.


3) Create the perception of control

People always need to feel like they control something. There are always things that we have no control over – such as deadlines. But there are also things that we can make sure people do have control over – that might be the way in which the work gets done, the timeline for milestones or even the color of the binding for the final report. These small things can actually make a big difference to the way people perform.

People do their best work when they feel like we trust them and when they have a sense of control. Not when they are operating on fear or worried about making mistakes.

These simple things might just help your underachievers turn their game around.


• Friday, August 17th, 2012

Coffee can be your best friend or worst enemy. If you follow these simple rules, coffee just might help you boost performance.

Let’s get one thing straight. Unless you have a particular intolerance or allergy, coffee is not bad for you. In fact, in recent years coffee has been linked to a decrease in various cancers an increase in longevity, and even weight loss. From a performance standpoint, coffee increases alertness, brain activation and decreases the rate of perceived exertion (that is, things seem easier when we have caffeine on board).

Like most things, coffee can also have detrimental effects – and sometimes it’s the habits associated with coffee that bring you down.

So here are the coffee rules. If you want your daily fix to boost your performance, not make you sick, then follow these.

1) Five is too many

The ‘safe’ amount of caffeine you should consume in one day is generally accepted to be about 300mg.  For argument’s sake, the average espresso has about 100mg (see this article). Two coffees are fine. Three should be fine. If they are only weak (different cafes can be as low as 50mg) then four would just scrape in. But five is definitely too many. This will create ‘caffeine rebound’ and physical dependency

2) Water + Coffee = Clever

Coffee will dehydrate you. Whenever you have a coffee, try to drink at least the same volume of water. This will keep you hydrated and this is a pre-requisite for cells that need to perform (including brain cells)

3) Ditch the sugar

The caffeine is doing the work. Coffee can actually be a great pick me up, especially around that 2-3pm slump. You don’t need a sugar kick as well. It only adds calories and while the coffee is good for you, the processed sugar generally is not. You can end up with a ‘sugar high’ which is inevitably followed by a ‘sugar low’, and by spiking your blood sugar levels like this regularly, you can damage the energy producing structures in your cells, leaving you with less energy in the long term

4) Pull back on milk

Go for skim milk if you can – this will decrease the fat intake and also calories in your day. If you really must, a full-cream coffee once a day isn’t going to kill you. If you drink a really milky coffee, like a latte, then try to roll back to a flat white, which has less milk. If you are trying to lose weight, then ditch the milk altogether – maybe a short macchiato or a long black (again, one milky coffee a day won’t kill you)

5) There’s no such thing as a ‘good’ muffin

Often what makes coffee so bad for you is the treat that you have with it. Ditch the muffin (usually heaped full of sugar and butter) in favour of a healthier snack. Maybe fruit or some avocado on toast. If you must have something kind of sweet, try some fruit toast with just a hint of margarine.

6) What’s your cut-off time?

If you have trouble getting to sleep at night, then you might need to re-think that last coffee of the day. Now, some people can have a cup of Java an hour before bed and be fine. Others will feel the effects of that 4pm cup when it’s time to hit the pillow. Know your cut-off time, and if you really need something, go for peppermint tea as a natural pick-me-up, without the caffeine.

Coffee can be a great booster, social excuse and/or sometimes an excuse to get out of the office for ten minutes. If you follow these rules, then coffee will remain your friend. And not become your enemy.