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Five rules for creating a high performance, ‘mist-free’ culture

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9th Jul 2013
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This article was written by Andrew Sillitoe, author of ‘Managing the Mist,' a new book on coaching, leadership development and change management.

To achieve anything in life, whether it is personal or organisational, usually involves changing something. The problem with change for a lot of people is that is can cause discomfort, anxiety and in some cases anger.

What is change?

‘Change’ is a perceived threat and we are biologically designed to deal with a threat in a certain way. When you see a threat you will either resist it aggressively, be frozen to the spot by fear, or withdraw from it entirely. We instinctively respond to a threat and protect ourselves, which could be protecting our ego in some cases, possibly one of the biggest inhibitors for successful change.

Why does this happen?

A key player in this is the amygdala in the brain. The amygdala is involved in processing strong emotions such as fear. It has been essential to our survival.
 Unfortunately this amazing defense mechanism isn’t always useful and can manifest itself as completely irrational behaviour. When this type of stress occurs, our breathing and posture will change. It is likely that we are unaware of these changes happening to you in real time and as a result it will create the ‘white mist’ or ‘red mist’ clouding our judgment and decision-making.

It doesn’t have to be this way

To achieve successful organisational change, the role of leadership is to disarm the ‘amygdala hijack’, which may be causing an irrational response by the people in the organisation. The irrational response will manifest itself in perceived resistance to the change. It is essential that leadership and the organisation does what it can to create a ‘mist-free’ environment. This is absolutely possible, but there are some rules.

The Five rules

This methodology has been applied to sports teams, sales management teams and organisations in both the private and public sector during the last ten years. Teams that have applied the rules below have achieved much success either from a start up position, a turnaround situation or a high performing team that wants to achieve even more. I have worked with teams around the world who have achieved much success utilising the five rules, they are:

  1. Get Your House in Order
  2. Ask them, don’t tell them
  3. Make yourself redundant
  4. Embrace failure
  5. Hold them accountable

Rule 1 – Get Your House in Order

Get Your House in Order is a metaphor for creating a holistic team strategy. It ensures that the team will be dynamic by applying a ‘whole brain’ approach. An organisation will only be as good as the teams within it and an individual will only be as good as the team he or she is in. Therefore, the quality of the team drives both the performance of the organisation and the individual. The same framework applies when coaching a sports team.

An organisation must ensure that every team from exec to functional, through to operational, have their house in order. Furthermore, every team must align its vision, objectives, processes, behaviours and branding to the corporate vision, achieving strategic alignment, autonomy and focus.

As you can see from the diagram (below), results and process sit on the left and behaviours and image sit on the right. This is to symbolise the left and right hemisphere of the brain. The aim is to fill the house avoiding personal bias towards one or the other and creating a holistic strategy.

This requires strong facilitation and coaching skills to gather all the information and can be done in a day during a team strategy day. It is important to point out that this is a framework not a process.

Rule 2 – Ask them, don’t tell them

Command and control won’t create a group of engaged team members, particularly in younger generations such as Generation Y and Z. I have learnt this the hard way in both sports and business. During the last five years I have realised that by letting go of my own ego and incorporating the views of others creates far more engagement. My motivation has shifted from a desire for recognition to wanting to make a difference and therefore becoming more selfless in my approach.

Rule 3 – Make yourself redundant

For leaders and coaches to create more time for them to continue developing their teams and business, the quicker they make themselves less dependent the better. Again this involves a selfless act and desire to ‘cultivate’ high performance, rather than direct it.

Rule 4 – Embrace failure

Leaders need to create a ‘mist free’ environment for their people to thrive. The aim is to create a relaxed and focused mentality. When was the last time your boss asked you how many mistakes you have made? Has anyone ever set mistakes as a KPI? Unlikely. I always ask how many mistakes someone has made. Mistakes happen, it proves to me that people are stretching themselves and getting outside of their comfort zone. When people make mistakes, they learn. If they learn they get better and if they get better the performance of the team will improve. I’m not suggesting that you let everyone lower your standards. What I am encouraging is an environment where people feel relaxed and accepting failure is a possibility. A relaxed and focused team will perform better than a stressed and distracted team.

When I first started to work with the GB hockey team I noticed how a number of players didn’t seem relaxed on the puck. These were elite players who you’d expect to be performing at their best. There was a particular system that I wanted them to execute effectively, but they just weren't implementing it. I knew that it would be the difference between winning and losing for us, especially against teams like Hungary and Austria. To stand on the bench watching Team GB beat Austria 5-1 in the 2013 Division One final, playing with freedom and autonomy within our frameworks was the most rewarding thing I have experienced in my 25 years of playing the game.

Rule 5 - Hold each other accountable

The last but certainly not the least rule, is holding your people accountable for the actions they have committed too. Your team has it’s house in order, having identified the vision, results, process, values and its image for success. You have successfully facilitated involvement from all team members by asking them what they believe is required rather than telling them. They feel engaged and motivated with a common purpose and utilise their individual strengths. They are committed and are appreciating the autonomy that you have given them. They feel relaxed without any fear of making mistakes or getting things wrong. They are so relaxed that their performance has rocketed. You have practically made yourself redundant. All you need to do now is swing by their house for coffee and make sure they achieved what they committed to when you agreed the actions with them. Your role is to hold them accountable, maintain strong relationships, and measure performance against their promises.

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