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Saturday, October 13, 2012

If you do not grow mentally, your work performance dips sooner or later

We have seen how tennis players playing brilliantly and winning the same points as their opponents, still lose the match. Similarly, the gap between work-output and the resulting outcome in some professional's life is too big. Despite being excellent technically and cognitively, they tend to suffer from poor outcomes in terms of rewards, reputation or promotion.  They could be intense in their desire to produce something; they also could be committed; but somehow the final result eludes them. Bridging this gap of output and outcome is possible with mental growth. Let us see how. 

If you have to bridge this yawning gap between your efforts and results, you have to stop thinking about improving your technical skill, cognitive skill, or sports skill ; you have to increase your tactical skill and grow mentally.   

First key to bridge the gap between output and results is Tactical skill 

One of the simplest direct way of bridging the gap between output and outcome is gaining tactical knowledge of the situation: the knowledge of what to do in a current job. Not trying to do everything, but doing something that matters at the time.  Tactical knowledge is the knowledge of determining the type of action to do and the timing of when to do them in your job. 

In his interview, Andy Murray writes this about tactical knowledge. He said "When I was young, my tactical knowledge, knowing how to win matches, was always one of my best attributes." This is a key attribute of winning a match.  Some players take years to learn this skill. Cricketers call this this the gift of 'shot selection'. In music and entertainment industry, it is called the gift of 'deciding whom to work for what'.

The same is true for corporate professionals. Corporate professionals also have to learn this skill. This skill looks very intuitive and innate. But one can learn this intuitive skill by learning systems thinking. One can understand the metasystems of one's job and find how to use the interdependencies of the job to produce outputs that matter.  We have seen how a corporate professional can learn this intuitive skill some time back.

Second key in bridging the gap between output and outcome is Mental growth

Second key  is growing mentally. If you are wondering  how 'mental growth' helps in producing any 'concrete results' in the real world of action and performance, here is what Andy Murray said about mental growth helped him win his first Grand Slam Open. 

Murray said that  the key thing he has picked up from Alexis Castorri, his psychologist from Florida ( in the above mentioned interview), is "learning how to deal with people a little bit better". You must be wondering how dealing with people helped Andy Murray in improving his on-court performance ! This is what Andy Murray had to say, "When my mind isn't free of everything, when things might be frustrating me away from the court, I can't focus as well as I need to. But when my mind's clear, I can go on the court and play, not worry about anything else. I can play much better and think a lot better on the court."

In other words, by avoiding distractions, mind learns to focus.  And gaining focus is the key to produce excellence. Gaining focus is not about doing something directly related to work, it is about using your mind effectively. If you watch yourself during the day, you will often observe that hundreds of thoughts fleet in the mind. Psychologists tell us that about '60,000' thoughts stream in our mind during the day. So our mind is constantly distracted by these thoughts. In the case of Andy Murray, his psychologist  perhaps found that Murray was distracted more because of his people relationships.  The psychologist therefore helped him remove that distraction, which indirectly helped him gain focus in his on-court time! In your case, if you are distracted by something, your mental work helps you keep those distractions away. Some of the distractions are subtle, like in Andy Murray's case, while sometimes the distractions may be large. You have to find that out in your case!

One of the key aspect of work performance of a corporate professional is taking better decisions in corporate world. We have seen how successful corporate professionals and entrepreneurs can manage to keep their focus in taking important decisions by managing the depletion of their mental energy.  

Another common way to gain focus on performance, is to reduce the stress of performance. For a tennis player, sports psychologist help tennis players in reducing their stress by helping them manage their disappointment after a point is lost, increasing focus on the first game of a new set, tackling the frustration of losing a point which was almost won, keeping focus with a player of lower ranking and so on. We have seen how corporate professionals can also manage their stress.   


Mental growth indirectly improves work-performance and excellence by reducing outside distractions; gaining focus on a chosen task by channelising mental energies smartly, and by helping one manage stress of the work-performance better.  I have seen professionals spend extraordinary energy and efforts to learn the technical and cognitive skills, but completely ignore the development of mental growth. Only when they do not get the desire rewards and outcomes from their work-performance, they approach a coach like me. If professionals however learn to grow mentally , in parallel with their intellectual pursuits, it will save them lot of efforts and tons of disappointment and frustration. What are you doing in your life? 

Monday, October 01, 2012

If a professional cannot modify his winning strategy, he becomes a unknowing victim of corporate politics

As we have seen in the blog on excellence, strategy like driving, has to be constantly relearnt, and modified to keep it useful when the situation changes.

We cannot keep on performing well, if we follow the same old strategy of excelling which was useful in the earlier stage. Players know this principle of excellence well. No sooner a tennis player wins a first grand slam,he has to modify his excellence strategy, otherwise his win becomes a flash in the pan. Very few tennis players can do this. That is why we get very few Roger  Federers and Nadals in tennis. The same is true for a cricket player. When a player plays for the first time for India, he has to modify his strategy of excelling. If he cannot do it quickly enough, he is out of reckoning. Few like Virat Kohli have done it, but many players cannot modify it quickly enough. By the time they have altered their strategy, the opportunity window may have closed. The player does not get place in the team, even though he may have modified his strategy of excelling. In other words, the excellence strategy has to be modified fairly quickly before the opportunity window is closed.

1. Excelling strategy has to be altered in the first job itself

No sooner you start working in a company in your first job, your strategy of excelling that have helped you perform well in college, are no more valid. You have to understand the tasks that you are supposed to do in your job - either as programmer, sales officer, or production engineer - and learn to perform them well. We have discussed some of the challenges of tasks of doer in earlier blog.  Four primary strategies for excelling in a job that have to be learnt as a doer are perception management, learning communication skill to get across your point, boundary thinking and learning organisation protocols of meeting, disagreeing and sharing.Very very few professionals learn these four primary excelling strategy in their first job within the opportunity time window. And when they obviously fail, their only choice is to leave the company. That is why you see so many professionals changing 2/3 jobs in the first 5 years !

2. Excelling strategy has to be altered for every new role

Most of the professionals somehow manage to find their feet, at least in the second or third job. Their second challenge comes when they seek a role-change.

The role change can either be horizontal or vertical. Horizontal movement is possible in sectors like software, engineering consulting and free-lance segments like accounting and others. However, more than often, professionals avoid horizontal growth ( even if it suits them) because of the glamour of vertical growth that has been attached to managerial positions.

We have seen the different excelling strategies that a doer has to acquire to perform well in managerial position. In another blog, we have also discussed the complexities of managerial jobs and the difficulty in developing the strategy of excelling in negotiating them. We have discussed how a mentor is necessary to help you  develop the excellence strategy required to negotiate these cognitive jobs.

3. Excellence strategy has to be altered to meet different life objectives

When we do not have money, we are just trying to focus on current performance and not seeing too much ahead. Sometimes, the focus is so much on current performance that one does not see the next challenge that is coming one's way. And when a professional does not alter the strategy of excelling in time, it completely derails his performance in the next role. He unknowingly invites 'poor performance'. For instance, in my coaching practice, I have seen many failures in the new role of department heads because performing the role of department head entails not only the 'deep understanding of that function '(be it sales, quality or even finance), but also how that 'function' integrates with other functions. Most of the department heads fail to alter their strategy of excelling and keep on protecting the 'narrow interests of their function' instead of 'protecting the performance of the larger company in which the function is just a part' !

Similarly, the transition from 'doing the job for money and reputation' to 'doing job for one's sake' is achieved by very few professionals because it requires one to acquire a very rare habit of excellence, the habit which Andy Murray acquired in his first Grand Slam win. As Andy Murray said, that he may have achieved many wins if he was in a different era than that of Federer or Nadal, but he would have been a poorer player. Andy Murray was speaking for all the real winners who win 'to excel because they want to better themselves'.One of the key winning strategy that has to be learnt to negotiate this transition is by finding meaning in life


Excellence strategy has to change because the 'situational context' of the work, role or objective changes. The context determines what is important to perform the work. You may or may not have the requisite skill necessary to produce the work-performance initially. You have three choices: get ready before the skills are needed and/or colloborate with others who have the requisite skills and/or and manage perceptions of metasystems until the skills are developed. 

Most of the professionals know only of the last choice: the choice of using perception management. And that is why, you will observe, that smart professionals who can talk well succeed in a corporate life. But what about those who cannot manage perceptions? Despite their talent, they lag behind. They become unknowing victims of the corporate life. And so they start complaining about the 'corporate politics'. But , not having learnt the other two skills, aren't they themselves to blame?