[00:00:19.4] ANNOUNCER: Welcome to The Science of Success. Introducing your host, Matt Bodnar.
Announcer: Welcome to the Science of Success. Introducing your host, Matt Bodnar.
[0:00:11.8] MB: Welcome to the Science of Success; the number one evidence-based growth podcast on the internet with more than two million downloads, listeners in over a hundred countries and part of the self-help for smart people podcast network.
In this episode, we discuss how to become a high-performer at work. We look at one simple question you can use to double your productivity. We talk about how to decipher scientific evidence and determine what’s really important to focus on for maximum performance.
We examine how to get quality feedback on your work, share strategies for creating high-performance habits and behaviors and uncover what it takes to quickly improve your performance with our guest, Marc Effron.
Do you need more time? Time for work, time for thinking and reading, time for the people in your life, time to accomplish your goals? This was the number one problem our listeners outlined and we created a new video guide that you can get completely for free when you sign up and join our e-mail list. It's called How You Can Create Time for the Things that Really Matter in Life. You can get it completely for free when you sign up and join the e-mail list at successpodcast.com.
You're also going to get exclusive content that's only available to our e-mail subscribers. We recently pre-released an episode in an interview to our e-mail subscribers a week before it went live to our broader audience, and that had tremendous implications because there is a limited offer in there with only 50 available spots that got eaten up by the people who were on the e-mail list first. With that same interview, we also offered an exclusive opportunity for people on our e-mail list to engage one-on-one for over an hour with one of our guests in a live, exclusive interview just for e-mail subscribers.
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In our previous episode, we discussed the shocking truth about the danger of positive thinking. Is it always good to visualize your goals? Could there be potential downsides to daydreams and fantasies about the future? How can we identify what stands in the way of our goals and take concrete action to get there?
We looked at these questions and much more along with a proven evidence-based methodology for creating effective behavior change to actually achieve what you want with our previous guest, Dr. Gabriele Oettingen. If you want to learn what it really takes to achieve your goals and dreams, listen to that episode.
Now for our interview with Marc.
[0:03:00.3] MB: Today, we have another exciting guest on the show, Marc Effron. Marc is the founder and president of The Talent Strategy Group and publisher of The Talent Quarterly Magazine. He's a Harvard Business Press best-selling author and just released his book, 8 Steps to High Performance. He's been recognized as one of the top 100 influencers in HR and has worked and consulted with some of the largest companies in America. Marc, welcome to the Science of Success.
[0:03:26.2] ME: Matt, super happy to be here.
[0:03:28.2] MB: Well, we're super excited to have you on the show. To start out, I'd love to dig into one of the core themes that you write and talked a lot about in your most recent book, this idea that many people have made the topic of high performance really convoluted and confusing and as you put it, more challenging than it needs to be. I'd love to talk about how has that happened and how have you tried to approach it from a different perspective?
[0:03:54.0] ME: Sure. Well, it always just seemed strange to me that we have so much science that tells us so many of the right things to do that was never really synthesized and packaged into one easy to understand place. In the beginning of my book, I even say wouldn't it have been nice if somebody had simply sat us down as a 18-year-old and said, “Look, there's a bunch of things that we know work and there's a bunch of things we know don't work. Let me tell you what those are.”
That's really what I try to do in the book and it hadn't happened up at this point, I think not because anybody had a intent not to do it, but folks love writing about individual topics. There's a lot of writing about emotional intelligence, or about strengths, or about little things that people claim work, but no one really has a commercial interest in saying, let's just sort through all of this and figure out what's most powerful.
[0:04:46.1] MB: It's funny, I'm a huge fan of Charlie Munger and we talk a lot about him on the show and his approach to the world as the lens that he caused worldly wisdom. A huge component of that is integrating all kinds of different disciplines of knowledge into a coherent, practical vision of reality that pulls from really any disciplines that are necessary to form a cohesive view of the whole.
[0:05:10.6] ME: The good news in this field, we talk about high performances, we actually do know a lot about what is conclusively proven to be helpful. The facts are out there. This is really about us assembling those in a way that's easy for folks to understand and apply.
[0:05:29.0] MB: When you talk about the concept of something being conclusively proven, and I know you dig into this a little bit in the book, tell me about what's that threshold that you use and I have a follow-up after that, but I want to just dig into that first.
[0:05:42.4] ME: Sure. Let me frame up a really fast way that I screen information that comes at me. I look at three tiers of proof. Those tiers are bottom tier research. Research means a consulting group did a study, could be a huge study, it could be a small study, but consulting firm does a study, comes out with a report, that's research. No one's looked at that, that the core data, nobody's validated it, it might not have been done in a very controlled way, but it might be absolutely fine but it's independent.
Next step up, what I would call science. Science means that somebody has published an article in a peer-reviewed journal and the rest of us have a chance to read through that and say have they do the experiment. What were the conclusions? What's the level of proof? There's some independent thinking that we can all review. Then to me, the highest level of proof is what I would call conclusive science, which is that a hundred people will do the exact same experiment and almost all of them come to the exact same conclusions.
When I'm sorting through information I'm looking for science, for interesting findings, but conclusive science to recommend something, but there's a ton of science that never gets replicated, never gets proven to be true over time. I like the belt and suspenders level of confidence that you get, whether that’s conclusive science.
[0:07:04.3] MB: It's funny, Brian Nosek who's the founder of the replication project, or the reproducibility project is a previous guest in the show and we went – we explored this topic in depth in that interview. For listeners who wanted again, that's another great episode to talk about. I'd love to get into, there's so much information out there that's often hard to sort out the signal from the noise. How do you think about parsing that and especially for somebody who's a layman, or doesn't have a PhD, how do they think about combing through scientific research and really determining is this article valid? Is it is it relevant? Is it peer-reviewed, etc., versus is it pseudoscience or not really as believable?
[0:07:49.3] ME: Yeah, and it's a big challenge Matt, is most folks aren't industrial, organizational psychologists and they shouldn't have to be to figure out what it takes to be a higher performer, but we all have a lot of the information flying at us every day and having the ability to really sort through that at least separate the wheat from the chaff, if not the great wheat from the pretty good wheat is a critical skill.
I’m a skeptic by nature, so my starting screen is just a an average guy looking at material is is the person who's presenting this material to me, do they have a commercial interest in me believing the outcome? If it is, “Hey Matt, if you stand in your head for an hour and a half, you're going to have a IQ that's 30% higher than it is today and I happen to sell some mats that make standing on your head even more comfortable.” Then you might want to doubt that finding. If it's presented by a group who probably doesn't have an obvious commercial interest in the outcome, I'm at least willing to look further and then I go back to that screen I just set up, which is well, is it research?
Meaning, I just gathered some data. Is it science? Somebody else is seeing this, or is it conclusive science? A lot of folks have actually proven this to be true over time. I would just say that the average Jill or Joe looking at a claim just needs to take that very skeptical eye and say one, why is this person bringing forth this information? Is it because they want to sell a product? Nothing wrong with that, but look carefully at that. Then what's the level of proof that you as an individual need to believe something and how does this fit with all the other information, to your point around Charlie Munger, all the other information you have about what makes somebody successful? Does it seem to line with that, or if it contradicts everything you've ever thought of? Maybe it's not true.
[0:09:39.3] MB: I think the first thing that I find really interesting with that and there's some other piece of that I want to break down and dig into, but you outlined the power of incentives. As Munger talks about as well, incentives can have such an ability to shape people's behavior. I find it really fascinating.
[0:09:53.2] ME: Absolutely. I think, what we need to understand is how do we best align incentives with either what you want your employees, or what you want yourself to do to be a higher performer? Because we like to think sometimes that it's dollars that do it, or it's big opportunities that cause folks to be more focused or to apply more effort, but a lot of what we know from psychology is that motivation one, a decent chunk of it comes from different personality types. Some folks are going to show it to be naturally more motivated and not need an incentive.
Also that things big goals, well that might not seem like an incentive, actually do probably more to drive people in a productive direction than saying, “Well, here's a big check if you get something done.” There are very few folks who are actually going to deliver more because you write him a big check. If you get them unbelievably interested and involved in their work, that's probably the best shot to ensure they're delivering over what you expected.
[0:10:52.5] MB: Before we jump in to the eight steps of high performance, I want to come back and look a little bit at this concept you touched on a second ago, which is the idea of level of proof and the a tool that you use to evaluate the quality of scientific information. Other than the three-tiered level, are you looking at certain things like the quality of meta studies, sample size, etc., or what are some of the tools that you use that listeners might be able to apply for themselves when they think about calibrating levels of proof on scientific information that they're consuming?
[0:11:24.0] ME: Sure. Well, I think you bring up a very helpful one. Well, you can't always find a meta analyses to prove your point. It's great if you can. For those folks who weren't up on the lingo, meta analyses is simply an analysis of a lot of studies. There are about a hundred studies that test whether drinking coffee is good for your mental health, then a meta-analysis would look at all those hundred studies together and figure out well, do they tell us anything when we look at them collectively instead of looking them individually?
Think of that as highest level of proof. If you look at those hundred studies, that's more helpful than looking at one. Yes, I love meta analyses and that's most of what I use in eight steps to high-performance to prove these points. While there might be some interesting fringe findings out there in the world of science around high performance, my view back to our original discussion is well, if we know what works, why don't we simply focus first on explaining to people in a very simple way, “Hey, we know these eight things are helpful. Just do these. If there's some other things around the edges, you can think about those later.”
That meta analyses, or the meta analysis that folks are going to review, that's going to probably give you the soundest direction and ideally is the highest level of proof, but also recognize now meta analyses depend on someone doing those. You have to hope that your favorite scientist has fallen in love with the same topic that you have and has actually done the work that's going to allow you to draw the conclusion.
[0:12:52.0] MB: I think that's a great starting point perspective, this idea that we should start with the simplest and most proven ideas, implement those and that's not necessarily to discount that maybe some of this other research that's less validated may still have some value, but it's just saying if we only have a limited amount of time and a limited amount of resources and energy to focus on, let's start with the things that are the simplest to execute and the most scientifically validated.
[0:13:15.0] ME: In the challenges that were attracted to novelty. I find this all the time in my field, I spend most of my time helping big global companies make their HR processes work better and I hear every week, we've been doing the same thing for years. We'd love to do something different. Okay, well what if a CFO said, “Hey, we've been beating earnings every quarter for years. We'd love to do something different.” Just as stupid. If you're setting goals and people are performing at a very high level, then great, keep setting goals.
If people have been behaving badly, then great, do something different. The starting point should be if you know certain things work, let's focus on flawlessly executing those certain things, as opposed to saying, “Well, here is something new and different. We should try that.” I think part of that is just human nature. We get bored.
Every morning when we start our car, the engine turns over. We should be happy with the boredom that produces. We don't want the drama of our car starting up sometimes and not starting up sometimes. Part of this is getting comfortable with the boredom of disciplined execution around high performance.
[0:14:19.5] MB: I think it's funny and this is probably one of the most common findings if you look across self-help literature, or business books, or biographies of great achievers is this fundamental idea that and I think paraphrasing a quote from Jim Rohn from many years ago that success is not magical and mysterious. There's no shortcuts. It's really just the execution of the basic fundamentals at a really high level.
[0:14:44.1] ME: Yeah. I couldn't agree more with that. What I find both in working with corporations and individuals is most of the corporations who succeed and most of the individuals who succeed don't do anything that any of us haven't heard of. They don't have a secret to success. They simply do everything that the rest of us know works well in a very consistent and disciplined manner. It is that focused execution that matters 95% of the time.
Half of that is just a challenge of to my earlier point, avoiding the novelty of, “Oh, I'm bored. I'd like to do something different.” High performers and high performing companies say, “Yeah, it's boring. It's boring and successful, so I'm just going to keep doing it.”
[0:15:28.0] MB: I think that's a good segue to get into more around some of the findings around high performance. Start out, I'm curious how do you define, or think about what is a high performer?
[0:15:39.4] ME: I think that's a great starting point. We all would love to think that we’re high performers and I'm sure most of us try pretty hard to be high performers. It's fair to say that a high performer is likely somebody who both delivers and behaves at the 75th percentile, versus their peers on a consistent basis. There are a few key phrases in there. One is performs and behaves, so this is not you're the high-performing jerk, or you're the really nice guy who doesn't get much done. You've got to perform at the 75th percentile on both, which means better than three out of four people that you work with, and over a sustained period of time.
This is not that you have a good project, or a good month, or even a good year. This is man, Matt just shows up every single day doing great stuff. I mean, it really is that level of disciplined high performance that separates out those who were truly high performers from those who aren't.
[0:16:39.1] MB: It's funny, I think another key element of that idea that almost seems throwaway phrase, but really highlights a core component of I think the way that you present and think about high performance is that you just tossed in there that it's your peer group, right? It's not necessarily comparing your performance to the spectrum of everyone, but it's saying the people who are your peers, how are you performing against them as a particular group.
[0:17:04.3] ME: Yeah. It's a high standard. As human beings, we hate being compared to others. Social comparison is one of the things that makes our brains more nervous than almost any other thing that we do. It's very easy since most of us overestimate our abilities when we're doing social comparison at work and saying, “Hey, I'm at least as good as that guy, or at least as good as that gal,” to overestimate where we genuinely are.
It can make it very challenging to understand am I truly a high performer against an objective standard? Part of that goes to being open about the fact that all of us can probably get better at at least one thing and we should probably regularly be asking those around us what's the one thing I can get better at right now, and just being continually gathering information to understand how close am I to really being a high performer and what's the biggest lever I could pull right now to get closer to that level?
[0:18:01.0] MB: I love that approach. How do we, and we might be jumping around a little bit but how do we think about finding that one thing we can improve and determining whether that's really the lever that's going to move the dial the most?
[0:18:14.1] ME: Sure. I'm going to be channeling Marshall Goldsmith for a lot of this, production move with Marshall. He wrote What Got You Here, Won't Get You There, a great executive coach. What Marshall would say is well, the best way to find out is to ask other people. Again, that's probably one of these scariest things we can do is say, “Hey Matt, I'm really trying to be a better entrepreneur. Do you have one suggestion for me about how I can do that?”
The reason most of us don't ask people that question is because most of us don't want to hear the answers. A lot of this is getting in our mind in the right place to say, “I'm sure that I can get better at something and I'm sure the person I'm speaking to can probably get better at something.” We're on neutral ground. We can each get better at something. If I really want to get better, I'm probably better off asking others than asking myself since I'm probably a little bit delusional about how good I am. A lot of this comes down to saying what's my disciplined approach, so back to discipline, for gathering information about how others see me and their view about what's going to make me more successful.
Because well, we might want to say well, I'm sure there's an objective standard we can measure Marc against and see how he does and if he's high or low in certain elements, we’ll change those. More effective is if Matt and the people who work with Matt are my peers, they're likely the ones who are going to determine my future. If they tell me a different way to behave, or a different way to perform, that's probably pretty good advice for the primary thing that I should be focusing on.
[0:19:44.1] MB: Let's get a little bit more specific. How do we think about the actual practical application of starting to cultivate or create that disciplined approach for gathering feedback?
[0:19:54.5] ME: Well, part of it is to understand whose opinions are most valued in the environment you work in? It may be that your best friend is a high performer and you should listen to him or her, and maybe they're the office slacker and their opinions probably aren't quite as valued. Step one, it's understanding who are my high-performing peers? That would be one group that we'd want to look at.
The other question be who are other high-performing leaders at my boss's level who I would like to get some feedback from? For your peers, again, it might feel a little bit threatening. I guarantee you they have something they would like to tell you about how you could be a better performer, so put that in the back of your mind and just have the guts to ask them that one question. “Hey, I'm trying to get better at X. Do you have any suggestions for me for how I can do that?” Ask the high-performing peers, you likely know who they are if you don't ask your boss. “Hey, I'm trying to get even better at my job. I’d love some more input. Can you tell me the few people who are at my level who I should speak with and who might have some great suggestions?”
Then for the folks at your boss’s level as well, for people you might work with on projects, or have presented to in the past, same thing, grab a cup of coffee with them and say, “Look, I'm really trying to get better at what I do. I'm trying to be really open about the fact that there are things I can improve at. Would you have a suggestion for me about something that I could do going forward that would make me more effective?”
Don't categorize it. Don't rate their answers. Simply say thank you, because I guarantee you the people that you work with have an idea in mind for how you can be a better performer. They are happy to tell you, but they're likely not going to offer that advice up unless you ask.
[0:21:39.8] MB: For people who are entrepreneurs, or are at the top of their organizations, how do they think about gathering that same feedback and parsing it for right down, would call it believability?
[0:21:49.8] ME: Sure. Well I think a couple of thoughts. One is if you're a solo entrepreneur, then your customers are probably the people you should ask. These are the ones we're going to have the most interaction with you, or investors if they're a component of your ecosystem. If you're at the top of the house, it's a lot more challenging. If you were a CEO, or a C-suite member, then there are a lot of people who spend their time sucking up to you, and they're not going to give you accurate insights and information about what you could do differently. They're going to tell you how great you are.
Even when you beg with them to be honest, they likely won't be. Simple 360 feedback tools are very helpful in doing that. For those of you who aren't familiar with the 360, it's simply asking people around you in a structured survey hey, on the dimension of communication, how does Marc do? On the dimension of explaining strategy, how does Marc do?
Getting some structured feedback that way sometimes can get more honest and practical information back to an individual. For entrepreneurs, I'd go to customers first. For somebody who's at the top of the house, if you don't think Walter is going to be super honest with you, then let’s start with some a structured tool that makes it feel a bit more anonymous and maybe a bit more safe because of that.
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[0:24:49.2] MB: Let's shift back. I know we went down that rabbit hole, which I think was really fruitful. I want to come back to the larger structure of the steps to high performance and begin with as you touch on a little bit the first step which you talked about is having big goals and how do we think about that and tell me a little bit more about the science behind that.
[0:25:09.1] ME: Sure. There is such incredibly strong science around goal-setting, how to set goals, what do we get from goals. It's amazing how many companies and how many leaders aren't as good at this as they could be. When we talk about setting big goals in the book, there are really two components; one is just what it sounds like. How could you maximize your performance by increasing the stretch of what you're trying to achieve?
Now, that doesn't mean necessarily working harder. It might, but it doesn't necessarily mean that. What it says is you're probably already incredibly busy. You're doing lots of things, but are you focusing on the two, or at most three big things that are truly going to make the largest contribution to your organization?
Is your daily life organized around here, the three big rocks I need to roll this year and while I have 30 other things to do, I know I need to get these three things done because that's what's going to contribute most to my organization.
Asking yourself something as simple as what would it take for me to deliver twice in 2019 when I livered in 2018, I find is an amazingly helpful starting place. Now for most folks are going to roll their eyes and say there's no way I could do that. Cool, think through the question. If I had to deliver twice and figure out what delivery means, deliver twice what I delivered in 2018 and 2019, what would I need to do differently. I guarantee you it will bring clarity to your thinking.
Man, I probably need to stop wasting my time on X. We got this pet project, but it doesn't really contribute to one of those three big things. Wow, you know what? I probably need to improve my staff quality. I've let that one guy hang on. It will clarify your thinking amazingly well, and maybe you won't get to twice, but maybe you'll get to one and a half times your performance. Or heck, if you could increase your performance by 25%, I guarantee that your boss, or your customers, or others you work with would be thrilled. Part of it is simply saying, “Hey, what does a bigger goal look like?” I start by saying, “Well, how could you get to 2x what you do today?”
[0:27:24.0] MB: Is it possible to set goals that are too big, or overwhelming?
[0:27:28.5] ME: Yeah, there's always the chance that you're simply fooling yourself about the possibility of achieving a goal. There's probably a few different ways of looking at that. If there's no harm done, so if you're saying, “Hey, I sold a hundred widgets this year. I'm going to try and sell 200 widgets next year,” and you only end up selling a 150 widgets. Well wow, you did a great job.
If it's something where you say, “Hey, we're going to set a safety standard at a certain level,” but it turns out that's an unrealistic safety standard and people get injured because of it, then that's different. I think part of it is saying, “Is my big goal going to either be disengaging?” I just don't think I'm going to get there, so I'm not going to try hard. Or might it actually be harmful to myself, or to the company. I'm going to work myself to death, or it might increase the risk of the organization. Yet certainly possible to get to those levels, I would suggest most of us have a ton of stretch left on us that wouldn't get us anywhere near those points.
[0:28:31.1] MB: I love the question what would it take to deliver 2x next year? Are there other questions, or tools that you use maybe thinking around how do we determine, or select what those two to three big priorities are?
[0:28:44.8] ME: Sure. Well, I think a few things. One, if we're trying to figure out how do we leapfrog performance again, that one question to trusted folks that you work with, something like, “Hey, I would love to deliver twice where I delivered this year boss. What's the one thing you would want me to do differently that would get me closest to that goal?”
Again, getting to a focused outcome is incredibly helpful in these areas. It's really easy to get overwhelmed if you say what are three things, or five things, or eight things I can do differently? Here's where I want to go boss. I want to go from New York to Los Angeles faster than anybody else has ever gotten there. Tell me the one thing I could do that will help me to get there faster. Ask your boss, ask your high-performing peers. I guarantee you that they will give you very practical advice around that.
[0:29:36.2] MB: I think it’s a great question and really focuses things. It's funny, even thinking about actually asking that question there's a little bit of fear that comes up with that. How do you think about overcoming that piece of it?
[0:29:48.2] ME: Sure. Well, the starting point is the people you're talking to already have an answer waiting for you. It's not like they haven't thought of this before. They see mad at the watercooler and they think to themselves, “Hey, good guy, but I wish you would also do X, or I wish you would stop doing Y.” They already have the answer. They just haven't told you. You can either pretend that they don't have it, or you could say, “Hey, do you have any thoughts for me about how I can either do X, or stop doing Y to be an even higher performer?”
I think that's where a lot of us get wrap around the axle is that we think, “Oh, these people have never thought about me, or how I could do better. Therefore, I don't want to either surprise them, or cause them to be anxious by ask them a question about me.” I guarantee you, if you work with them, they have an idea about what they would like you to do differently going forward.
[0:30:37.0] MB: Such a great reframe and I think really clarifies. They're already thinking it about you. It's just a question of whether you can get that information and use it to improve yourself, or not.
[0:30:45.6] ME: Yeah. This is the classic and we see this a lot in the work that we do. If you give somebody a 360 feedback report and it might contain some things that are unpleasant, or uncomfortable and they hide it away in their desk drawer. I always tell them you're the last person to know this information. Everybody around you knows this, because they're the ones who filled in the 360. You putting it in your desk drawer actually doesn't hide that information from anybody.
Just starting with a view that hey, we're all fallible people, we can all improve at something, probably be a higher performer the sooner I know those things. Does it take some guts? Absolutely. Is there a potential for embarrassment? Absolutely. Ask yourself, how long would I like to wait before I have that information?
[0:31:29.4] MB: Great question. I want to I want to continue down and make sure we get to cover some of these other themes and ideas. The next concept you talk about is this notion of behaving to perform. Tell me a little bit more about that.
[0:31:39.7] ME: Sure. Well, I think that a lot of us think that we behave well at work, we're well intentioned, we show up doing what we think is right, but to what we were just talking about, it's likely that our behaviors aren't necessarily perfectly aligned to what it takes to be a high performer. It's helpful to look at the science and understand will the science tell us anything about what allows people to show up successfully at work in terms behaviors.
There is a lot of good science. Part of the challenge is there are many different ways to succeed, there are a limited number of ways to fail. That probably means there's two things we should think about; one, is there a particular set of behaviors given where my company is right now that are going to make me more successful than not? If we're in an entrepreneurial mode, are there certain things I need to do now? If we're a turnaround mode, are there certain things I need to do now that I might not naturally do?
Step one is understanding given where my company is, what are the specific behaviors that are going to help me be a higher performer? Perhaps more importantly is because we all tend to fail in very similar ways, understanding what we call derailleurs and there's actually a quick and easy little quiz in the book to figure out what your derailleurs are, it's actually your derailleurs that are going to hold you back in your career and hold you back from being a high performer.
The good news is that while there are many ways to fail, we can identify the limited number of ways you're likely to screw something up. If we can figure that out, this is all personality-based, once we can figure that out, it's very easy to say, “Hey, in this particular situation I'm probably more likely to do things that are going to screw things up and so I'm going to be aware of that and correct for that in advance.
A lot of the key point around behavior is simply understanding in your organization what are the few behaviors that matter most for performance right now, but then just as an individual understanding what is my personality give me in terms of derailleurs that I need to be aware of and correct for?
[0:33:42.9] MB: What are some of those common ways that people fail, or what are some of those derailleurs?
[0:33:48.2] ME: Well, an easy way to frame that is there are three buckets of behaviors that cause us derail. One bucket we would call moving away behaviors. Moving away. These are behaviors that are going to cause you to put distance between you and other people. It might be that you're passive-aggressive. You're going to say one thing in public and do something else in private. It might be that you're very shy, or reserved and so you don't really like to interact with people that much. These are all behaviors that are going to cause people to not want to connect with you. Obviously, that's going to probably lower your ability to be a high performer and certainly slow down your career growth.
They're moving away behaviors. They are moving against behaviors. Those moving against behaviors are going to be things that put you into other people spaces. Matt, if you and I are in a meeting, I'm going to make sure you hear all of my good ideas. Boy, I've got a lot of them. Why don't you just be patient while I tell you how smart I am? Or I might be the person who's waving at my hand around in team meetings, because I just need to make my point.
Things that really put you into other people's spaces and cause them to say, “I don't really want to spend a lot of time with this guy, or I don't see this person being able to perform at a higher level because of the way they're behaving right now.” There are those moving away behaviors, there are moving against behaviors. Then there are moving towards behaviors.
Moving towards behaviors, think of those as suck-up behaviors. Those are behaviors where you're really good at managing up, but you're not really good at managing down. The challenge for people who do that is you're seen as somebody who probably doesn't support your team well, you're seen as somebody who is probably more interested in their own career success and preserving the status quo, than challenging things, or representing your team member as well.
Those are the three buckets, but you can put almost all of the ways that people mess up at work into those three buckets. The good news is they're predictable. As I mentioned, we have a quickly quiz by one of the world's leading personality psychologists in our book, and there are obviously longer tests that you could take as well, but these are very predictable behaviors based on our personalities. Once we know what those behaviors are, once we know how we're likely to mess up at work, we can be aware of that and catch it before it happens.
[0:36:12.5] MB: I know this is a topic that you touch on a lot in the book, how do we think about the fixed components of our personality, or attributes versus the ones that are malleable or changeable?
[0:36:24.5] ME: Sure. Even the subtitle of the book Matt, is focused on what you can change and ignore the rest. Because I'm sure, we've all heard of our careers, people blaming things in their past for where they are professionally today. Well, I was brought up this way, or I didn't have this advantage.
Well, it's certainly understandable that some people are probably born on third base and think they hit a triple and some people are born with in great environments with great parents. We can't do a darn thing about that. There are certain fixed components of how we walk into work every day. Our personality is fixed, our intelligence is fixed. How we were brought up is fixed. The way we look, our height, our appearance is fixed. All of those things; intelligence, personalities, socio-economic background, our looks can influence performance and it's completely unfair. Let's state for the record, completely unfair, given that you cannot do a darn thing about any of that.
When you step into the working world, one of the few things that you can control which is what the eight steps are and what's the most effective path around that. I say in the book yeah, there are certainly people who are going to start the race a number of meters ahead of you. If they aren't as engaged, don't have as high of ambition, aren't as well prepared, you can pass them in that race. There's thousands of stories every year of people who are born with no meaningful advantage being higher performers.
This is basically saying don't necessarily stop fighting against the injustices that you might have suffered, but recognize here's where you are today. Given what you can control, what's the plan?
[0:38:04.8] MB: I think that's a great framework and especially this idea of focusing on things that are within your control and not really spending too much time or energy getting stuck on the factors that are beyond that.
[0:38:15.5] ME: Yeah. I mean, let's admit it, life sucks sometimes. Great. We'll admit that, then we'll move on. We all have things in our background that are advantageous and disadvantageous to us being higher performers. Cool. Given where you are right now listening to this podcast, what can you control and what's the next step you're going to take?
[0:38:34.6] MB: How do we think about as we move into that place of taking action and trying to grow and improve our abilities, thinking about the third step that you've outlined, which is growing yourself faster. How do we think about accelerating the growth of the really key factors to high performance?
[0:38:52.0] ME: Sure. Well, the great news is the science here is very clear that it's the experiences that we have that grow as fastest. Not that your education isn't valuable, it is a fantastic foundation. As I tell folks, I'm really glad that my position went to medical school, so he got his education. I'm even happier that he's had 30 years of practice, because if all he had was many years of schooling, I wouldn't let him near me.
That goes to experiences are what matters. The more big, challenging, scary, risky experiences you have, the faster you're going to learn. Every day you should think about am I in an experience right now? That might be your job, it might be a project you're on, but am I in an experience right now that I think is advancing me faster in my career than any other experience I can have? Because the more big challenging scary experiences you have faster, the faster you're going to grow, the faster you're going to be a high performer.
[0:39:54.6] MB: I love that question. I think it's so powerful and really another great clarifying question to think about the activities and things that you're focused on and whether they're truly pushing you to grow.
[0:40:07.5] ME: It's easy to get comfortable, Matt. We all like getting comfortable, I like getting comfortable. Sometimes you just say, “Man, haven't I tried hard enough long enough already?” Maybe, for high performers the answer is always, “Yeah, and I'm just going to do it again today.”
[0:40:24.2] MB: I mean, that's another common theme that we see again and again across many, many different fields of people that we interview on the show, that the more you embrace discomfort, or get comfortable being uncomfortable, the faster your growth is.
[0:40:38.7] ME: Yeah. Again, this all goes back to personal risks. I think most of what the science would say, most of us really overestimate downside risk and underestimate upside opportunity. Even to something as Bezos what we were talking about before, asking people around you how you can improve. The only real risk there is you might be personally slightly embarrassed by what you hear.
The upside benefit is massive. You might be able to remove a barrier that was causing you not to be able to move forward. A lot of this is simply we need to get out of our own ways and understand we can all get better, and the only way that's going to happen is by asking other people how we can do that.
[0:41:18.2] MB: It's funny, the very first episode that we ever did of the Science of Success many years ago is called The Biological Limits of the Human Mind. In that episode, we talked about how our evolutionary programming for millions of years has primed us to have certain mental shortcuts that can often usually work well and especially for the evolutionary environment, the hunter-gatherer world in which we evolved are really finely tuned. In often in today's world, those innate reactions, or mental shortcuts can cause serious problems.
I think that's a great example of one of them when we – especially with social risks, we often massively exaggerate the downside and really don't understand the real opportunities that are on the other side of it.
[0:42:00.7] ME: Even, let's take something as simple as networking and connecting, which outlines step four. For introverts like me, the thought of walking into a social event, walking up to somebody and introducing myself is about the least desirable way I could possibly spend my time. I know that the downside risk is one, that I might be a little bit embarrassed, or maybe I'll say something slightly stupid. The upside benefit is huge, but more importantly the science would say almost everybody in that room is thinking the exact same thing.
I'm not in a room full of a wonderfully successful extroverts who just can't wait to talk to me. I'm probably in a room full of people just like me. That should give most folks comfort that yeah, I might feel a little bit awkward, but the person I'm speaking will probably feel the same way and we'll both feel less awkward together once that conversation actually starts.
[0:42:54.5] MB: I'd be curious, coming back to this idea that you should be putting yourself in experiences that are advancing you as best possible, or creating the best possible growth experiences for you, I'd be curious if you're willing to talk about to dig in a little bit around some of the science and the research behind that, because I found that to be a really fascinating conclusion.
[0:43:13.8] ME: Sure. The whole experiences pieces, relatively new I guess in the field of science. This is something that Bob Eichinger and Mike Lombardo went back at the Center for Creative Leadership, I think of the late 70s, early 80s came up with really by researching successful executives, and really understanding what had allowed successful executives to move faster than those who had either plateaued, or who have been unsuccessful.
What they really identified was it was the quality and the diversity and the challenge of the experiences that those executives had had, and as importantly, their ability to learn from those experiences. It's one thing to throw Marc into four challenging experiences, but if my brain can't process the learnings from them, I'm no better after those four than I was before. Step one is you put people in those big challenging experiences, but step two is either if you're somebody's boss or if you have the discipline to do it yourself, coming out of that experience to say what are the few big things I really learned from this and what am I going to be doing differently in the future because of that?
Ideally even, asking those questions before the experience. If I say, “Hey, I'm going to take this big new job.” It's scary and it's a little risky, what are the three things that I'm taking this job to prove to myself, or taking this job to learn? Type that somewhere, tuck it away and revisit it once a quarter. Okay, I hope to learn these three big things. Am I learning them? Am I learning them at the pace that I want to? Are they still the right three things to learn?
Structuring those experiences, not simply throwing yourself into a series of different things is going to be the best way to extract the learning from it. It is I would say good solid science isn't as conclusive as some of the other things that I talk about in the book. Nope. I think most of us in this field have found is it seems it proves itself true even if we don't have the belt-and-suspenders level of meta analytical confidence we’d like to torn out of.
[0:45:24.0] MB: One other thing from some of your previous work that I found to be really fascinating that I thought in many ways ties some of these ideas together was the cake story. I just wondered if you could share that anecdote as just a simple lesson for thinking about execution and high performance.
[0:45:39.8] ME: I would be happy to share the cake story, Matt. The cake story begins with a leading business magazine, publishing what it says is conclusive research, that if a CEO makes and serves cake to his or her staff, that their performance will increase. Humor me on this one.
Two CEOs read this article. They're convinced that if they make and serve cake to their staff, that their performance will increase. They're both very excited about doing this, but neither of them has ever made a cake before. They each turned to their HR leader and asked for some help and coming up with a great cake-making and serving plan.
At the first company, this HR leader is very excited about this task and he decides to go on a big benchmarking expedition and flies around the world to interview companies who makes great cakes and to interview renowned bakers, and he hires McKinsey to do a multi-million dollar benchmarking study on making great cakes. When he's gathered all those data, he's come up with what's truly a brilliant cake-making plan.
On the day that it is his turn to present this plan, he gets a big push cart, like the ones you get at Costco and he loads up on that push cart, 212 ingredients, a 500-page instruction manual, 38 pans and an industrial-strength oven. He pushes into his boss's office and he says, “Boss, this will allow you to make a world-class cake.”
The CEO is very committed to the core concept, make cake to increase performance and engagement, but what's in front of him looks rather involved and he asks the HR leader if there is another way of doing this. The HR leader sighs and rolls his eyes and explains to the CEO that he has benchmarked all of the best companies around the world. In fact, this is the same cake-making plan that Google uses.
His boss thanks him for the effort, shows him from the office, but he looks at what's laid out in front of him and realizes that as committed as he is to this core concept, bake cake, serve cake to increase engagement, this is just too involved. He's not going to get it done. CEO doesn't make the cake, performance decreases, the company suffers.
Now over the second company, the HR leader is just as excited about this task, but she decides instead of a big benchmarking expedition, she is going to go back to the core science of making cakes, just to make sure she understands the fundamentals really well. In doing that, she recognizes there were only seven ingredients required to make a cake. She gathers those seven ingredients together and she's about to walk into her boss's office to present her plan and she thinks to herself, “Now my CEO has never made a cake before, even with these seven simple ingredients he's going to screw something up somehow. How can I add some value to this? How can I make life a little bit easier?”
She looks at the dry ingredients that are in front of her, the flour, the sugar, the baking soda and she decides she'll mix those ingredients together into essentially a cake mix. She takes that cake mix and a cup of milk, one egg, one pan and a one-page instruction manual into her boss's office and says, “This boss will allow you to meet the core business goal of making and serving cake to your staff to increase engagement.” The CEO is pleased. He makes the cake, performance increases, the company prospers.
If that story sounds a little silly to you, just substitute whatever the most recent leadership fad is that you're familiar with and ask yourself is that really the simplest most straightforward way to get the job done? The challenge and the whole point of the story, Matt, is that we grossly overcomplicate what it takes to be a high performer. The fundamentals are in front of us. The fundamentals are incredibly well-proven by the science. We just simply need to understand and then flawlessly execute those fundamentals.
[0:49:49.5] MB: It's a great anecdote and I think underscores the core principle in many ways that you've shared throughout this interview. I'm curious, for listeners who want to concretely implement some of the themes and ideas that you've talked about on the show today, what would be a piece of homework that you would give to them as a concrete action step to start taking action on this?
[0:50:10.3] ME: Sure. Well, I think all great action starts with some assessment of where we are today. You're not going to get to a destination, unless you know where you're starting from. To me, the starting point is simply how do I think I currently compare against these eight steps? Ideally, you'd buy the book understand that. If you don't want to buy the book, just go to the website, theeightsteps.com, read through the eight steps and simply rate yourself on a one to three scale, three I'm fantastic, two I've got some work to do, one I'm pretty horrible.
Even with a fast assessment like that, understand what your one, underscore one priority should be going forward. Then back to what we've talked about earlier, ask a few folks around you, “Hey, I'd love to be better at connecting with others. Do you have one suggestion for what I could do to be better at doing that?” I guarantee you those two simple steps are going to put you in a really good path to high performance.
[0:51:08.3] MB: For listeners who want to find out more, do some homework and find you and your work online, what's the best place to do that?
[0:51:14.5] ME: The best place is that same website, theeightsteps.com. Or if you just want to read a lot of what I've written before, you can go to our corporate website, which is talentstrategygroup.com.
[0:51:26.1] MB: Marc, thank you so much for coming on the show, sharing all this wisdom and sharing a really beautifully simple framework for thinking about the fundamentals of high performance.
[0:51:35.1] ME: My pleasure, Matt. Best of luck to all of your listeners for being even higher performers.
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