Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Effron, 8 Steps to High Performance

We all start our careers with attributes (e.g., intelligence, personality, physical attractiveness) and socioeconomic backgrounds that are “largely unchangeable once we become adults.” These combined items “predict up to 50 percent of anyone’s individual performance” and give some people a clear advantage over others. But that leaves the other 50+ percent that people can control and shape at will.

In 8 Steps to High Performance: Focus on What You Can Change (Ignore the Rest) (Harvard Business Review Press, 2018) Marc Effron shares “scientifically proven” things you can do to help yourself be a high performer. They are, in a nutshell: (1) set big goals, (2) behave to perform, (3) grow yourself faster, (4) connect, (5) maximize your fit, (6) fake it, (7) commit your body, and (8) avoid distractions.

These behaviors have been shown to work within a corporate environment. They are not necessarily behaviors that propel people to be successful entrepreneurs, not even behaviors that top CEOs exhibit. For instance, top performing CEOs seem to be high on general ability (fast, aggressive, persistent, efficient, proactive, high standards) and low on interpersonal skills (respectful, open to criticism, good listening skills, teamwork). But, writes Effron, “if you’re not already at the top, I’d suggest that both great results and great interpersonal behaviors are essential ingredients for high performance.”

“Grow yourself faster” is a step worth pausing at. “[R]oughly 70 percent of your professional growth will come from the work experiences you have, 20 percent will come from your interactions with others, and 10 percent will come from formal education.” Formal education “that may seem critical to success often isn’t. Only thirty-nine Fortune 100 CEOs have an MBA, and many of those leaders didn’t earn them at top-ranked schools.” (And, yes, this book was published by a wholly-owned subsidiary of Harvard University that reports to the Harvard Business School.)

Growth, Effron contends, is “a cycle—perform, get feedback, perform again better…. The faster and more often you move through that cycle, the faster you’ll develop and get the next opportunity to learn a new skill, test a new behavior, and get more helpful feedback. Each cycle you move through should make you more competent and more competitive.”

Effron’s chapter on how you can prime your body to perform better at work is something of a myth buster. “Surprisingly little science,” he writes, “makes a direct link between our bodies and individual high performance at work. The science that does exist says that sleep matters most, exercise has some minor and specific effects, and diet has no direct effect. That doesn’t mean that exercise and diet don’t matter in your life, but neither has much power to boost your performance at work.” As for sleep, quality impacts performance more than quantity.

The final step, avoid distractions, is not about smart phones and email. Instead, Effron tells the reader to “avoid the fads that distract you from what’s scientifically proven to improve your performance. Many of these fads present advice that would seem to make your life easier (focus on your strengths), quickly increase your performance (adopt a growth mindset), or give you instant self-confidence (strike a power pose).” But this advice is misguided. For instance, focusing on your strengths “will help you be better at the exact same things you’re good at today, but won’t help you to be good at anything else.”

“If you want to accomplish more than you thought you could or break through a performance barrier,” the author concludes, don’t follow fads but follow the eight steps given in this book.

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