Many leaders have been going ‘flat out’ since the crisis began. They have had no choice with carefully made plans being ‘thrown up in the air’, tried and tested processes up-ended and a new way of working thrust upon them. Operations have been disrupted, revenues too.
The lines between office and home have never been more blurred, with days disrupted by home-schooling and conference calls that go into the night. Add to this the general challenges that everybody faces in a pandemic – keeping the family safe, ensuring that schoolwork is done and so on.
None of these factors are the ideal conditions for peak performance.
In this series called ‘Performance Under Pressure’ we explore the impact of Covid-19 and Remote working on the success of critical projects and vital teams.
What has been the impact of the long hours and extra pressure on performance? What has happened to levels of output, efficiency, creativity and so on?
It is clear from data gathered since the crisis began that: ‘Flat out’ is not ‘Peak Performance’. In other words ‘going flat out’ – i.e. working long hours under intense pressure – does not necessarily mean performing at ‘peak’ levels*.
Data from ‘flat-out’ executives reveals that they are operating at just 64% of their full potential. So, clearly there is more to performance than going ‘flat-out’.
The 64% suggests that going ‘flat out’ is not the same as performing at the ‘top of your game‘ – with maximum smarts, creativity, effectiveness or even skill.
Typically, going ‘flat-out’ doesn’t mean bringing out the best in either ourselves or in others around us. The latter is particularly important for leaders.
When leaders are going ‘flat out’ they often become more like managers than leaders. They may even end up ‘doing’ rather than ‘managing’.
In a crisis, clear thinking is required. But decisions made under pressure are more prone to bias and error. Thus, going ‘flat-out’ could hinder our ability to make those decisions required to deal with the next stage of what could be a ‘long-drawn-out’ crisis.
There is another reason why ‘flat-out’ is not peak performance. It is the sustainability of performance over time, as those who have been running on adrenaline are now discovering.
‘In times of uncertainty or danger my automatic response is to get busy’ said one leader. ‘It hasn’t always been the right approach’ she adds, offering the following advice: ‘While busyness quells anxiety, it has a downside. For example, it can prevent you from seeing the bigger picture. A key lesson for me is to focus on working smarter not harder’.
Many of us have a blind spot regarding our performance under pressure. In particular, we are often slow to recognize when the pressure begins to degrade our performance, or to impact on our physical or psychological well-being. So keeping a look out for risks is important.
Our applied research with teams illuminates the risks to performance under pressure. Most notably, the following can be compromised:
Q: Can you see evidence of the above risks within your team?
Going ‘flat out’ can result in performance losses (from rushed decisions, to risks overlooked). Over time it can become a performance risk. If a significant number of your people are going flat-out then that can amount to a business risk.
Taking steps to mitigate the risks associated with performing under pressure is key.
You cannot ‘slack-off’ – not at this stage of the crisis. So, how do you keep your ‘foot on the pedal’ and yet strive to optimize and sustain performance? Well, it is going to take effective ongoing adjustment and teamwork too. To explain let’s look for inspiration from the ultimate in performance-under pressure – that is F1™.
F1™ is all about performing to the limit. The driver goes ‘flat out’ pushing the car to the edges of what is possible speed-wise given the requirements of maintaining traction with the track. The only reason they can do this is because they can make effective mid-race adjustments. That is taking a pitstop.
The many twists and turns on a racetrack put incredible pressure on the driver and the car. The sharp cornering means disk brakes are glowing red and tires are melting hot. Replacing the tires mid race is essential if a blow-out at high speed is to be avoided.
Hence, the irony that in a race obsessed with speed, stopping (or to be more precise pit-stopping) is key to going faster. The time lost by taking a pitstop should be more than made up for by the performance advantage gained. This principle works in all high pressure environments where performance is key, especially in the business world.
A pitstop is an opportunity for a leader and their team to speedily identify what is working and quickly fix what is not. Pitstops take place online, last around 2 hours and are led by an experienced coach. As little as 3 pitstops over 4 weeks has the potential to improve the performance-risk equation by 7-25%. Are you ready to pitstop?