Tuesday, 10 November 2009

How do you manage performance?

Synchronicity is a wonderful thing. I have had a question buzzing around for a while now about peak performance and how to further explore and identify it for my clients when coaching.

Then on the Training Journal forum, ( the question was posted this week - "what is performance?" That has taken me to a place of comparing and contrasting the notion of "performance" in other contexts...
For example - if we consider performance in the arts, we could separate it as something we watched and experienced as the audience - giving applause and showing our appreciation (or not). Or we could take on the role of the critic and offer witty or pithy comments about it - but not perform ourselves. (Many professional performers don't read their critics anyway - too damaging for self esteem and confidence!)
Then I shift to wonder how improvisation arts performers - comedy, drama or jazz - would access and continue to develop their creative genius if they were subject to external feedback (or appraisal) after every impromptu experiment?
Also, a virtuoso music performance can be awesome, but I notice how moved I can become when experiencing choral music of almost any description - the sound of humanity in harmony is quite profound for me. Similarly with many orchestral performances - it works because all those deep subject matter experts are playing on the same page, conducted and led from the front.

Because we also advise on employee relations cases, I have also been noticing an inner friction for myself with some client organisations in their application and understanding of "performance management" as a management activity and often equating it with the disciplinary procedure.
So I am now pondering why managers make such efforts to transform work-based performance into something we manage externally? Or whether better results would be obtained by developing it internally? Musical performers know a good note from a wrong one, actors, comedians etc know instinctively what works and what doesn't- so why is the assumption and practice so different in the work place?

Competent, aware individuals and teams don't generally need "performance managing and disciplining" - they already have the discipline and providing they know and commmit to the requirement, can usually perform their socks off - or learn to do so.

Surely better results could come from coaching, encouraging and exploring the possibilities of developing their craft or knowledge still further?

So, next time we get asked to provide a "performance management" workshop, I might take a risk and suggest a "manager as coach" piece as an alternative.

My question is - how do you manage performance?


  1. I suppose that my ideal 'workshop performance' has many similarities to what happens when we members of a group of fairly skilled amateur musicians meet of an evening and without warning or discussion a saxophonist, say, plays a note, any old note, which is overlain by an oboe-player with any old note; the resulting chord seems to demand a response from a cornet player who is fairly soon joined by myself on clarinet playing long-drawn-out low notes to contrast with what by now might be a sequence of rapid runs from all the other instruments.

    The way this develops, new every time, to achieve magical, spontaneous and often very melodious improvised sequences all happens through close listening, attention to what others are doing in order either to contrast with them or imitate them, a feeling for what we know from the past is likely to happen next from a particular player, new starting points deliberately fed in to change direction - all this comes via our non-local right brains: a group pattern just evolves. We can be playing in different keys and in different styles, folk, jazz, modern classical, 'ethnic' - adjustments are made subtly and without any prior agreement as to what's going to happen next. This typically goes on for an hour or so.

    Now what's interesting is that if the 'leader' should for perhaps what might seem to be a very good reason suggest that we do an improvisation in a certain way nothing works; it becomes strained and awkward; we start thinking about what we're doing and our individual left brain functions get in the way. At least until we realise what's happening to us. Then we usually manage to step back into the right brain that hovers around us.

    Last week I ran an Enneagram workshop with two very keen players. I noticed how one thing led to another: the metaphors I deliberately fed in to my introduction became part of the workshop discourse; I would run an exercise which led to their demanding an unravelling of other ideas for which I was able to invent an exercise on the spot - an improvisation based on a combination of other exercises I'd worked in the past.

    Although I have a bank of exercises I think I might run during a morning or a day I really love to select an exercise that seems appropriate to something somebody has said. I like to play a variation on what's just been done, help to look at it from a slightly different point of view.

    At one point last week they said to me, "This won't work unless you come in with us..." So the three of us entrained our mental/spiritual processes and achieved a result quite different from what they had been experiencing without me: I didn't say a word - the exercise was one for making internal adjustments to a number of initial patternings which we set up between us.

    Much of my own learning here was as spontaneous as what I experience playing my clarinet in the music group; it didn't matter that the three of us were playing each in a different key, working according to our own mental rhythms, going with the flow.

    I suppose that, after this elaborate preamble and warm-up, my straight answer to Hilary's question is that I quite like to let a group's performance manage me. It's systemic.

  2. Much can be learnt by dealing in opposites! I find myself distinctly out of tune in another context from the one in my previous Comment!

    Against my better judgement (perhaps for amusement in Old Age), I have chosen to do battle with a very corrupt Parish Council. A group of us joined forces to do the same. Two members (S&T)of the group had been trying to expose the corruption for some years - the wife (S) has some much detailed valuable research to prove corruption at her finger tips but her husband (T)is a chauvinistic loud-mouthed bore; both seem to me to resent the more literate and articulate members of the group 'taking over' what they regard as their patch. They fail to see that our cooperative efforts have begun already to divide the Parish Council against itself - our aim was to get it to perform in accordance with correct Standards of Conduct and procedure.

    I look at this by consulting the CUBE...

    We met to draw up a CONTRACT: we agreed to work together to force the Parish Council to do things properly; we would decide on actions we might take and seek group consensus for them. It has often been pointed out to S how valuable her researches are to the group but S&T have put the brakes on what other members of the group have proposed and indicated that they are working behind the scenes with Important People in ways they are not prepared to discuss with us. The contract is broken; the rest of us lack AWARENESS of what S&T are playing at; we have no idea what INTENTIONS we might now have for the next step. Inertia reigns...

    Their hypothetical jealousy causes defensiveness from members of our group: the INDIVIDUAL FOCUS is lost; as a consequence any kind of PROCEDURAL FOCUS cannot be sustained and the GROUP falls apart.

    We have lost sight of our TASK; RELATIONSHIP is strained. In order to get out of this impasse those of us who have maintained a dedication to the SOURCE of our coming together need to step aside and redefine our purpose. Any attempt to work things out with S&T would be seen by them to be an assault on their identity, their self-image as sole attackers of the Parish Council.

    They have interpreted the emergent squabbles as a 'Power Struggle' which says more about them than the rest of us: they have notions of HIERARCHY. Their strategy for dealing with the power struggle they've defined is to withdraw -no COOPERATION is therefore possible and they continue to act with complete AUTONOMY, without telling the rest of us what they are up to.

    Their behaviour is not APPROPRIATE to the task in hand; they have PERVERTED the operation of the group. In behaving like playground kids they present themselves as pretty much the same sort of people as the Parish Council they are supposed to be countering. This strikes me as being a bit DEGENERATE.

    Is this a true account of how the CUBE can be used to analyse a situation? It's certainly been useful to me in getting to understand what's going on. I have my next step clear.

    And I'm looking forward to getting back to playing the clarinet!