Performance Excellence

Chris Larkin, MD Pure Sales Consulting -

We can always do more to be better. It works on whatever level you like: take the stairs instead of the lift; write a to-do list and actually do it; or put in thousands of hours of diligent practice to perfect the 30-yard free kick. Your choice.

And it is relevant across the board – parenting, personal, professional – wherever you want to make improvements and perform better. When it comes down to business, at Pure Sales we describe this as Performance Excellence.

Performance Excellence sits at the heart of the best businesses. It is what they do.

In order to achieve this level of corporate excellence, what do you do, what do the best do? When helping clients achieve it, we stick to a simple 5-step plan as follows:

1. Best Practice

Find out what's working and what's not.

In a business environment we define how the most accomplished person in a particular role performs – what does he or she know and do? This enables us to measure whether people do, or do not, hit these requirements elsewhere within the business.

It highlights where people have a development need thus enabling you to target these needs with solutions. You can also find where commonality exists between need areas and this can drive synergies and cost savings within the business but, just as importantly, you can make it bespoke where it needs to be bespoke.

American pilot Chesley Burnett ‘Sully’ Sullenberger nailed his own ‘best practice’ procedure. He successfully ditched a passenger plane on the Hudson river and saved lives of everyone on board. It wasn’t luck. He practiced safety strategies all the time over his 40-year career and applied these 'best practices' for this life or death situation. Live audio from the crash landing highlights his poise and calm during the crash landing even though this is something he never had to do for real.

2. Identify Individual Performance Gaps

Get a lot of small things right in your business, put them all together, and they will add up to a significant gain.

Aim at 1% gain in everything you do because small margins make all the difference and in business it is imperative to get these small details right.

Team GB cycling coach Dave Brailsford knows exactly how this works. Indeed his winning philosophy is “aggregation of marginal gains”. By this he means breaking down cycling competitions and events into all of its component parts – and then trying to get improvements in every single area that may affect performance.

He even had the Team GB cyclists in Beijing shown how to wash their hands thoroughly by a British surgeon, so reducing the chances of contracting a stomach upset, and so building in another small ‘marginal gain’.

3. ‘One Big Thing’

Isolate what needs to be worked on for greatest improvement. Then work on this one thing until you nail it.

And no business is too small or too big to do this. Google, for example, knows that while they do ‘search’ really, really well, they had to work on speed for greatest improvement – people want an answer on the web right now not in 10 seconds time.

Engineers focused on shaving excess bits and bytes from pages, indexing more HTML pages, even working on an intuitive, more helpful spell checker, thus increasing the efficiency of the serving environment until the average response time on a search result is a fraction of a second. And still they continue to work on making it all go even faster.

4. Embed Into Habit

When you have established a new and improved way of doing it, whatever it is, you need to apply this relentlessly for a minimum of 30 days before it becomes habitual.

This is also a core theme for us – the transfer of new approaches into habitual behaviours, permanently embedded into your life.

Polar explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes knew exactly what was expected of him when he decided to tackle – and conquer – the summit of Mount Everest at the age of 65. He was relentless in his approach and trained hard for months before the climb.

His mantra ‘plod forever’ also put him in good stead and showcased an indefatigable approach when it comes to success.

As long as you know you are travelling in the right direction, this will work for you at home or work. Progress is often slower than we may like, but success demands this same approach: planning, preparation, and then relentless execution.

5. Repeat Steps 1 to 4

The key to the success of the ‘performance excellence’ steps is working on them over and over.

Athletes know how to work this to their advantage. Andy Murray, for example, can teach us a thing or two about the value of perseverance, hard work, precision and practice. He identifies what he needs to work at and goes for it.

If this means a new gym routine to bulk up muscle or forever working on his serve, then he’ll put in long, hard training sessions until he sees results and wins a Grand Slam. He works on it over and over. As far as he’s concerned, it's about removing doubt to make sure you're as well prepared as you can be.

What we also love about Andy is that his personal-best performance only signifies that he has reached a new launch pad from which to hit higher levels of achievement, which is the natural progression performance excellence takes: moving ever upwards. He is repeating steps 1 to 4!

Moving Ever Upwards

Put the 5-step procedure in place and you will see results. Bear in mind that whether athlete, soldier, salesperson, surgeon, we all perform better when we know what is expected of us: goals and standards are clear and set. Within the workplace boundaries are commonplace from recommended business procedure to human resource departments who define acceptable behaviour from employees as well as rules on working hours etc.

Yet despite boundaries and expectations, people are often given very little clarity about Performance Excellence within their role. This tends to be most noticeable in areas such as sales roles, management roles and leadership roles. This lack of direction is a deathblow to businesses. We can and do have the ability to provide perfect models of ‘Performance Excellence’.

When you establish Performance Excellence within your business, something amazing happens. The dialogue changes. Managers start to focus on input behaviours not just output results. They realise that it is input that determines and drives the output and they start to focus on helping people with what they need to do to get better, rather than simply telling them they are not achieving enough.

The whole business has a defined ‘Best Practice’ around which they can all strive to move people ever upwards. At Pure Sales, we talk about the upward helix of development where people go through a development journey and then get to a point of greater ability. Then, just like top sportspeople such as Andy Murray, they do not see this achievement as being a result in itself, they see it as being a launch pad to the next phase of growth: moving ever upwards. And so we have a virtuous cycle of business Performance Excellence.

On a final note, once you establish this drive and desire for forward motion, it becomes a positive state of mind that is not confined to the office or the work place. It is an invaluable tool on a personal level – habitual behaviour that generates optimism.

Major Phil Packer, who was told he would never walk again after being injured in a rocket attack in Basra, adopted a ‘performance excellence’ approach to get back on his feet. Rehabilitation was his ‘one big thing’ and he focused on his body functioning again. Last year he completed the London Marathon in 14 days. This year the goal is do it in 26 hours. This defines his determination to hit higher levels of achievement.

“My injury is not a disability to me any more. It's all about what I can do, not about what I can't do. That feeling is very strong,’ says Packer.

This drive and determination mirrors the mindset at Pure Sales: it’s all about telling people what to do to get better, not about telling them they are not achieving enough.

At Pure Sales we believe the pursuit of improvement – moving ever upwards – is indeed key to success. And people are the greatest assets in a business whether the business is financial services, the public sector or medicine; individuals who understand that the value of hard work, and practice are key to improved productivity and profit. People who strive to be better and better still: performance excellence.

Chris Larkin, MD Pure Sales Consulting -