High performance, what does it actually mean?
Having significant experiences within the world of High Performance Sport as an athlete, a coach and selector, a researcher, and also as my area of academic qualification, my brain immediately jumps to this space when I think of high performance. At the simplest level, high performance is the quest for greatness. The drive to do better, be better and be judged against the best. In the sporting arena, those that are part of high performance programmes are those that have the unique combination of ability, mental toughness and desire or ambition.
When selecting young gymnasts for competitive training groups on the path to high performance, it was my responsibility to select those that showed this combination then help them develop in the areas where they were weak. They didn’t have to be the most talented, or have the highest resilience, or the greatest ambition, but all of these traits had to exist at a base level for them to be successful. In fact, often those who started at 70-80% on each of these factors would outperform a peer who was stronger on a single attribute; more talented, more resilient, or more ambitious. It the combination that counts.
If you get it right, they pour themselves into their training, giving it everything they’ve got and amassing significant hours so that movements become second nature. In learning theory this is the transition from a learned skill to an automatic skill. They don’t have to think about what to do, they just do it. But more than that, they practice at a standard that results in that automatic skill being at a significantly higher level than others around them.
The translation of this into business is obvious. If you are seeking high performance, you need high performing teams. These teams need to be made up of high performing people. People who have a winning mix of capability, experience and commitment. They don’t all need to be 100% on everything, but there needs to be a combination that lifts them into that high performance arena.
Most critically, the team must be matched to the needs of the competition or playing field. I wouldn’t send high performance 8 year olds to the Olympics. They don’t have the right capability or experience despite their great ambition.
Having played in the startup arena for a number of years and as a peripheral Angel Investor, I’ve seen a lot of startups grow through purely capability and commitment. I’ve also seen those that bring experience in concert and watched as they almost pick the money straight from the trees.
The challenge for startup businesses as they become more mature is that the capabilities and experience required become more niche. Sometimes you just need someone for whom that missing skill is automatic. The ‘been there done that’ factor. Someone who knows what high performance in that niche actually looks like. I could have an Olympic gold medalist track athlete, but if I ask them to perform a Tsukahara in a gymnastics competition, they’re going to look at me with a blank stare, as might an accountant asked to implement an affiliate advertising campaign, or a digital marketer asked to develop a hedging strategy.
Over the years I’ve seen many companies at many different stages of growth an all sizes and structures that state a desire for high performance, but for a variety of reasons, they haven’t the been able to make the team selections (and deselections) that will lead to true high performance. They haven’t gotten the right players on the right field at the right time.
Very simply put, if you don’t have the a team behind you with the right experience and capability for the particular competition and activity in which you’re engaged, then you are never going to do better, be better and be judged against the best. You will never achieve high performance.
(Note that picture is of the amazing Samadiana who I coached as a young gymnast and who is now a NZ representative.)