How behaviour drives performance: three ways in which you can improve

Knowing how you behave today and which behaviours will make you successful tomorrow is an important step to high performance. Discover three ways in which you can boost your showing, in this excerpt from 8 Steps to High Performance

Before we talk about ‘high performance’, let’s define it. A high performer is someone who consistently delivers better results and behaviours, on an absolute and relative basis, than 75% of their peers. There are a few words in that sentence worth your extra attention. ‘Consistently’ doesn’t mean that you show an occasional flash of brilliance, or sometimes deliver well on a project. It means that you regularly do those things. ‘Relative’ means that your performance must be better than others’, not just better than the goal. If you exceed your goal and all your peers far exceed the same goal, that’s great. But, you’re still underperforming compared to others.

Behaviours help you differentiate yourself as a high performer because they prove that you can do more than just get things done. They’re responsible for 15-40% of your total performance, depending on your role. Your company also thinks behaviours are a big deal— 86% of companies measure behaviours in their performance management process. These behaviours may or may not be what actually drives performance, but they signal what your leaders pay attention to. More importantly, you can assume that everyone you work with evaluates your behaviours every day and interacts with you based on their impressions. How they perceive your behaviour feeds the office gossip pool and influences your performance, network, image, and ultimately, success.

High performers work hard to identify the most productive behaviours, learn new behaviours where needed, and stop showing the less helpful ones. It’s challenging to differentiate which behaviours matter, since thousands of books, consultants, blogs, and webinars claim to tell you how successful people behave. You’re fortunate that there’s great science that tells you which behaviours will make you a great people leader, able to inspire change, or drive big results. The challenge is that what makes you successful at one of those things may make you less successful at another. That’s why an important step to high performance is to know how you behave today and which behaviours will make you successful tomorrow.

The science relating to how behaviour drives performance says that you’ll be a higher performer if you:

1. Understand yourself

The way you behave is a combination of how your personality guides you to behave and how you choose to behave. Your personality strongly influences your behaviours, but it doesn’t control them. You will have learned over time to show other behaviours that will make you a better performer, peer, or manager, even if they’re inconsistent with your core personality. When people interact with you, they see a mix of the behaviours your personality wants you to show and the behaviours that you consciously choose to show.

The most important takeaway here is that you control your behaviours. If you’re a little edgy in meetings, you can smile more and ask questions to understand another’s point of view, rather than reacting too quickly to their comments. If you’re very shy at social events, you can memorise 10 questions to ask anyone you meet so that you behave more like an extrovert. These behaviours might not be the real you, and that’s fine. What matters is that you behave like a high performer, not whether that behaviour comes naturally to you

2. Choose the right behaviours

Before we do this, let’s assume the basics. You are likely ethical, honest, and fair; you don’t scream at your employees, steal, lie (big ones, at least), or cheat. If you violate these baseline behaviours, you will never be a sustained high performer — end of story.

With that baseline established, a model called ‘transformational leadership’ describes behaviours that are thoroughly tested and well proven to create high performance. Don’t be thrown by the label. You don’t need to be transforming something or be a leader for these behaviours to apply. People who behave as transformational leaders are consistently rated higher on their team’s motivation, satisfaction, and their own leadership effectiveness than those who lead in any other way. Transformational leaders do four things well:

  • Connect: by showing genuine concern for employees; they’re able to personally connect with them even if they don’t directly manage them.
  • Innovate: by pushing their team to create novel solutions and take risks.
  • Inspire: by offering a compelling vision and encouraging employees to perform at higher levels.
  • Model: Acting consistently with their vision and the goals they’ve set for others.

3. Adapt quickly

You need to know how to show performance-driving behaviours quickly and easily. If behaviours are your secret weapon for high performance, the first step is to know how well armed you are. Are your behaviours consistent with your preferred model? Do you have any derailing behaviours that are likely to throw you offtrack? High performers want to know, even if the answers may be a bit painful.

The path to completing the steps to high performance is straightforward, but it’s not easy. It requires that you desire to be a high performer, work hard to achieve each step, and avoid the distractions that will tempt you along the way. The benefits you’ll receive from being a high performer make the work and sacrifice a smart investment. You’ll increase your earning power. You’ll learn more and move up faster. You’ll get exposure and opportunities that are unavailable to others. The only thing you need to do is to commit yourself to success, believe in your abilities, and take the necessary steps to high performance.

This is an edited excerpt from 8 Steps to High Performance: Focus on What You Can Change (Ignore the Rest) by Marc Effron (Harvard Business Review Press, 2018).

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