Posts Tagged ‘Performance’

Practical Wisdom

Jan 10, 2011 // No Comments » // From The Inside Out

My mentor and probably the greatest critic in my life Francis recently told me again; “You think too much!”

I supposed this is not the first and the last time he is going to remind me about my favorite pass-time…(kind of).

But why? Why is it so that I always going into deep thoughts and reflection? Even in casual conversation?

Then it struck me one day. The reason most likely is my need to be RIGHT!

You see, I am afraid to be WRONG. I am brought up in a system and environment that being RIGHT is the right way to be.

But here’s a more scarier thought; the need to be RIGHT could also meant that when I am WRONG I think I am still RIGHT… I will garner all reasons, resources, rules and guidelines and so on to justify that I am not WRONG. Yes, I have been there and done that…have you?

The stories Barry Schwartz related in the presentation were both inspiring and practical. I would encourage you to ask these questions after viewing the video:

  • Are there current situation in my life and at work I am inflexible about?
  • Have I been bogged down by system and processes in my life and at work? If so, what are they?
  • Do I conveniently allow rules and guidelines to dictate my decision making in doing what’s RIGHT? Or…
  • Have I dwell deep into my practical wisdom (virtue, love, moral skills etc) to learn of what might be wrong?

NOTE: Barry Schwartz is one of my favorite speaker in the TED network. His idea and thoughts about practical wisdom though not an original concept but he has put it in way that is easy to understand. If you would spend 23 minutes this month on a video I would strongly recommend you to check it out.

Last note

Now, there is a long distance cousin of being RIGHT; that is to be GOOD! Since young I have always strived to be GOOD at what I am tasked to do. Be it a game of football, a talent competition or a task in my workplace. Not that there’s anything wrong for us to pursue excellence, but in the expense of…?

Francis once reminded me.

“When you are GOOD, you PERFORM.”

“When you are NOT GOOD, you …..!” (try filling in the blanks!)

The problem for needing to be good and performing all the time is that it might take away the element of learning in the process.

I learnt of this experience the most recently in my running. I used to set performance (how fast and far) as an outcome that far superseded any other less tangible experience I got in the running process – such as the sensation on my steps, the sound of my breathing and heartbeats etc. When I switch to paying more attention to my experiences and sensation of the run, I began to learn a far greater deal of my performance than previously. The result – I run further and more consistently, and thouroughly enjoyed most of previously considered mundane runs.

I wish this year can be a year of great learning for you!

Is Leadership all about Performance?

Oct 30, 2010 // 6 Comments » // Leadership Infusion | Stories Retold

Picture source: pigskinliquor via Flickr

Picture source: pigskinliquor via Flickr

A friend (let’s call him John) who’s a Sales VP of a MNC organized a sales retreat conference for his team of 20 staff members. I was engaged as a facilitator to provide teambuilding workshop on the second day after the first day of long presentation amid the hill top of a luxurious golf resort in the southern part of Johor, West Malaysia.

Like always, the teambuilding ended in high spirit. During dinner, John seems troubled as he was unusually tranquil.

“How do you think the day went?” I asked.

“Oh, I think it went well…the folks seems charged up for the year ahead…but…” His tone was tapering to a whimper.

“But you think…?” I sensed a great concern lurking.

“Every year’s the same…we end up highly motivated, charged-up but it don’t seems to last the race…” He lamented.

“But you know the problem?”

“I don’t know…I mean I know but not sure if it’s true…” John was getting hype up in confiding…

“Try me. I am keen to know what you are not sure about…” saying while staying with him at eye level.

We took our drinks and walked towards the balcony over-looking the golf course, we leaned against the edge of the balcony ledge; as if we are afraid of anyone might eavesdrop on our conversation, John said:

“Allen, frankly, I am not sure whether all these teambuilding works for my people anymore…Don’t get me wrong, I think we need such motivation and coming together from time to time, moreover, my guys enjoyed it and it’s good to reinforce the importance of mutually supportive relationship. But I am sensing that we are missing something…some critical intervention…maybe something to do with our sales leader.. . ” He was referring to his six sales directors who work very closely with the sales managers and associates that are accountable to about 15% of their group revenue.

“I am keen to learn about your observation…” I realized the opportunity to have him tell me more of what he does know.

He look over his shoulder twice as if to make sure that no one was behind us, he went on to said: “Having work with them for more than 3-4 years, accept for Paul who joined us early this year, I can confidently say that they are good with driving numbers and making sure that the folks perform to expectation.” Referring to the sales directors who eventually will step up to take his mettle.

“So what’s your concern?” I threaded carefully and continue to look into his eyes…

“My concern?! Yes, I am not sure this is a concern but I am in fact less worry of them performing in terms of driving numbers per se but more worried for them relating and leading their direct report and people…” He was fiddling with beer mug on his right hand while sharing…

“Is that truly your concern?” I took risk in probing deeper.

“I am quite sure…in fact, many of my second tier managers had threaten to walk out just a few months ago…and the HR report shows that compensation wasn’t the main culprit.” John’s tone turn from serious to flat deadpan.

“So how do you intend to address this?” I somehow knew he might have an idea.

“That’s where I am not sure…you?” somehow he thought the same.

We spent sometime talking about coaching and leading people. We thought may be it would be timely to help the key leaders to identify their critical roles in leading the people to not just perform to their maximum potential but learning to lead others.

“Let’s organize a morning jog tomorrow before the nine-hole outing.” I suggested but to John’s amusement.

“Morning run?! What for?” he responded with suspicion.

“Trust me, you guys are going to enjoy the golf game afterwards…” I said confidently.

I remembered we spoke further on the idea and he still wasn’t sure the potential of bringing the message across to his people, but relented anyway. The next morning, we gathered as planned. The team was grouped in 3 with a fair-mixed of sales director and managers. A planned route of about 1.5km bordering the scenic view of the course garden wing. After some stretching and warming-up, the team was briefed on the route and I said:

“Go ENJOY the run TOGETHER and we shall gather for breakfast after this…” with tonal emphasis on the bolded.

As they set-off, John and I was heading toward the cafe set amid the garden wing awaiting their return. Not to my surprised, an athletic-looking sales associate arrived under 10 minutes followed by others in ones or pairs. Paul’s group was the only group of three that stayed together throughout the course. After some quick warm-down and water to quench thirst, we sat down in circle to have a debrief.

“Damien, you came in first. Tell us how was it for you.” I guessed Damien would be the most ready to share.

“I enjoyed the run. The air’s fresh, cool, nice surrounding and 1.5km is no problem for me, you know.” Damien professed with a wide grin.

“I am sure you do, thanks Damien. Who’s with Damien’s group?” I turn the attention back to the group.

“We couldn’t catch up with him…he’s too fast!” a lady by the name of Steff half-protested…”Luckily, Tony wasn’t!” referring to a senior sales director perhaps in his early 50s in the same group.

“I am an old man you know…” Tony followed-up with much laughter from the team and some nodding of heads…

“How about you Paul? Your group came in last but seems to be having fun and not breaking a sweat…” I turn to Paul’s direction.

Paul, looking rather embarrassed, responded: “I actually asked Steven and Judy to go ahead without me so that they finish the run early. But they decided to keep with me and we really ENJOY the run TOGETHER.”

“Did you?” Now facing the group to garner their response.

“WE did. It was fun running at an easy pace and being supportive of each other. We chatted along the way and enjoyed the company. In fact, we did so with much ease that the distance seems too short when we arrived…” Judy shared with obvious agreement from Tony and Steven.

“Yeah, for someone who’s hardly out in her jogging shoes…” Steven was jibbing at Judy pointing at her very new looking bright yellow sneakers.

“Thanks for the insight Judy and Steven. I would now like to invite you to note down three questions for your reflection later during your nine-holes…” I urged the team to take note.

“Firstly, what could we miss-out when Personal Performance took precedence?”

“Secondly, what else is important besides Performance?”

“And not least important, is Leading meant just Performing? If so, why? If not, how?”

John told me later they have one of the most enjoyable round of nine-holes that morning after a hearty breakfast. The folks continued to stay with the same group during their golf rounds and some of them even skip golf just to continue their sharing after breakfast. He wanted me to continue the work that we have just started with the sales leaders. As for the team, I was told that they organized bi-monthly run every alternate Friday evening – Together.

Points to Ponder:

1. Leading from behind, the view can be quite astonishing.

2. Guiding from the wing, the conversation can be quite engaging.

3. Coaching from within, the sense can be quite satisfying.

Why are you hired for?

Jul 28, 2010 // 2 Comments » // HR Insights

You should know what are you hired for…but have you ever ask WHY?

Here’s a recent conversation with a mutual friend who’s thinking about leaving a position that he took up less than 6 months ago.

“How’s things lately?”

“Work-wise not looking up, pal…getting tired of the politics at workplace.”

“Tell me more, what happen?”

“Actually, I am beginning to enjoy my role and handling the responsibilities with confidence; recruitment, headcount acquisitions and so on…but I dread the politics and micro-managing style my new manager brings with her from the public sector…”

He went on for the next 10 minutes without a script like a seasoned screenplay-writer. He vividly described the drama being unfold in the office like an episode out of a BBC award winning mockumentary “The Office” -  which has spin-off to many version in Europe and US.

“I am sure you know what you were hired for…but do you know why?”

“Umm….never thought about that. Why huh?”

Some years ago, I asked the same question about why am I hired into a position or role. What are the basis for the hiring person/people to fill the role that he/she is tasked to do. It’s easy at the first level of recruitment screening process; eligibility, suitability, experiences, qualifications and so on…But when it comes to the big decision-making for the reporting manager (the person that this role report to), I discovered there is more than just the factors mentioned above.

For the role that you are hired into, generally there are three broad categories:

Helper – I want you to be a pair of ‘hands and legs’

You are being engaged (hired with agreed compensation) as a pair of hands and legs. You are valued for your past experiences, your ability to ‘run-the-miles’ with task that are being assigns and largely able to take instruction to go about doing the work that’s expected of you. You may not be valued for your ideas, resourcefulness and initiatives depending on overriding situation such as personal ego and hierarchical structure etc.

Expert – I want you to be able to solve problems (for me first, then yours)

You are being engaged as a problem solver (or sometime famously dubbed as firefighter). You are expected to solve problem that are expected of us and provide some level of initiatives within the role and accountability. You may not be valued for your resourcefulness and initiatives beyond your level and role. Structurally, organization leaders tend to build experts around them to help them to be effective in their work.

Partner – I want you to be successful in your role (so that I can be successful in mine)

You are being engaged as a trusted partner. You are value for your expertise, insights, ideas and the ability to challenge assumptions and status quo. You are given space and time to explore options and empowerment to exercise initiatives within your level of influences. You and I must find alignment in our commitment to our collective goals…in another words; Your success and failure are mine.

I understand that at different juncture of our career life-span we may experience the different roles above that we are hired for…Nevertheless, I think it is critical to begin to ask ourselves some questions about the WHY of hiring.

I find it interesting to get to the crux of WHY we hire…and many time we avoid asking these questions:

  1. Why is there a position to fill? Who’s role was it originally? Is it a new role? Why is there a need for this role?
  2. Why the predecessor left? What happened? Is there a need to review the roles and responsibilities?
  3. Is there someone within the organization can fill this position? Why and why not? Who?
  4. Can the role and responsibilities be taken by existing team members? Why not?
  5. What are the competencies needed to be successful in the role? Is there a need to change? Why and why not?

And when the above (and possibly more questions) have been exhausted, before you rush out there to fill the position because you have the budget or because your manager or business push you to do so, ask again:

  1. Who should be involved in this hiring process? Why should they involved? Are they committed to the process?
  2. When can we start and end? How critical is this to the business? What are our alternatives? What’s our budget?
  3. How should we go about getting the right people? How should we interview for this position?
  4. How would this hiring complement our business strategy? What is our value proposition?
  5. Why we think that anyone would be keen to assume this role? What is our plan for this role?

The questions above just keep popping out of my head as I write…hence, it may not be very well researched and studied. But I do think that it is quite common-sense to a large extend as inviting people into the organization is not (and NEVER) like deciding to buy a piece of furniture or office equipment.

The other question I would invite you to think about…What you think you are currently hired for? WHY?

The Myth about Team-building – Build What?

Jul 23, 2010 // 2 Comments » // Change Initiation | HR Insights | Team Intervention

Picture source: Spain Team by prismatico via Flickr

Picture source: Spain Team by prismatico via Flickr

Team-building has been within the theory and practice of Organization Development (OD), but from schools to non-profit organizations, sports arena to political scenes, it can be applied to almost any context. Almost everyone will be involved in some form of team-building in their lifetime wherever they play their roles…But have you ever ask the question:

“What really is team-building?”

“What are we actually ‘building’ when we team-build?”

“For what? Why?”

If you ask someone who has initiated team-building the reason why they do it you will be surprised with the many responses…

  1. To motivate them…so that they can perform to what’s expected of them.
  2. To build trust…so that they are able to resolve conflict and perform.
  3. To bond them…so that they can work well across their roles and function.
  4. To better communication…so that they can work well with one another and perform.
  5. To skill them in working in teams…so that they understand how to be a team member and perform.
  6. To “incentivise” them…after all they deserve a break! (after that, they better perform).
  7. To have fun…because we believe in having fun in the work we do. (so that we can perform better).
  8. To energize them…there has been a dipped in performances lately.
  9. To do what other teams have been doing…after all it is an “in” thing nowadays and we happen to have the budget!
  10. (Fill in your say…)

It is not difficult to realize that one of the key expectation for most team-building initiatives are about performance; there are many team or group performance/effectiveness/development model researched, selectively:

  • Tuckman’s Group Development Model
  • Tubbs’ System Model
  • Fisher’s Theory
  • Richard Beckhard’s Team Effectiveness Model
  • McGrath’s TIP Theory
  • Belbin’s Team Inventory
  • Drexler Sibbet Model and many more…

But have we really take a step back and ask…what have we done (team-building) in the past that we have yet to do? Have we seriously ask WHY we team-build before the how and what? Or maybe we seriously need to consider what’s there to be done before and after team-building? What can we learn from team-building? About our people, our people’s manager, our leaders, our system and processes, roles and accountability, our relationship with one another?

Yes, there is always a place for team-building to induce the fun and playful elements. What about using fun and playfulness to gain entry to the hearts and minds of the people? Would there be a time when people get tired of fun and playful team-building? Can team-building take a dimensional change of its purpose and intention? If we have a valuable window of opportunity to help teams develop using the context of team-building, would it be a pity to let that slips?

I was giving this a serious thought some years ago and compared a group/team to a pool of water forming and moving in a concerted direction to serve its purpose/goal. It may grows in size (new members), reduce (members leave), quench thirst (meet objectives) and so on…moving in the direction decided by the organization body. I realized that for the water to stay relevant and useful it should be examined and evaluate from time to time…The three stages that I discovered were:


At some point, the ‘group’ (water) need to stop doing (moving) what has been deemed useful or detrimental to their performances. By freezing, the ‘group’ may begin to examine the group elements by its actual size, volume, weight and shape.


Once the elements have been evaluated, the group will begin to unfreeze (a calculated process) by asking important questions such as why, who, what, when and how the team can perform well again.


A collaborative and effective teams with intentional leadership are able to refreeze at specific point of time to regroup and collect and change to a new form of water with renew goals, roles, processes and relationship.

Many of my peers and senior practitioners that I shared with have agreed that team-building has taken an ambiguous positioning in the context of OD. From event company to hospitality industry, many would claim that they are able to help you to “build-team”. Therefore I urge you to re-examine the purpose and reason for you to send your team for team-building program.

Ask the question: “Why? For what?”. If you are unsure of the purpose for your intended team-building, let’s have a conversation.

The longest tennis match…and the meaning of competition.

Jul 14, 2010 // No Comments » // From The Inside Out

Wimbledon 2010

World record breaking match between John Isner (USA) and Nikolas Mahut (France)

- 6–4, 3–6, 6–7(7), 7–6(3), 70–68
- longest match: 11 hours, 5 mins
- longest set: fifth set 8 hours, 11 mins
- most games in a set: 138 in the fifth set
- most games in a match: 183
- most aces in a match by one player: 112 by Isner
- total aces in a match: 215 (together with Mahut’s 103 aces, the second highest number by a player in a match)
- most consecutive service games held: 168 (84 for each player)

When the news flashed across the bottom of my T.V. screen, it didn’t hit me the significance of this Grand Slam 1st round tennis match at the famous All England Club. As a tennis fan and a social player myself, I started to scout for more information and that’s so easy now a days…after reading some of the many tributes and news articles coming from around the world, I decided to blog-a-post to commemorate this historical match.

Many tennis fan who play the game a tad seriously will agreed that tennis is a game of the mind as much so as its demand technically. I would not qualify myself to share expertly the technical expect of this beautiful game as my recent 6-0, 6-0 defeat to a friend reminded me of my realistic tennis grading and wobbling knees…but having spend some years studying the game in its ‘inner’ expect and meeting a great teacher of the modern sports psychology – Timothy Gallwey who wrote the first book ‘The Inner Game of Tennis’, it was natural for me to ask the question:

“What was in their mind this whole 3 days slugging out at the court?”

“What were they playing for? Prize-money? Pride? Points?”

…and most importantly for the work at ConversationCircles: “What’s the meaning of competition I learn from this match?”

In contemporary culture, there is a great deal of opinions about competition. One school values it highly, trusting that winning is the way forward and the reasons for survival and even credit it as a natural instinct. Another school treated competition as unhealthy; that pitting one against another is divisive, that it leads to enmity and therefore lack of cooperation. Those who value competition tends to enjoy sports such as football, tennis, rugby and so on…Those who are not will rather enjoy recreation such as jogging, swimming, frisbee. If they do insist in playing tennis or golf, they may go the route of “non-competitively”. Their maxim is that collective enjoyment is better than competition.

So is there meaning in competition?

To be exact, “What’s the meaning of winning?”.

I asked deeper: “Is there a value to winning?”

I once had a conversation with an avid skateboarder who has skated for many years. I began by pointing out that skating is a form of recreation which didn’t involve one in competitiveness. He asked:

“But don’t skating compete against the conditions and elements at the park?”

“Yes, but you don’t compete against anyone; you are not trying to beat someone to win, do you?”

“No, but we are trying to hit a height and reach the floor safely!” “And yes, the real point for us skateboarder is to get in the flow of the obstacles and elements and perhaps achieve oneness with it.”

Skate_Dave GormanAfter showing me some of the pictures and videos of his stunts that it suddenly hit me that he was right; he does want to just go out there and have fun, yet he keep looking for more challenging parks and more sophisticated obstacles (sometime annoyingly in public) to test his skills he think he can handle. If he just want to have fun, he can just do it repetitively at a familiar park. Why would he move from one park to another? I am sure he value the challenges and obstacles it present. He value the obstacles which draw his greatest efforts. It is only the most challenging parks that he is required to use all his skills, concentration and his courage to overcome; only then can he realize the true limits of his capacity and his true potential. The potential may have been within him but until it is manifested in action, it remains a secret hidden from himself. The obstacles are a necessary part of self-discovery. I realized from his sharing that he is not out to prove himself, he is simply exploring his latent capacities.

I used to look at skateboarding ‘lowly’ as a sport and to some extend the public nuisance it brings. But the sharing open up my eyes to the meaning of winning. His sharing help me to understand that winning is about overcoming the obstacles presented to attain a goal, but the value in winning can only be as great as the value of reaching that goal.

Reaching a goal sometimes may not present as valuable as the experience that come in making your best effort in overcoming the obstacles. Hence, the process can be more satisfying than the winning itself. It’s strange but true, after that 6-0, 6-0 drubbing I actually felt good competing with a player light-years younger (in sporting terms) and enjoyed the process much more than his joy of winning (I think)!

In saying so I am sure the thoughts about winning may begin to diminish in their mind as quickly as the daylight in court no.18 at Wimbledon in the match between John Isner and Nicolas Mahut. This is definitely an extra-ordinary match that call for exceptional human spirits and courage. Many people says that there was no looser in this longest tennis match in history. I would take a step further and comment that we all loose by not learning valuable lessons from it.

“From the Inside Out” used the game of tennis to help you discover the innate potential to perform and identify the self induced barriers that often gets in the way. Call us to find out more.

PS: This is officially the longest blog-post till date – a record! I hope you’d enjoy reading as much as I’d wrote it…

Enjoyment + Learning = Performance

May 13, 2010 // No Comments » // From The Inside Out | Stories Retold

Picture source: xyeshu via Flickr

Picture source: xyeshu via Flickr

I hit (tennis) with a friend some time ago at his lush condo in the eastern part of Singapore on a beautiful Thursday morning.

He started his stretching and pleaded with me to take it easy and claimed that he has not hit for a long while… After a few minutes of half court, he was moving to full court in earnest. In fact he was hitting the ball pretty well with good preparation and full swing…I decided to move to full court to compliment him and we started to trade forehands and backhands. We took a break after about 10 minutes and he was perspiring and catching his breath. We continued after the break and he started to make some mistakes with wild shots…I realized it could be a performance anxiety issue.

I asked: “What are you feeling when you were hitting the balls?”

He replied: “I was overwhelmed, you are like a wall…the balls keep coming back no matter how hard I am hitting!”.

“Are you aware of your breathing?” I asked to his amazement…

“You mean breathing…of course I am breathing…but yes, I think at times I am holding my breath when hitting…but no, I am not paying attention to my breathing…no…” He was collecting and reflecting his thoughts while trying to answer my question.

I suggested: “Let’s try this, the next few hits I would suggest that you pay attention to your breathing, the rhythm, the sound and everything about the breathing. And I mean really putting your focus on the breathing…try to ignore the resulting strokes.”

He appeared skeptical but nevertheless tried…after about 10 balls which lasted more than 10 minutes, this time I made most of the mistakes hitting the balls unto the net. He was hitting the ball with much more consistency, confidence and seems to really enjoying running about…

By this time he was grasping the air of awe and said: “Wow, I never realized about how I am breathing while playing tennis all my life and I really feel good about it this time!”

“…and it was quite difficult trying to ignore the resulting stroke but yes…I realized that I really enjoyed it very much! Thanks man!”, he exclaimed.

Inner Games of Work - Timothy Gallwey

When you are  Enjoying and Learning at the same time..Performance follows. Listen to your breathing the next time you are presenting, managing, negotiating, meeting…pay attention to your form…not performance…as ‘Per’ ‘Form’ – as in ‘One Form’ at a time.

“From the Inside Out” is a fun program using tennis and golf as metaphor to help you identify the ‘game’ that’s playing inside you that more often than not gets in the way of the game you play outside.

If you are exploring the issue on performance anxiety…talk to me.