By his own admission, Marc Effron is an introvert. But he is a consultant and a speaker. This means he needs to go up on stage and deliver speeches to thousands of people. And, sometimes he just doesn’t feel up to it to face such a large audience. So, what does Marc do? Well, he follows one of the 8 steps he has spoken about in his best-selling book: 8 Steps to High Performance.
As part of the Freshteam Leadership Series, Marc picked five of the 8 steps that he thinks will be the most useful for startup founders and HR leaders. You can pick up a copy of this book for in-depth explanations of all the steps. Follow Freshteam on LinkedIn and Twitter to watch out for FREE giveaways of this book and a few others by Harvard Business Review!
In this session, Marc speaks about:
Marc was unhappy that a lot of books were not based on science but on people’s opinions. Or, they weren’t holistic or advocate an integrated approach to get a particular outcome. Or, they were written by professors or consultants who have not worked in organizations themselves - the real-world experiences get missed out in such cases, which made them impractical.
This led him to decide that he would write a research-based book that would focus on what the best science says about and how we can be high-performers individually. He read through 2,000 academic articles that claimed they had some proof about what we do at work and high performance. As he sifted through the information, two big facts emerged.
First big fact: There are 50% of fixed things about ourselves that have an influence on how we perform at work but we cannot do much about them. Don’t worry about these things and instead focus on the 50% that you can change to become a high performer.
Second big fact: There are 50% of flexible things that have an influence on how we perform at work and we can do a lot to change those about ourselves. What are these? The 8 steps Marc has distilled from the 2,000 academic articles.
Marc defines high performance as consistently performing at the 75th percentile or above compared to your peer group. While it may not be practically possible to find out if you are at or above the 75th percentile when compared to your peers, Marc suggests two ways of understanding progress (and not necessarily absolute achievement):
The first is that you set a clear standard for yourself about what good looks like on one of the steps.
Second, it’s still valuable to share one of your goals with a trusted colleague or two who will be objective, and ask them occasionally how much progress they have seen against that. Don’t ask “Am I getting better at this?”. It’s too easy to say yes without thinking. Ask them, “I told you in February that I was trying to improve at ‘x’. If you had to rate me today on a 5-point scale (Got worse, Got a little worse, didn’t change, Got a Little better, Got Better), how would you rate me and why?” That’s as objective of a measure as you’re going to get.
Marc found that all high performers - be it CEOs, top team members or entrepreneurs - had the same kind of mindset. High performers recognize they will work harder than other people just flat out - they will put in more hours than other people. A lot of you might say you work smarter and not harder. However, it’s unlikely that you are going to work so smartly that you will outperform others.
If you have two people who are equally skilled, capable and engaged but one is working 40 hours a week and the other 60 hours a week, the second person is going to learn more, form better relationships and do something productive with the extra 20 hours.
High performers tend to not get to do their favorite activities as much as they would like to. This could mean less/no time for hobbies, spending less time with family or relaxing by watching their favorite sports or movies. They understand they need to make such sacrifices to drive higher performance at work.
Higher performers recognize that performance is always relative. Even if you overachieve on your goals, you will be compared to the best performer in your team or among your peers.
Goal-setting is the single most powerful thing you can do to increase your performance. The science is pretty clear that we are motivated to deliver higher performance when the challenge is greater. The bigger the goal, the more effort you’re going to put in.
You’re likely to respond to a greater challenge over and over again up to the point where the deal is not fair anymore or you’re just physically too exhausted to do the task.The challenge with this for many founders is that they have many things to do at the same time. They have a list of 100 goals. What you need to do is prioritize what matters the most.
These questions will help:
What are the three big promises that you want to make to your company, to your employees or your shareholders?
What are the three big deliverables that you're going to give?
What would it take to deliver in 2021 or next year, twice what you delivered last year? What behaviors would you have to change, what work when you have to delegate to others? What would you have to stop doing, what would you have to start doing?
How can you take a lot of the activities that you’re doing and combine them into a big deliverable? What is the outcome you’re trying to achieve?
Squeeze all your goals into 3-4 big things you’re trying to deliver and ruthlessly prioritize.
Key question: How will you get to 3 or fewer big, challenging, aligned goals?
Not only are there predictable paths to success but also, predictable paths to failures. There’s no science to back up the theory of focusing on your strengths. In fact, research shows that if you want to be a high performer, focusing on failures or “derailers” matters more.
What is a derailer?
A derailer is a negative behavior or an overdone strength that causes you to put distance between you and other people. It's a behavior that’s part of your core personality. It’s a little annoying or challenging to other people, which is guaranteed to get in your way.
Here is Marc's favorite analogy. When you woke up this morning, your hair did not look the way it probably looks now (assuming you’ve combed or styled it even if you’re working from home). When you woke up and saw yourself in the mirror, you probably thought you’re not going to show your hair to others. The same thing applies to personality.
Over time, you learn to not show a part of your personality the way it is. You either hide it or dress it up a bit. For instance, in a particular conversation, you may have appeared to be boastful or too forward when you actually didn’t intend to. The challenge is not to eliminate those derailers but to recognize which ones you’re likely to show or how you would recognize those before you demonstrate them in front of others.
A derailer typically shows up when you’re under stress or when you’re not thinking about controlling your behavior. These tend to be under 3 big buckets.
Moving Away: These derailers put a distance between you and others. For example, take the derailer “skeptical”. A bit of cynicism is a beautiful thing but if you display too much cynicism, this might make people move away from you.
Moving Against: These derailers put us in people’s spaces. Let’s take the example of bold people. A bold person is generally proud of their ideas and is likely to talk about them a lot. A bit of this is absolutely fine but too much of it can mean sucking up others’ air time and dominating the scene.
Moving Towards: These derailers are ingratiating behaviors - the kinds of things we do to try to make others like us. For instance, take the derailer “dutiful”. A bit of that is fine but too much might make them to be seen as unsupportive of their team members, inflexible and not having much of a spine as they should.
Key question: How will you keep your derailers in control this year?
It’s proven that people with better networks are higher performers for some obvious reasons. Better connections means you have more people to rely on, to draw ideas from and support you. Focus on two groups: boss and peers.
The first challenge that people have when they are asked to be nicer to their bosses and build better relationships with them is that they do not believe in kissing up to their superiors.
However, there’s a lot of difference between sucking up to your boss and treating them like a human being. What most people need to do is recognize that their bosses are humans too! Bosses like to be asked about their weekend. Bosses like to be complimented when they do a good job. Bosses like to get a cup of coffee or a cup of tea and have a light conversation.
Some people are concerned about the power distance between themselves and their bosses but usually, depending on the culture that you're in, bosses are more than happy to have lunch or coffee or engage in a conversation you might have with any other friend.
Science says that such a relationship is going to help you get promoted. Quite literally, people who have better relationships with their bosses are promoted more often. It even goes to the extent of saying those who are lower performers but have good relationships with their bosses receive high performance ratings than the other lower performers. Though it’s not a good strategy, this points to the power of that relationship.
Though peers cannot be a reason for your success, they can get in the way of your success if you don’t have strong relationships with them. If you’re working on building your networks, do an instant audit of your peer relationships.
On a scale of 5 (where you’re best friends and talk all the time) to 1 (where you can’t stand each other and do everything possible to avoid each other), if you're not a 4 or a 5 for each of your peers, you need to act immediately on your relationships with them. Write a note to each one of them and say you’d like to catch up with them. Just a light conversation and not really about work.
A lot of us don't think about the fact that our networks need to be outside the workplace as well. Marc recommends that you write to the most powerful person in your field and ask them a question about a particular topic. Experts love being experts. Maybe, the first expert you write to won't respond but after a while, you'll find someone who is happy to engage in a light discussion. You are now part of their even bigger and more powerful network.
To ensure that your relationship-building is going well, you need to structure and track the process. You might want to ask these questions: Whom do I need to have those relationships with? What's the strength of the relationships? When was the last time I interacted with that person? Or are there a few things I should remember about that individual or about our interaction that would be important?
Some might say that this is fake and that people should be naturally able to build relationships. If you’re an extrovert and this comes to you naturally, great! Feel free to skip this step. But this is especially useful to those who are introverts and don’t have a natural tendency to build relationships to show up as great connectors.
Key question: Which two relationships will you make stronger by the end of the year?
Marc says this has generated the most screaming than any other chapter in his book. People get offended by the suggestion that you need to fake a behavior.
Research says that when we walk into a room, we tend to walk into a room with one of the two mindsets. Some people walk into a room like a chameleon. This means they will walk into a room, look around and say, “Given what I’m trying to achieve today, given the people that are there in this room… who do I need to be?” Others walk into a room as a bull. It’s going to be all about them and their ideas.
Unsurprisingly, science says people like the chameleon a lot more than people like the bull. The challenge is that for years, you’ve been told to be genuine and authentic. Consider this: Perhaps, your natural authenticity isn’t the exact right authenticity for every single situation you find yourself in. Now, read that again.
There are probably some situations where you might need to show up a bit differently or maybe completely differently in order to be successful. The first part of faking it is just acknowledging the fact that you need to put on an actor’s mask and show up as a different character because of a behavior you might not naturally feel comfortable exhibiting.
A few years ago, Marc worked with a young entrepreneur who hated politics and drawing attention to themselves. The feedback they were getting is that nobody knows who they are.
Marc to the young entrepreneur: Most of us move through two phases in their leadership lives. You start by being an emerging leader, which means you call attention to yourself and your work so that people understand who you are. This might mean raising your hands in meetings, talking about your ideas and actively building relationships.
Entrepreneur: I don't believe in such things.
Marc: Great! In the next meeting, you’re going to be an actor and you’re going to be playing the role of an emerging leader. You’d better be a great actor and win an Oscar for your performance. Can you do that?
Entrepreneur: You mean pretend to like I’m an emerging leader?
Marc: Yes, exactly!
The good news is that people want us to fake good behaviors. People wanted this individual to speak and interact more. So, when he was faking that behavior, people were not wondering why he was showing up as an extrovert and instead praised him for bringing his ideas to the table. People will forgive us for faking a behavior that they want us to engage in.
The second phase of leadership is being an effective leader. Effective leaders sponsor their teams, promote others and build a productive team environment.
If you remember, Marc is an introvert. Now, Marc knows somebody called Marshall Goldsmith. Marshall is the author of the best-seller “What Got You Here Won’t Get You There”. He is an executive leadership coach and a speaker.
Marshall is brilliant on stage. He's warm. He's gregarious. People love him. However, Marc believes he isn’t like Marshall on stage. So, on days, when he’s particularly not feeling up to it on a particular day, he doesn’t think, “What would Marshall Goldsmith do in this situation?” He thinks, “Be Marshall Goldsmith!”
He walks on the stage and greets the audience and appears to be enthusiastic and energetic. That’s Marc Effron and not Marshall Goldsmith. But the audience doesn't say, “Marc is playing the role of Marshall Goldsmith.” They think Marc is a really fun and engaging guy.
This is not about being a fake person. Instead, it’s about carefully considering if there are any behaviors that you’re not comfortable with but you know will lead to higher performance.
Key question: What behavior can you fake that will most benefit your performance?
Going through all the research out there, Marc was certain he will find compelling evidence to show that people who work out regularly are better performers than those who don’t. To his surprise, he actually found almost nothing on exercise and almost all the most powerful, inclusive articles said this: Sleep is the foundation for high performance.
None of the other 7 steps to high performance is possible unless you are appropriately managing your sleep. Quality of sleep matters more than quantity. The research is very clear on this. When we don't get high-quality sleep, our executive functions fail. By executive functions, we mean high-order thinking that includes strategic thinking, creativity or working in a fast-paced team.
When we don’t get the right quantity of sleep, our basic functions fail. You might forget where your wallet is or the name of a colleague or an acquaintance. Low quality and quantity of sleep are detrimental to performance but the former has a much larger impact on certain things that really matter to high performance.
Luckily, those same scientists who study sleep and the negative effects also help us understand what will allow us to sleep better. There’s a lot of confusing advice regarding sleep. However, sorting through all the scientific articles, Marc found that it all boils down to this: you almost need to be a monk: a quiet, cool, dark room, no using a device ahead of your bedtime and no pets in the room. Also, research says you need 6.5-7 hours of sleep to be a high performer.
For up to one hour of low-quality sleep, you can make it up with a 10-minute nap, after studying different durations of nap times. And to make up for low-quantity sleep, you can rely on good, old caffeine. However, these hacks only work as short-term solutions.
Key question: What one thing will you do to improve your sleep quality?
Hope you found these useful! Like we mentioned earlier in this post, for the other three steps, please refer to Marc’s book: 8 steps to High Performance. We are giving away a few free copies of the e-version of his book. Do follow us on LinkedIn and Twitter and answer a few simple questions to grab yours!
And guess what? Marc has shared with us a workbook that has all the tools provided in his book as an easy-to-use guide. Download this workbook to assess yourself and find out how you can create a path to be a high performer at work!
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