This month Ford Kyes outlines Great at Work: How Top Performers Do Less, Work Better and Achieve More by Morten Hansen.

In Jim Collin’s highly successful books (Built to Last, Good to Great, How the Mighty Fall and Great by Choice) he studied super high performing companies to learn the common factors that defined their success.  For each of these books, he amassed a team of researchers who spent about 5 years each to collect extensive data through interviews, assessment tools and deep reviews of performance data.  Using sophisticated statistical methodologies they were able to identify the critical factors that high preforming companies shared but were not prevalent in lower performing comparison companies. Hansen (who coauthored Great by Choice with Collins) used the same research methodologies popularized by Collins to determine seven statistically validated factors that correlated with higher performance among individuals inside companies (employees, entrepreneurial owners and managers).

What Hansen and his research team were able to achieve was to define a systematic and empirically tested way to lift performance that holds across all jobs by improving on the 7 factors shown to correlate with exceptional results.  In fact, they were able to show a 66% correlation to higher performance when all 7 of the critical factors were present.  (For purposes of comparison, smoking has an 18% correlation to people’s average life expectancy and having a good salary has (“only” ) a 33% correlation to people’s net worth.)

Working smarter means to maximize the value of your work by selecting a few targeted activities then applying intense, targeted effort.

1. Do Less (Focus*) – then Obsess:

In Hansen’s quantitative analysis, employees who chose a few key priorities and channeled tremendous effort into doing exceptional work in those areas greatly outperformed those who pursued a wider range of priorities. People who were average at other practices but mastered “do less, then obsess” would likely place 25% higher in the performance rankings than those who didn’t embrace this practice.  Do less, then obsess affects performance more than any other practice in this book.

* The term Focus consists of two activities: choosing a few priorities and then dedicating your efforts towards excelling at them. 

2. Redesign your work (for value):

Focus on the VALUE of the work that is being done – where Value = Benefit to Others X Quality X Efficiency. “Others” may include your company, your office/division, your colleagues, your customers, your suppliers and/or your community.  To accomplish this, take a broader view (from the out-side looking in) and attain distance from the day-to-day to eliminate or reduce activities of little value; spend more intentional time on existing activities of high value; create new activities of high value; find ways to measure and improve quality of high-value activities and find new ways to improve the efficiency and consistency of high-value activities.

3. Implement learning loops:

Learning loops are a take-off from research on “deliberate practice”. The Learning Loop is an approach to learning while you perform your daily activities: you try out a new approach in a small way (e.g. How you ask a question in a sales meeting.) then measure the outcome, then get some quick feedback, then tweak your approach based on outcome and feedback, then adjust the approach and repeat. Continuous small steady, measured progress leads to huge improvement over time.

4. P2– Passion and Purpose:

In Hansen’s study, managers and employees who matched passion and purpose performed far better (18 percentile points higher) than those who didn’t.  Feeling passionate about work isn’t just about taking pleasure in the work itself.  Passion can also come from: Success, Creativity, Social interactions, Learning and Competence (mastery). Purpose is related to linking your work to the delivery of value to others (higher value) while taking care to cause no harm. For exceptional performance,  individuals pursue or “reframe or reappraise” their jobs to experience the significance it holds for you and its lasting impact on your community, nation or global society.

5. Forceful Champions:

Getting our work done often hinges on the ability to gain support for our initiatives from others, including bosses, subordinates, peers, colleagues in other departments, customers, vendors and partners. The ability to advocate for one’s goals and to gain broader support is only one of a broader set of people skills required to be successful in today’s workplaces.  There are two basic ingredients for success: evoking emotions and “Smart grit”.  Evoking emotions involves showing (not just telling), connecting the proposed change to purpose –how the activity or goal impacts a broader/higher purpose.  “Smart grit” involves not only persevering but also taking into account the perspectives of the people you’re trying to influence.

6. Fight and Unite:

Whether as a leader or participant, you can only achieve major results as a member of a team. You’re team’s effectiveness and individual’s personal performance hinges on the quality of team meetings.  Two factors have a high correlation with effective team meetings: 1st is vigorous debate (“fight”) which is fact based, explores options, scrutinizes assumptions and has a diversity of perspectives.  2nd is achieving team unity once a decision is made by ensuring everyone had a voice,  clearly documenting the decision which was made and next steps for all members (with specific accountabilities).

7. Disciplined Collaboration:

Is a set of practices that allows individuals to assess when to collaborate (and when not to) and to implement the effort so that people are both willing and able to commit to it and deliver results.

5 Proven practices:

  1. Establish a compelling case for “why-do-it” for every proposed collaboration. If it’s not compelling, don’t do it and just say “No”.
  2. Craft a unifying goal that excites people so much that they are willing to subordinate their own selfish agendas.
  3. Reward individuals for collaboration RESULTS not individual activities.
  4. Devote full resources (time, skills, money) to a collaboration. Otherwise, scale it back or scrap it.
  5. If you lack confidence in your partners, tailor “trust boosters” to solve specific trust problems, quickly. “Trust boosters” are activities designed to test the trust issue that is perceived by either collaborator and then to develop strategies to mitigate the issue.

  Book Reviewed by... Ford Kyes Founding Partner and Business Coach ActionCOACH Tampa Bay