The Laws of Performance and Influence

Introduction Part One

Part One

When we encounter challenges, conflict, ongoing changes, or things that are just not working in
our teams or professional lives, we often struggle to choose which part of the problem to tackle

Do we have mistrust in our culture? Do we tackle cost reductions? Is business development and
sales a concern? Should we begin with process improvement? Is our brand and reputation in
need of attention? What about team morale?

We can easily get locked up, even paralyzed, by entrenching ourselves in problem solving or
reacting to the unknown.


In our personal lives, we can face the same dilemma, feeling stuck and unsure of which problem
to tackle first.

Should I spend more time with family? Do I need to better manage my home finances? How can
I get into better shape and lose weight? How can I make my relationships more fulfilling?

The optimist will see what is possible and look for solutions, believing there is opportunity
everywhere if you know where to look. The pessimist’s viewpoint is based on history, past
experiences, and limiting perspectives. The pessimist will live in frustration and say everything
is messed up. They will look solely at what is wrong or missing in experiences or perception. It is
as though every experience is predestined to be negative and designed to stay messed up, no
matter how many things they may try to fix.

Throughout the day, many people find themselves in the process of endless problem solving.
With the problem-solving mentality, people become trapped in a cycle of failure that competes
with success. If people fail, they feel frustrated and further pressured to solve a list of
problems. If they succeed, a new problem pops up to replace the last. The solution to one
problem simply leads to another. When challenged, most will disagree, but they are
unconsciously drawn to being problem solvers and define themselves by time spent in this
downward spiral.

As a manger in this downward spiral, you find yourself consumed by reactionary tasks and
short-term fixes. These may include cutting department budgets, downsizing critical
departments, looking for flavour-of-the-day consulting models, or even sending people to
training programs to ‘fix’ them. Top performers begin to leave out of frustration because they
are not being recognized or receiving support for projects that are important to them.

Consider your personal life. You may choose to live a healthy lifestyle and go to the gym or quit
smoking, for example. You decide to set boundaries and spend more time at home. You may feel guilty that your colleagues or boss feel you are not getting enough done. Budgets and
projects quickly spin out-of control, and you start blaming people for poor performance — the
same people you cannot afford to lose. With all this undue stress, you find yourself again
focusing on the need for a healthy lifestyle that prioritizes time to focus, balance, and set

Consistently focusing on problem solving leads to oscillating patterns that will never advance
performance and innovation with teams or individuals. It is as if the system you are constantly
working on (your company, finances, health, or personal life) is a wall filled with holes that are
spouting water. The moment we patch one hole and add pressure, another opens.

Creation and problem solving cannot co-exist. Real leaders want to improve and advance
innovations, team morale, creativity, engagement, and success. Unfortunately, many struggle
with advancing because of the natural tendency to fall into the endless, downward spiral of
problem solving and simply oscillate from one problem to another.

There is a better way to perform and get results.

The real reason that fixing problems rarely delivers the expected results is that results are only
superficial in nature. Far too many people find themselves simply running from one problem to
another, which often brings them back to the same, original problem. In many cases, the
original problem is bigger in scope and urgency because the root cause is not addressed. In
other words, the underlying structures that perpetuate the problem are left untouched.

For every problem, there is the danger that a perceived future has already been considered.
This is why leading change is so difficult; it usually falls back to problem solving instead of
innovation. These perceived futures include people’s assumptions, hopes, fears, resignation,
cynicism, and lessons learned through past experience. Although this future is almost never
admitted or talked about, it is the context in which people try to create change in the first

If you attempt to lead a company that is stuck or struggling to fix problems, you will
immediately see old patterns. Identifying the patterns is the first step. Getting people to
recognize them is more difficult.

When you talk to your employees about the future, they may say something like:

“It will never work. We’ve tried this before. We are buried in politics. When we do bring new
ideas or innovations to the table, they’re often delayed, and momentum is lost. Nothing is
going to change around here.”

Sound familiar?

If you were to interview people within your team, you would hear about a future that is already
determined, something that sounds like:

“People here are self-absorbed and aren’t engaged. They don’t care and they never will. We
spend time innovating and we ask for their ideas but they never come up with anything good.
We don’t have star performers, so we’ll always be average players in this industry. We’ll
continue to do the best we can, but as a company we’ll never really succeed.”

It is interesting that, when challenged further, most people have never really articulated what
they think would happen to them, personally or organizationally, if they embraced the why and
how of change. Instead, they exist in the current reality and act as though whatever happens is
destiny. Their minds are made up. Employees are programmed to reduce their work to going
through the motions, never fully engaging, never taking on the politics, and never having the
robust conversations that they believe are holding the company back.

The most dangerous word used here is they. This word will kill any organization quickly. Who
are ‘they’? What happened to we or us? The word ‘they’ will always convey blame to a team.
Listen for this word in your organization and note how many times you hear it — it may surprise

Do people resist change? If you were to canvas any group, you would probably hear a
resounding yes. In reality, people do not resist change but the uncertainty of change that they
perceive as forced upon them. Once you acknowledge that, you will see the importance of
explaining the why behind change, before diving into the how. People will align with the why of
the change and what is in it for them.

It is the classic engagement request: “What’s in for me?”

Ask yourself: Are you getting better?

“Your business will get better when your people get better. Your people will get better right
after their manager gets better.”

Many of you may recognize this quote from my talks and videos. It has certainly elicited some
honest feedback from our clients and shaken a few people into action. As a business consultant
and coach, it is my commitment and choice to constantly influence people to improve,
regardless of external factors.

Across Canada, cutbacks and layoffs are at an all-time high. The pandemic has impacted
families, organizations… all walks of life. Economic uncertainty has surely received its share of
media attention. For many of the progressive companies we work with, current strategic
conversations are centred around keeping focused, executing long-term business goals, and rebuilding the best teams and people to succeed. These teams include people who are willing to
contribute at higher levels of commitments and skill sets.

This includes you. Here is where you come in.

Right now, there is a conversation going on about you in your organization and the impact you
are having. If you are a small business owner, this conversation may be taking place with your
customers. Everyone is included here. From years of experience working with companies, we
have seen too many people standing on the sidelines, unaware of these conversations.

This example showed up for me in a recent episode of Survivor, when a candidate who was
voted out of his tribe explained: “It was when I became comfortable and confident that I was
blindsided by my team.”

Can this reality show example carry over into business? You bet.

Let us consider this a strong call to action. Are you up for the challenge? Here are a few
questions to guide you in this chapter:

1. In the last year, what have you done, specifically, to improve yourself and your skills? No
vague theories please, just hard evidence.

2. What courses have you taken, on your own accord, to improve your value to the company?

3. What books have you read in the past year that you can transfer back to your team?

Right now, many of our clients have us asking these questions in most performance
conversations. There are many more questions, but I am sure you get the point.

Recently, I was asked to interview two candidates for the same senior management position.
The first candidate had spent only two years with the firm but was energetic, enthusiastic about
learning, and eager to improve her skills. She was well-respected by her colleagues and
constantly challenged others to improve as well. In the interview, she produced a number of
course certificates, many of which were earned using her own personal resources.

The second candidate was a 20-year veteran of the company and was confident that he would
be awarded the position based solely on seniority. This candidate did not believe in selfimprovement
and felt it was the company’s job to make him better… whatever that meant.

When the decision came to offer the job to the first candidate, I was given the task of bearing
the bad news to the second. When he pulled the seniority card, my response to him was quick
and to the point: “You have only worked here one year, twenty times!”

So, what does this have to do with you? I challenge you to be the person who is part of the new
team, the person who is ready to carve a place for their company in the new global economy.
Please take your contribution and improvement seriously. Please do not be the one left behind,
wondering what happened when you were voted out.

If you are not having a positive impact on the people around you and the company’s bottom
line, you may be nothing more than a liability. Ongoing learning and development is no longer a
choice; it is the rule of the new game of business.

Choosing to Invent a New Future

For any team, nothing really changes until the pain of what they have been doing becomes too
great. Business development has declined. The market has flattened significantly. New
competitors are better at marketing themselves. Profits and margins are thinning. Attracting
talent is challenging because culture is ignored. Morale and engagement are declining.

You are facing the brutal reality that change and reinvention are critical. The term critical is
used here because for many organizations, change stems from chaos and urgency. It is similar
to a family business that waits far too long to plan for succession and mentor new leaders.

Leading change is how we compete with irrelevancy. There is no other choice.

Moving into the power of reinvention, three key points are crucial here.

First, everyone is willing to admit there is a future in front of them, even though few could have
articulated it beforehand. This new future pushes people beyond what they expect to happen,
hope will happen, or think might happen. This future resides at the gut level. There is no
conflict in this new reality. People are prepared and know it is here now and will happen,
whether we can give it meaning or not. This is the new inevitable future and every person has
one, as does the organization they are a part of.

Second, everyone — and I mean everyone — on the team understands that the pain of the
status quo is greater than the pain of change and reinvention.

Third, people’s acceptance and relationship with the inevitable future is a complex challenge to
overcome. Change is not easy; if it were, everyone would do it. If someone were to describe
your newly-invented future to you, you might disagree or even get angry at how different that
future is from what you envisioned. But you admit that you do not know what you do not
know, and there is freedom in this admission. You are able and willing to admit to accepting
your newly-invented future, and in doing so take the first step to making it come about.

Statistical evidence in business shows that most significant change, innovation, and reinvention
initiatives fail. The reason is that regardless of the management interventions and consulting models attempted, the automatic, default futures of employees and managers remain. With so
much evidence stacked against change, why bother putting ourselves through it? Do we not
have enough work already?

The limiting current reality and tyranny of being busy competes, and often wins over, the
power of vision and what is possible. This tension between current reality and vision will always
seek resolution. If our attention and energy are focused on today’s issues, problems, and fires,
then nothing will change. Once everyone truly commits to spending energy on the vision —
what is possible, versus probable — then the flywheel of change will begin to move in the right
direction. Please be courageous enough to call out the people who openly commit to change
but do not reflect that commitment in their actions and intent. These people want the flywheel
to remain in place, within the safety net of the known.

For things to change, a new, powerful future must be envisioned and rewritten. The result is
the transformation of new opportunities, leading to a dramatic elevation in performance and
results. Everyone is willing to contribute to, and reap, the rewards of what is possible.

Imagine if in that struggling organization, people reinvented and declared their futures. What
do you think would be possible if you heard:

“As a team, we turned the company around. We’ve come from behind in the market and have
set a new standard for the industry. We’re people who show appreciation and recognition, and
we work together to innovate and succeed. We have established a brand as a leading company
that will attract future talent.”

This is not a matter of motivational speeches, posters on lobby walls, or slogans people repeat.
It is not about vision statements that are simply vague platitudes or wordsmith drivel. This work
is about rewriting what people know, and believe, will happen. These same people have a stake
in the outcome — they have skin in the game. The rewards are known and talked about, often.

Reinvent the future and the vision and you will see that people’s actions naturally shift from
disengaged misalignment to proactive activity, from resignation to inspiration, from frustration
to innovation, from apathy to ownership.

When we choose to rewrite the future with a committed group of people, we can transform a
tired company into an innovative one, a burnt-out culture into one of inspiration, a command and-
control structure into a system in which everyone roots for each other’s success. In today’s
new speed of business, there really is no other choice.

All this happens without targeting old problems. Reinvent the future with a powerful vision,
and old problems disappear.


Neil Thornton on Presence, Impact, and Influence.

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