Top performance in your organization

An organization will only perform to the extent its employees can contribute their best skills at full force. A valuable  concern would be increasing the moments of flow your people have – or even staying in the zone of engagement and motivation.

Here are some things I learnt over many years’ leading in performance:

Match the demands to fit the person’s skills. Measure their optimal level of challenge; are they bored, mastered it, challenged or in the panic zone? You need to know and adjust the challenge or support (emotional or practical).

Practice the relevant expertise to raise skills to meet a higher level of demand. I used to drill myself in specific parts of the sales process, as I did with piano scales. What was technical, difficult and took lots of concentration becomes effortless and releases your mind for more complex focus (like  working audience interaction into a presentation’s focus).

Enhance concentration abilities so you can pay more attention, because attention itself is a pathway into the flow stage. Tests have found that ‘multi-taskers’ performed lower than people taking cannabis! (re-think the way you focus on a task and don’t allow distractions?)

Notice when you’ve (or others) left the zone of positive stress and peak performance, so you can make adjustments. The most obvious signs are:

  • Drop in performance. You can’t do the task as well, whatever way you measure it.
  • Wandering attention, loss of focus, or boredom (which is detachment, lack of engagement)

Other more subtle clues that can show up before a noticeable drop in performance are:

  • Someone seems “off” compared to how they normally do things, or seems very rigid in how they respond rather than considering alternatives, or someone who is cranky and easily perturbed. Any of these can mean anxiety is impairing their cognitive efficiency.

How to get flow into your life

Getting into flow is about a balance between the demands of the situation and a person’s skills. Flow often occurs when we are challenged to use our abilities to their utmost. But that optimal point varies widely from person to person.

There are certain kinds of public speaking that frazzle most people, but that get me into flow. I have very fast responses, I go well on adrenaline, so I find it exhilarating and strangely relaxing!

A great way of enhancing the likelihood of getting into flow is to regularly practice methods that enhance concentration and relax you physiologically. Just like a fitness routine – do them every day, or as many days as you can – e.g. yoga 3 times a week, meditating every morning, or riding your bike to work – all help you stay in a positive, calm, and a more focused frame of mind through most of the day. The regularity and practice gives your brain and body the chance to recover and relax from a high-stress job. The key point is to find one you like and practice it regularly. There is a lot of neuro-science behind this!

Did you know the regular practice of mindfulness brings reduced stress, increased productivity, more creative problem solving, and improved relationships. The shift occurs over time, and the biggest change seems to be in the first months of practice. Apart from the anti-stress benefits, practice improves your mental concentration skill. We now know that the more we are distracted, the less effective we become.

The cardinal rule of all concentration enhancement techniques is to focus on A and whenever your mind wanders off to topic B or C, D, E, F, and you realize that it has wandered, bring it back to A again.

“Every time you bring the wandering mind back to a concentrated state you’re enhancing the muscle of concentration. It’s like being on a Nautilus machine and doing repetitions for a muscle, only you’re strengthening a muscle of the mind: attention”[1].


[1] See Daniel Goleman’s book, The Brain and Emotional Intelligence: New Insights