Accessing Performance

In my last article, I discussed the model of performance being the way that our actions correlate with how the world occurs to us, and that the way it occurs to us in some way is constructed in or arises in language. 1

But how can you use this knowledge to change performance, or to access performance?

To briefly recap. If you saw someone crawling around on the floor in a normal situation you might think they’re crazy. But if that person just heard a gunshot, you’d think they were doing a perfectly sensible thing.

When we see people doing things that don’t make sense, it’s often useful to ask them what they’re experiencing. They might be flummoxed by this question, due to the assumption we all have that reality is “obvious”. Can’t you see what’s right there? Are you blind?

The illusion that reality shows up for us all in the same way creates any number of disagreements. If you don’t realize that the “basic facts” are different for each of us, then you’re going to run into some intractable problems with people. Most of what we all consider facts are actually interpretation.

If your performance efforts do not take into account the differences in how things show up to different people, you will not be able to manage change effectively. People naturally revert to acting in accord with the way things show up. They keep a strong relationship with how they think things are, especially when they’re trying to change them.

Even the best intentions for “change” don’t work, even when people are rowing in the same direction, because all of the efforts are about “not being the way we were”, and that creates a frame of reference where the best we can do is “not that”. Eventually, something goes wrong, and people start sliding into “that”.

A new set of possibilities is needed to get out of this cycle. A new way of standing in relation to the situation.

Creating a new way of seeing is the primary task of leadership.

Reality Distortion Fields, or Reality Creation Fields

Steve Jobs has often been described as having a Reality Distortion Field around him, able to make people see things in a way that wasn’t how they actually were.

What many people miss, however, is that by doing that, he created the reality.

What do I mean by that?

It is not that reality is what we perceive, but rather, by changing how people perceived, he changed the normal course of the actions they were going to take.

When people take different actions, they get a different result.

He created a different understanding of the present by projecting a different future. It literally shaped the way the present showed up to people.

If where you come from is “We are building an amazing future no matter what happens”, then the situation is a lot different than “This is challenging and I wonder if it’s going to work”.

A place of commitment creates resources for you that would be inaccessible from a place of “wait and see”.

Jobs’ genius was to tell a different story about the future and to see it as not only possible, but as almost an accomplished fact, and to know that people can get there. He helped people clear away what’s in their way, and see the path.

Changing Stories

How do you change what occurs to you?

Change the story that you see the world through.

But this is typically what people try. They try to tell a new story, and then they try to put it on, like a shirt, and walk around with it and pretend. And after all that pretending, generally, they see the world the same way.

And that means that your options for the world are A or not A.

Let’s say your team shows up to the team as unmotivated. Now we start trying to motivate everybody. It works for a while, then the team falls back into their old way of operating.

Until you can get the team to own its own motivation and tell a new story about itself, even one that accepts its current level of motivation, you’re not going to see the team be motivated. You will be trying to add motivation to an unmotivated team.

But what if you show up differently? What if you try “Hey, it looks like morale is low. We’re not feeling motivated. That doesn’t seem fun. What do we want to do together?”

That conversation, if they believe that you care, could start to open a few doors into a story about the future that gets people up in the morning.

They might discover things they want, and thus discover new sources of motivation.

Or what if you were to show the team that they can, themselves, create their own motivation and have more fun at work if they do? Now they have something other than unmotivated that they can say about themselves, which gives them a new realm of possibility.

They are now inhabiting a new space where motivated / unmotivated is not the set of possibilities. Maybe it’s “Find something exciting” or “Control our own future”. Those are different sets of possibilities for people.

Getting people into a place where they are capable of seeing a new set of possibilities for outcomes naturally shifts the way they show up.

If you can lead your people to a new way of seeing possibility, everything can naturally start falling into place.

These conversations often require a lot of safety for team members to really share what’s in their way, and how they’re seeing things.

It is for that reason that the organizations that have the hardest time changing are the organizations where people feel they have to hide the most.

But if you can create some safety to listen and hear where people are, there can be an opening to see the place they’re coming from and invite them to look at the world from a new place.

  1. Language said loosely (many different things can be language other than verbal language, such as tone of voice, body language, clothing choices, etc). ↩︎

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