Tag Archives: Performance

A Mile or a Millimeter: Learning to Win Like the Best

Watching the world’s top athletes compete in the Rio games is an instructive reminder to anyone striving for top professional performance.

Winning at the highest level is seldom a Usain Bolt blowout. No, becoming the best is far more likely to resemble a Michael Phelps win-by-a-fingernail affair.

Consider these facts I featured in back in a 2013 blog

2007-09:  Serve speed between Grand Slam tennis match winners vs. losers = 1.6%

2013: Being the PGA’s top driving distance golfer vs. ranking 20th = 3%

2010: Lindsey Vonn’s gold medal performance vs. failing to get a spot on the medal podium = 1.4%.

Let’s face it – success lives in the margins.

Sustainable success doesn’t come from the latest fad.

To be great you don’t have to change who-you-are.

Instead, focus on generating that fine performance edge that separates top performers from also-rans.

THE BIG QUESTION: What one or two small changes could you make to sharpen your game and give you that winning edge – then do just that, day in and day out.

If you need a reminder or motivational boost, take a look at the picture above of Bahaman sprinter, Shaunae Miller’s gold medal effort—Awesome.

I’m so committed to improving my own game that I think I’ll take a trip down to the Bahamas this winter to do some additional research!

If you have a story about a finely cut margin of victory, share it with me directly at jeff@jeffkaplan.com

Until next week this is Jeff staying, stay connected!


Where’s the Love?

The new world order of business is rewriting the social contract between organizations and employees.

Shifts in Employee Responsibility:

Death of Permanence: What got us here won’t get us there.

Guarantee of Lifetime Employment: Your value to your organization is relative. While you may be indispensable today, that’s no guarantee of how you, your skills or your contributions will be viewed tomorrow.

Rise of Self-Directed Development:  By the time a freshman in business graduates, what they’ll learn in their freshman and sophomore years will be largely irrelevant to the business environment they’ll be entering. More than ever before, it’s not what you’ve learned, but your ability TO learn and deal with ambiguity that will drive your career.

At this point you may be thinking, where’s the love?  Why has all the responsibility moved to me? You may feel like employees ‘drew the short straw’ in this new deal. And you wouldn’t be alone.

However, employers are facing some pretty big challenges of their own…

Shifts in Employer Responsibility:

Oh Won’t You Stay Just a Little Bit Longer: If organizations aren’t willing to offer lifetime employment, employees are always going to have an ear to the ground for other potential opportunities. Recruiting the best talent and engaging them in work that fills their hearts and minds, as well as their pocketbooks, is a far cry from the days of show-up, shut-up and do-it-our-way.

Development in the Age of Self-Development: Among the most difficult challenges for organizational designers, strategists and human resource professionals is determining how to support the development of people largely tasked with their own development.  While the perfect answer has yet to be found, our research shows two universals do apply:

  1. Focus on Strategic Objectives: Every effort, every class, every learning opportunity must be focused on how to connect individual contributions to the overarching organizational goals. The bigger the organization, the more difficult this task becomes.
  2. Keep Development Efforts Centralized: It is great to have cross-functional teams, to co-develop solutions with customers and to empower departmental leaders to drive their business as they see fit — BUT — always remember that the stable link between organizational goals and individual action is built and maintained through your learning and development efforts. Resist the temptation to fragment the effort by allowing multiple individual and potential conflicting programs to spring up. Keep it central and bring your learning and development personnel to the strategic table – they are the catalysts that will turn strategy into action.

As always, your thoughts and comments are encouraged. I can be reached directly at jeff@jeffkaplan.com.

Who’s Dragging Your Team Down?

This week I had the opportunity to witness our medical system first hand, as a close family member underwent a significant life threatening procedure.

Observing the coordinated effort of the care-givers was a lesson in team-centered collaboration, information sharing, process and policy adherence and yes – human relationships!

Research suggests that relationships impact:

  • Caregiver perceptions of autonomy,
  • Role clarity in relation to patients and
  • Job satisfaction.

As you consider the role of teams in support of our own efforts, consider also what we call, “the LCD (Least Common Denominator) effect of teams”.  While a high functioning team yields a wealth of desired outcomes, the greatest impacts are often made by the lowest performers.

In essence, customer satisfaction and perceptions of service are disproportionately driven by interactions with your lowest performer. Even if nearly everyone on the team is relationally great, a bad relationship created by a team-laggard may unduly taint the overall perception and evaluation of the team’s performance.

Teams should make every effort to bridge the gap between the lowest relational performers and the rest of the team.  Doing so is a shortcut to quickly increasing team performance.

If you don’t know who on your team is the “LCD”, BEWARE – it may be you!


Also, thank you so much to those of you that took the time to reply to last week’s post – very thoughtful commentary!

What’s Our Strategy Again?

Is your strategic execution process broken?

Have you ever witnessed a well-crafted and well-intended strategy really work – from top to bottom, from inception to execution?

With organizational resources stretched to the limit, time in short supply and focused attention a near impossibility, many of our best strategic initiatives get lost in the middle between executive inspiration and frontline perspiration.

Too often, spot-on-perfect-for-this-organization strategic ideas are met with fanfare, embraced by executives and rewarded by the street; only to get bogged down, lose steam and become irrelevant words to those tasked with bringing the strategy to life.

What looks great on paper, adds up in a spreadsheet and sounds logical when the boss talks about it, may have little chance at success without the tools necessary to transform strategic ideas into bottom line organizational performance.

While many great business minds have tried to create a globally applicable method of strategic execution, our general understanding of the topic is fragmented, sometimes contradictory and overly complex.

After years of combing the research, analyzing what’s worked and what’s missed the mark and talking to executives, middle managers and individual contributors in dozens of industries across the globe, a pattern has started to emerge.

Strategic execution, the DOING of strategic performance, depends largely on an organization’s ability to recognize and address three issues:

  1. Past performance is no guarantee of future success. Strategic execution requires different ways of thinking and acting.
  2. Together is better. Maximizing performance depends largely on an organization’s ability to clearly define how each person can contribute to organizational success.
  3. Human connection drives the bottom line. Strategic success is as much about the people we need to engage with as it is about what needs to be accomplished.

What’s your experience with strategic execution?

Do you know anyone that’s breaking the mold to lead organizational performance in a new way?

What are some of your biggest challenges with the way strategic initiatives are handled in your organization?

Don’t hesitate to reach out directly and share your thoughts as we start to crack the code on strategic execution…

Injuries, Injustice and Bad Timing: Why Pay-for-Performance Doesn’t Work

What are you worth?

Few subjects elicit more emotion than compensation.

While researchers are shedding new light on the emotional complexities of salary determination, fairness and transparency… is anyone looking at the clock?

Dispelling two compensation fallacies…

  1. Pay me more and I’ll be happy! (NOPE)

While research conducted by Kanas State University supports the long held belief that happy employees are less likely to leave their jobs and improve organizational performance; two separate studies indicate “Being top dog makes us happier than simply getting top dollar”. Employee satisfaction is as much about what you earn RELATIVE to others, as it is about how much you earn as an OBJECTIVE figure.

The importance of relative-pay may explain why research published in the Academy of Management Journal reported that secrecy about pay-levels stifles performance because employees are left to guess their relative salary rank and can’t see a clear link between performance and pay.

  1. Pay me more and I’ll perform better! (WRONG)

A decade long study of professional basketball and baseball athletes found players consistently boosted their performance in the year leading up to a contract renewal, only to have that performance drop in the year of their new contract—what the researchers dubbed the “contract year syndrome.”

Why we need to watch the clock…

Pay-for-performance schemes assume that last year’s performance is a solid indicator of what should and can be attained this year and that we’ll be incented to perform right now even though we’ll be paid much later.

My advice?

Find a company with has their product and pricing right, eliminates the gap between performance and pay, is financially transparent and values you as a person… Good luck with that!


University of Missouri-Columbia. “Athletes’ performance declines following contract years.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 22 January 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/01/140122170622.htm>.

Belogolovsky, P. Bamberger. SIGNALING IN SECRET: PAY FOR PERFORMANCE AND THE INCENTIVE AND SORTING EFFECTS OF PAY SECRECY. Academy of Management Journal, 2014; DOI: 10.5465/amj.2012.0937

Brown et al. Does Wage Rank Affect Employees’ Well-being? Industrial Relations, 2008; 47 (3): 355 DOI: 10.1111/j.1468-232X.2008.00525.x

Kansas State University. “Happy Employees Are Critical For An Organization’s Success, Study Shows.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 4 February 2009. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/02/090203142512.htm>.

Small Talk or Small Talks?

Over the last month, I’ve had the privilege to work with a group of big picture executives, an auditorium full of soon-to-be college grads and most recently, a team of highly talented and creative global business developers. Reviewing my notes from these three dramatically different experiences one theme remained constant…


What it is?
How do I create it?
How do I add it?

Generating personal value is central to an executive’s organizational impact, a graduate’s career trajectory and a business developer’s ability to join the strategic conversation. Understanding, generating and implementing personal value can be the difference between being tops in your profession and standing outside looking in.

What is it?

Personal value is the intersection between what organizations want, what individuals want and what you want. 

How do I create it?

Purposefully prepare for your interactions. Don’t depend on your intuition and emotional intelligence to respond to opportunities in the moment. Come prepared to drive the conversation to the intersection of organizational, individual and personal value.

How do I add it?

Armed with an understanding of the value intersection and having prepared to articulate your vision of it, you’ll be ready to abandon small talk in favor of small talks – bite sized bits of an emerging story you’ve created.

To reap the rewards of leadership, executives need to connect organizational success with employee success. To get in the door, job seekers must connect organizational vision with the accolades recruiters will receive for hiring someone as great as you. To gain a seat at the strategic table, business developers must frame project success in terms of individual rewards and organization imperatives.


Value is a BIG question, so over the next few months we’ll return to this subject and drill down on the practical implications of getting it done.

As always, I welcome your feedback and want to thank Decision Clarity consulting executive Charles Bayless and youth leader Urban Stowe for their insightful responses to last week’s blog ‘Did Your Career Choose You?’.

Did Your Career Choose You?

Over the last several weeks, I’ve had the privilege of giving a series of talks to college students. With graduation season fast approaching, it was apparent that these students were worried about how to get their first job or internship. The experience allowed me a fresh perspective on the entire process of career development and led to this week’s question,

Did You Choose Your Career or Did Your Career Choose You?

Interestingly, I wrestled with a similar question when researching for “Everybody Sells”, my book on global team selling. Interviewing sales leaders from across the globe, it became clear that sales organizations were waking up to a new reality; selling to whomever is buying is no longer a recipe for revenue and profit growth. Not all customers are created equal, not all customers are profitable and some deals shouldn’t be done. We learned that the best sales organizations were starting to focus on selecting their customers instead of their customers selecting them.

Isn’t the career question essentially the same?

Dozens of students have reached out to me, following up on one of my talks. The themes are essentially the same. What do I do to source a job or internship opportunity? Or how do I ‘win’ a job over other candidates? Without exception the questions asked, “How do I get any offer?”, rather than “How do I develop the opportunity I want?”

Considering that most people will spend 2080 hours a year for 40 years of their lives in this thing called a job, picking the right track is key to our success and central to our happiness.

Over the last decade, I’ve interviewed hundreds of senior executives for various reasons. One consistent element in each interview was a retelling of their personal story – how they got to their position. The vast majority of executives share a story that started out very differently than where they ended up. A science major that ended up running one of the nation’s leading insurance companies. An engineer that ended up running one of the world’s foremost sales organizations. It’s rare to find a person that ended up exactly where they set out go.

Taking a more proactive view of securing that first job may be more important than ever. For my parents’ generation, having one, two or three jobs in a career was pretty typical. For my generation that number swelled to a half dozen. Today’s young business professionals are predicted to hold over a dozen jobs in a single career. Getting locked into a career path that typecasts what you are capable of may severely hamper future options.

My advice? Ask two questions, combine the answers and you’ll have a much better idea of what you’d be really good at and what you are passionate about:

  1. What would you do if you had all the money you’d ever need? After all the parties, purchases and travel… When you wake up and have to live the rest of your life, day-after-day. What would you do everyday, for free, because you loved it?
  2. What is your formal training?

Love travel and have an English degree. Travel writer?

Love TV and films and have an accounting degree. Production accountant?

Sure, a first job isn’t the end of the line, but it’s an important step for the next crop of corporate citizens. It seems to me that one’s career should be the result of careful consideration and deliberate development of an opportunity that suits you!

Or am I being overly idealistic? This is a BIG QUESTION and there are a lot of really smart people that read this blog.

So, I’m asking you for your help and insight.

What advice do you have for our soon-to-be graduates?

What’s on Your To-Don’t List?

If you are like most people, your life is full of to-do lists. From chores around the house, to the calls you have to make this week. Lists are part and parcel with the way we get things done.

The problem is that while we have the desire to check off everything on our to-do lists, we rarely have the time.

So, how do you pick?

My longtime business partner and friend, Keith Ferrazzi (author of the NYT Bestseller, Never Eat Alone) offers part of the solution by asking a brilliant question, what are the fewest number of the things I have to do to get the change or outcome I desire?

Answering that question is sure to help you prioritize your to-do list.

Last week, I attended an executive luncheon where Mary Quass, President & CEO, NRG Media offered another valuable take on the subject. Mary asked, what’s on your To-Don’t List?

In other words, what can you STOP DOING that will make you more successful?

Makes sense and you probably don’t have to think too long to populate your own list.

To start your year off right remember:

  1. What are the fewest number of things you need to do to propel your success?
  2. What things can you stop doing that will actually help you move forward?
We learn from others. Thanks Keith and thank you Mary!

Are you good enough? Smart enough? Do people like you?

If you’ve attended one of my live workshops, you’ve probably heard me explain research showing that:  people are six — count’em six — times more likely to do for you, than we are willing to ask for. 

I’ll bet you can think of someone that’s gotten something or done something you should have gotten or done — all because they were pushy — unashamedly willing to ask and keep asking for whatever was on their mind.  If we could just summon up the courage to ask ourselves, we’d be able to lay claim to other people’s willingness to help!

But it’s more than that.  It’s more than simply having the nerve to ask.

For many, it’s all a symptom of social anxiety disorder (SAD).

Lots of us have SAD to some degree or another. While it’s my job to speak before large stadium-sized crowds or handfuls of folks that barely fill a conference room, I don’t recall ever being nervous. But, put me in social setting with people I don’t know and I’ll feel awkward and out of place till the ice breaks (then watch out dance floor!).

New research from Washington University in St. Louis suggests that SAD not only affects what you get but lessens your perception of the strength of your relationships.


  1. 112 people were paired in a study with a non-romantic friend.
  2. Each pair completed an evaluation of the strength of their relationships.
  3. People with social anxiety had a strong tendency to report that their friendships were not as strong as their friends saw it.


It’s estimated that 13% of the U.S. and European populations have been diagnosed with some form of social anxiety disorder and lots more probably have SAD to some degree but haven’t been diagnosed.

When you think about what you should be doing to advance your career or deepen your personal relationships, you probably think about developing a new skill, reading a book or getting in better shape.

However, real advancement of our goals may be as simple as forcing ourselves to ask for what we want and believing that people care about us as much as we care about them.

Reminds me of that old Saturday Night Live skit when the character Stuart Smiley offers his mirror his daily affirmation, “I’m good enough. I’m smart enough. And doggone it, people like me.”

Source: https://news.wustl.edu/news/Pages/27665.aspx

Are you politically correct? It may affect your productivity…

  1. Political correctness sometimes gets a bad rap by people who think that it is just a way to censor their right to free speech; however, Cornell University has proven that it can actually increase the creativity of work teams that are comprised of both men and woman.
  2. This is challenging the idea that in order to have a truly creative team, everyone should be allowed to speak their minds, whatever the consequence.
  3. Political correctness is shown to help people feel more comfortable while sharing their creative ideas, because it reduces the insecurity they might feel while interacting with others, especially those of the opposite sex.
Can you tell the difference between being politically incorrect and being candid? 
Source: http://www.newswise.com/articles/this-just-in-political-correctness-pumps-up-productivity-on-the-job