High Performance at Work

What does it mean to be a high performer

The term High Performance was introduced to me as a standard during my time working at Accenture. It’s even on their slogan:

High performance. Delivered.

Which raises a couple questions: What qualifies as a high performance? How do you measure high performance?

It’s All Relative

Looking back on this, it was a noble goal. A company striving to be the best at it’s core competency can’t fail by building a team of “high performance people” right? The problem with this is that not everyone knows how to be the best version of themselves, it’s a very hard thing to accomplish as it turns out. We all have that gap between the person we idealize we are -a projection of a perfect you- and the person we actually are. Perception and reality are often very different. Awareness is key to getting where you want in terms of performance and self realization.

Despite the noble thought around Accenture’s ideal employer, the method to reach that goal makes all the difference. It’s the same perception vs reality that we as individuals face. Their tactic back when I used to work for them (2011–2013) was to run a company wide annual performance review based on feedbacks from bosses and people higher up the chain of command. They would rate and categorize everyone in the company into “levels of performance”.

The flaw in this strategy is that you are compared with your peers in a competitive fashion to achieve the higher spots. Only 5% of the company could be “At the very top” which was the highest level of performance. This curved based system where people have to fall under these quotas for each level has the majority of the company, by definition, categorized as “consistent”, since that was the major quota with 55% of employees. How can you have a team of high performance people when you are annually labeling more than half your workforce “consistent”?! Of course, this is just so the bonus pool would get distributed in a way that saved the company money masqueraded as merit-based.

What they didn’t account for –or maybe they did– is that people would eventually start playing the political game to market themselves to bosses so they could rank higher. So at the very core it was flawed, fake and an unfair review system that waisted a lot of company time and dollars (roughly $35 million a year) to reward employees that were likely being political about their work, not necessarily higher performance workers.

Accenture’s executives eventually brought the program to a halt in 2016, admitting it’s failure to generate a high performance workforce. But did they also failed to learn why it didn’t work? I’m sure they made a long report about it, as bureaucrats always do, with plenty of buzzwords and buzzphrases like millennials and work-life balance and other generalized bullshit. If your intention as a company is to build high performance people you have to do just that. Develop employees so they’ll perform at their highest level. Competition with other peers will never do that. High performance is about you bettering yourself and not trying to one-up the guy in the neighboring cubicle. Qualification and measurement of high performance is relative to each person. We need to one-up ourselves in order to be a high performer. Here’s what the CEO Pierre Nanterme had to say about overhauling performance reviews:

… all this terminology of rankings — forcing rankings along some distribution curve or whatever — we’re done with that. We’ve totally done too much effort for a limited outcome.

Luckily, we can grow and learn from their mistakes and apply this to our own lives to get what we ultimately want: genuine satisfaction of accomplishing something difficult and meaningful. The grater the challenge the more satisfaction we get out of it. To do just that, overcome difficulties and accomplishing hard feats, we have to perform at a high level and constantly evolve. That to me is high performance. Pushing your boundaries everyday. Easier said than done, right? There are lots of people that have reached that state of performance and many of them are happy to share the habits and mindset that got them there. Habits and Mindset. You have to know, not fear, but know that you won’t learn any shortcuts, there are none. You have to know there isn’t a secret pill. Only discipline -via habits and routines, organization, and a positive mindset will help you.