“An ounce of practice is worth more than a ton of preaching.” – Mahatma Gandhi

We often talk about how people are our greatest asset – how investing in them and helping them to grow is important. But I rarely hear people talk about how we need to put people into situations where they need to perform; where they can use their capabilities and leverage their practice to create incredible results.

I think of this often when I look at teams that don’t perform as well as they could because they have leader who lets them off the hook, or who doesn’t create enough positive performance pressure.

I call this the power of having to perform.

We know this from the world of sport.

You start with great people and an incredible amount of practice. Then there’s a game with an objective, and everyone brings an incredible amount of their best energy and focus to create their best performance possible. The team rallies to work together for a short period when they are very productive, tested and challenged, and don’t waste a second.

This is not how we normally operate in business.

We start with good people and spend some time training, but we don’t have a positive pressure performance time – a time when we really need to drive hard to perform and shine. Sometimes a sales team does, or finance team at month end, but I think there an opportunity to do more – especially in companies that are founder- or family-owned.

One Story

This difference was best described by an executive in a family-owned business, during a break at a retreat:

“What I love about this family business is that when things don’t go well, or when we have a bad month, it’s not a big deal. We’re disappointed but no one leaves stressed out or in tears. We just try to do better, next time.

“In the company I came from, if we were off our profit, there would be incredible intensity and preparation before the board meeting to make sure we knew exactly what happened, and to get it back in a matter of days.

“But you know what? There’s a part of me that loved being in that environment. It forced us to perform and find ways to win. We got very creative and yes, we had some late meetings and sleepless nights but, at the end of the day, we always found a way to make it happen because we had to. There was no way we were going to show up at that board meeting without understanding and answers.

“it just wouldn’t be tolerated.”

I asked this executive if she had more tension to perform, now, could her company perform better?

“Heck ya! We could perform way better because we’d just have to.”

The Opportunity to Be Better

At the end of the day, you can take a group of human beings and if some have to perform better, and some don’t, the have-tos will rise to the occasion almost every time, because that’s how we’re wired.

Leaders who think they are being nice and overly understanding are really setting up their people and their environment to be mediocre. But it’s important to never forget that, when tested, the human spirit shows incredible survival instincts and creativity.

That provides great potential for family- and founder-run businesses to find the middle ground – to create tension through positive pressure and opportunities to perform that bring out the best of their people and keep their real heart and soul.

The Challenge

Think about your business and team:

  • Are you more about letting people off the hook, and into comfort and mediocrity? Or
  • Are you holding the bar high, creating an environment and the support to challenge them? To find ways to make things happen, with budget and time constraints, so that creativity can kick in?
  • How can you create more Positive Performance Pressure so can your team find ways to win because they have to?