Performance is an important topic in most workplaces. Presumably, there’s a fairly typical, usually implicit, assumption that when you come to work, you’re going to perform your best. Companies spend massive amounts on “performance management” programs, compensation plans, feedback technologies, and incentive structures, all in the name of — you guessed it — greater performance.

But what if we’ve been misunderstanding where great performance actually comes from?

At Helios, we’ve discovered that the formula for great performance is actually quite simple…

Great performance = energy alignment.

That’s it. Really.

When we get to do work that aligns with what we’re good at doing AND makes us feel strong, energized, and intrinsically motivated, we are amazing. This is closely related to states of “flow,” which seems to be a core ingredient of peak performance, and it’s exactly what allows us to be at our BEST in a sustainable way.

Whenever there are performance challenges/issues, they stem from a misalignment of what energizes me and and what I’m doing on a daily basis.*

Where many people’s minds go at this point is…

“How is this possible? If we just let people work on whatever energizes them, won’t there be piles of things that don’t get done?”

First, there’s an assumption hiding — a deep bias lurks in this statement that some work is just not fun for anyone. I fully understand there are some “dirty jobs” out there in the world, but 99% of them are not at your company. Which means it’s far better to operate on the assumption that (if the work you’re talking about actually creates value for a customer) anything that needs doing someone will love doing it.

Second, you are already working on things you’ve committed to, and those commitments need to be honored. Things we’re doing that don’t energize us won’t just magically go away — this is a process, a direction. The expectation isn’t for everyone to work 100% on energizing things overnight, but to give people an aspiration, a goal, something to move towards.

Because right now, most of us are on a path that just moves us towards doing more and more work that sucks the life out of us.

That just doesn’t feel like a very good goal.

We can all do better.

So, instead of what we do now — which is essentially try to forcibly extract more great performance out of people via carrots, sticks, and coercion — what do we do instead? In a nutshell, we shift focus from “performance management” programs, compensation plans, feedback technologies, and incentive structures, and put almost all attention, and budget, on two things:

  1. Help each person understand what intrinsically motivates and energizes them at work (this is a massive blind spot for most of us),
  2. Upgrade our workplace operating system (i.e. culture) so the system itself helps to gradually move each person more and more in the direction of what gives them energy.

If we actually want truly exceptional, sustainable, great performance, the path is clear: take an energy-based approach to work.

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*There are a few small caveats. First, the people we hire have to be on fire for our noble cause and willing to live by our vital behaviors. Second, I’m also not addressing performance issues that may arise due to illness or injury (could be physical / mental / emotional) — these things are very real and need vastly more attention in our workplaces.

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