Why You Fail at Performance Improvement

If you want to save a ton of money, time and grief at your company, it’s as easy as this: don’t try to implement performance improvement.

As a performance improvement consultant, why do I say this? Because practically every performance improvement mechanism out there (Six Sigma, PMO, ITIL, Sarbanes Oxley, Malcolm Baldridge, 4DX, etc.) assumes that you have supportive layers of workforce empowerment in place that you probably don’t have. And even if you do, you will likely ruin those layers of support if you begin focusing on results at the expense of your people.

If you understand this, you’ll be ahead of 95% of other leaders.


The fact that focusing on performance improvement can curtail performance is a cruel irony that most leaders don’t “get” until they experience it themselves. It has honestly become difficult for me to watch. From my experience, unless you proactively implement performance improvement with the right formula, you have a 95% chance of doing it wrong. So wrong, in fact, that your long-term performance will actually be worse than when you began. How can this be? Because by its very nature, performance improvement focuses on results instead of people. And creating production today at the expense of production capability tomorrow will only create less production tomorrow. This is a recipe for cycling down, not up–the very opposite of what you intended.

Any cheerleader consultant (or leader, for that matter) can achieve higher performance temporarily from the outside in, simply by pushing. But then performance will always return to the level it was before, if not lower. Truly great companies have leaders who have learned how to lead employees in a way that allows innovation and value to be created from the inside out, so that high performance is sustained without compulsion. These are the “people” layers of support that performance gurus always assume are magically there to support your improvement project, but rarely are. Once you know how to build and retain those layers, you can implement practically any performance improvement solution on the planet, and it will likely succeed.

As a leader, it is your responsibility to proactively set up your initiatives for success.

  • How will you retain empowerment while working to achieve higher performance?
  • How will you get results without making results your focus and curtailing the initiative of your people?
  • How will you introduce greater structure without destroying innovation?
  • How will you preserve the intrapreneurial leadership power of employees all the way from workforce empowerment, to operations maturity, to enterprise execution and beyond?

The alchemy for creating long-term high-performance within organizations is specifically formulated. Flying by the seat of your pants will never get you there.

The secret to taking your company from good to great and staying there permanently is this: performance has to be generated willingly by your people from their hearts. You can’t buy that. You can’t mandate that. How do you get your organization to execute as a team? You don’t. You simply invite it in a way that helps them pull it out of themselves, so that the burden feels like their own, and so the success or failure is their own. Once you learn how to do that, high-performance will begin to flow within your company naturally and without compulsion. It starts with a leader who understands how to let go and help their employees become the leaders.

This is not a dynamic that can be solved permanently by a temporary consultant. You have to solve it yourself by being a different kind of leader. You have to preserve empowerment through every step of maturity and execution. If you need help with that, we can help! You are the hero of your story, and the transformation starts with yourself.

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