Optimization of the Performance
A systems approach to improving performance
By Rob MacLeod
Business has long wrestled with improving performance without resorting to either an assembly line or draconian measures of “monitoring “ employees’ activities. Past strategies resembled extortion, coercion, bribing and public flogging. OK, so it wasn’t quite that serious, but to some employees it seemed that way. The idea was to use external influencers to modify or improve behaviour.
Recently, while working to improve the performance of elite athletes on the Canadian National Swimming team, Dave Johnson, the team’s head coach, met Dr. Peter Guy. Dr. Guy is a Polish born coach, sport theoretician who has spent most of his adult life in the development of human performance. What these two have done with the Canadian Swim team would make business managers across North America envious. They have been able to align athletes, coaches, physiotherapists and significant others (parents, spouses and siblings) to buy-in to a concept that does what Dave Johnson needed most – “to move peak performance from the comfortable domestic arena to the stressful world stage.”
According to Dave, “many athletes can perform at a high level and achieve personal bests in the less chaotic atmosphere of practice and local competition. Away from home, distractions from all sides plus heightened emotional states from being surrounded by the world’s best, makes an emotional cocktail that can de-rail the best athlete just at a time when their performance has to be the best.”
Dr. Guy’s process – based on psychocybernetics is not new. Developed in 1960’s by Prof. M. Mazur, psychocybernetics looks at an individual’s character in a holistic manner and translates that into a predictor of the individual’s ability to perform in given circumstances.
Cybernetics is the interdisciplinary science dealing with communication and control systems in living organisms, machines and organizations. In 1980, Dr. Guy moved from psychology to psychocybernetics and started a twenty-year journey that landed him in Sydney, Australia for the 2000 Summer Olympics as the Canadian Swimming team’s psychocybernetist.
Psychocybernetics works across all sports. Peter once coached a young golfer who was exodynamic. The golfer had excellent technical skills and played well up to the final round. Often, on the last day of each tournament, this golfer, in his early twenties would find it difficult to focus on some of the crucial aspects of his game.
From the golfer’s profile, Peter understood the young athlete really enjoyed basketball. Peter advised him to play basketball for two hours the morning of the final round. You can imagine the “concern” there was about playing a strenuous sport like basketball just before the crucial eighteen holes. The golfer took Peter’s advice and went on to play some of the best golf of his young career. The key to his performance was he burned off his excess energy, and because he was exodynamic, he had no problems recovering and generating the energy necessary to play his final round. With his head clear, his mind focused and energy level balanced, he was at the top of his game.
The key to making the most of this information in an athletic environment is to look at the individual’s activities leading up to the time of the event when their peak performance is required. Dave Johnson had noticed one swimmer was having difficulty in the finals of many competitions because there was too much outside activity. With the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, many friends and family, as well as personal coaches and physiotherapists not included in the “accredited” coaching staff made the trek from Canada to Atlanta to be with their athletes. This much support could be seen as beneficial, but when combined with the increased media and event attention, it started draining the energy of this swimmer. By helping the athlete schedule events and activities after the event, that swimmer was able to conserve and then channel the required energy into the performance.
But what about the personal coaches and parents. Dave Johnson had developed an inclusive culture for the National Team. “In the past, once an athlete was named to the Team, their personal coaches were left behind. The National Team had its staff coaches.” Under Dave’s leadership, the coaches who helped the athletes get to the national platform were invited to stay involved. Obviously, that meant the coaching staff swelled to 14 from the usual 6 or 7. But at major competitions, the core coaching team receives the accreditation that allowed them into the athlete’s village and venues. Personal coaches do not.
In Atlanta, the extended coaching staff was just a phone call or short cab ride away. Dave’s challenge – how do we involve these coaches in a meaningful way, even though they do could not gain close access to their athletes? Since the psychocybernetical profile assesses the interests of each individual, by matching the interests of each of the coaches with the needs of the team, Dave was able to engage the coaches without accreditation in a meaningful way for the coaches, the athletes and the team. One coach, with a high interest in computers and the Internet, compiled and reported back information about swimming around the world. He became the go-to source for competitive and personal information.
But, does it work in the business arena? Just ask Mike Martin, General Manager of Scarborotown Chrysler in Toronto. The dealership was performing well by all measures – volume, profits and customer satisfaction. Mike had the feeling it was not performing as well as it could. He had optimized many of the process issues and recognized the value of improving the “human” aspect of the performance. Mike was introduced to with Dr. Peter Guy.
After explaining the basis of psychocybernetics, Mike asked Peter to be assess him. Like Dave Johnson, nothing went to Mike’s people that he did not approve. The assessment takes an hour and a half and is a battery of questions broken into six sections. Once the questionnaire is processed a rather substantial over 60-page document is produced. Peter reviewed the report with Mike. The psychocybernetics character assessment listed Mike’s strengths and weaknesses. Mike was impressed especially with the assessment of his weaknesses. “I don’t like them,” he replied, “but … it’s me”.
“I would like to have you assess my staff,” was Mike’s summation of his own report.
“We need to start with the managers.” Peter replied. Peter always starts with the senior people, because it is not an “us and them” situation. It’s people working with people. If the managers don’t understand themselves – their strengths, weaknesses and interests – then they will not be able to work effectively with their people.
Peter met with the managers and Mike explained what they wanted to do. To say the managers were sceptical would be a gross understatement. Automotive retailing is a very basic business of selling and servicing cars. The managers all had a lot of experience in the industry and had seen a lot of “programs” come and go. But they trusted Mike and agreed to have the assessment.
The story is about the same, each time Dr. Guy starts a new group – scepticism followed by surprise followed by acceptance followed by belief. The five-person management team was no different. They learned more about themselves following the review of their character.
First of all, Peter reviews the overall results with the group, then does a one-on-one session with each person. Going from the overview, he is able to delve into each person’s issues.
With two of the managers, very talented and intelligent individuals, Peter explained they did not feel challenged. One of the managers went to Mike to express his concern about Peter’s arrogance and he protested that he was not unhappy with his current position.
Mike had noticed the manager’s “restlessness” and felt the assessment was correct. The manager had accomplished all he could in his current position and needed further challenge. He and the manager talked about what they could do to correct the situation. The result was a move to another position with more responsibility and challenge.
Because of the differing styles of the outgoing and incoming sales managers, Peter suggested this was the time to extend the assessment into the sales people. Again more skepticism, again more support.
The outgoing manager was more people oriented, with all the sales people reporting directly to him. Because the new manager was more systems oriented, the sales teams were organized around team leaders who, in turn, reported to the new sales manager. Team membership was organized based on the character assessment to make sure the people on each team could work together.
With over 40 years in the development of Psychocybernetics and Dr. Guy’s 20 years of practical experience in bringing it to its current state, the Identification of Character assessment is a great tool for managers, coaches and individuals.
But the benefit did not stop there. While completing the assessments, Peter also looked at the performance of each sales person and had Mike complete detailed performance statistics. Peter needed these to understand the performance of each sales person – just as you would in the sports arena. It turned out some of the top performers (as measured by units) were not the top contributors when measured against revenue and customer satisfaction.
As he understood more about each sales person, Peter could assess when they were “out of balance.” We all have three major areas of our life – job, family and self. Our time and energies are divided among these based on need. When we attribute too much energy to one area or neglect another, our lives are out of balance and it is very stressful. Our performance goes down.
With one sales person, a high performer, Peter noticed he was spending more and more time at the dealership yet his results continued to slip dramatically. The prescription – take four days off. Stay at home and don’t even think of work. The result was when the salesperson returned, his results returned to above normal performance.
There is no magic in this. Eventually, someone would have realized he needed a break – maybe.
Since then, many of the sales staff have asked Peter to extend the assessment to their families – spouses and significant others. These results are confidential – but positive. It helps each person understand when there are out of balance. It also gives each person in a relationship a better understanding of the other and a common language to voice concerns – better communication.
Psychocybernetics is not a silver bullet. It is a tool that allows individuals, coaches and managers to better understand themselves and those around them. Armed with this understanding and other tools that Dr. Guy provides, we are all capable of making better decisions when it comes to the balance in our lives. Dr. Guy is currently working to put Identification of Character (IoC) based on psychocybernetics on the Internet. Professionals and managers will be able to use it to assist in building better teams and helping people perform at their best.
With over 40 years in the development of Psychocybernetics and Dr. Guy’s 20 years of practical experience in bringing it to its current state, the Identification of Character assessment is a great tool for managers, coaches and individuals. In his upcoming book, “Maintaining Balance” Peter will explore the stressors that push us out of balance and the strategies and tactics we can use to maintain balance in our professional, family and leisure activities.