In this article “from linear to rhythmic performance “, we discuss linear thinking in performance management. We suggest another or additional approach that is based on the neuro-biological rhythms of human performance. This enhances self-leadership, resilience, learning, and innovation in teams and organizations.
The WHAT and the HOW of Performance Management 
Often there is a one-sided emphasis in organizations on the WHAT: the results, output, and KPIs to be achieved. Performance processes are based on an analytic, methodic, rational, and logical thinking style. We describe this as linear thinking. A linear process moves forward like a line with a starting point and an ending point, making simple straight connections in sequential order. However, human behavior and performance never happen in a linear order. Hence performance management cannot simply be rolled out as it was linearly planned.
To mitigate these effects some organizations may have introduced competency management, This is based on profiles that clarify expectations about functions and roles which is expressed in competencies and behavioral criteria. With these competency profiles and 360 feedback rounds, organizations assess HOW individuals and teams are performing on their hard skills and soft skills. Click here if you like to read more about the difference between hard and soft skills, drives, talents, and competencies.
In line with the WHAT and HOW of performance and competency management, organizations have conversations to value, assess and reward individuals and teams. Appraisal-reviews and rewarding systems are often based on KPIs and competency development. In most organizations, these conversations have become formalities that do not adequately match the human needs of the people involved.
Despite all these efforts, leaders and the people working in organizations are not happy with their performance management systems and processes:
Some examples:

  • At the times that I was employed as an OD consultant /behavioral trainer, I often felt as if I was having 2 jobs: the work I did externally working with the client-organization and the work I had to do to comply with the internal administrative processes of my employer. Working externally with clients felt as if I was working adaptively while the internal organization was lagging.
  • The trends that COVID has accelerated, show that we are no longer bound to traditional notions of space and time to work together. By connecting online, we now get an impression of people’s lives at home and how people spend their energy recovering from work. For many leaders, it took this pandemic to learn that they are not leading skills and competencies, but that they are leading the WHOLE person(s) and teams.
  • The coaching clients often mention that the management systems tend to set up for failure when they don’t prepare – at the same time – people for (personal) leadership and resilience. What should be a motivational conversation, is often reduced to the completion of time-consuming checklists and appraisal forms to fill the systems. This is worrisome because conversations can be such a resourceful and great lever for motivation and creating a safe psychological environment.
  • Managers become aware that it doesn’t make sense to continue to rush and tick the boxes of their management systems, and control employees about the implementation of tasks. Leaders increasingly focus on purpose-driven processes instead of the goals set by the organization. Employees do not accept any longer the traditional command-control leadership style that is based on hierarchy in the organization.
  • Often a performance problem is not a lack of talent, competency, or skill and hence competency development is not the solution to enhance performance. The barriers to optimal performance are often found in the emotional capacities and negative habits that block, distort, waste, diminish deplete and contaminate stored energy in the brain-body system.

“The way people behave is determined by the way people think” – Gregory Bateson –

Rhythmic performance

“Linear” means that there is no space for oscillation or rhythm, while rhythms lie at the heart of our human capacity for full engagement and sustained health.
Some examples:

  • When there is no oscillation but a flat line on the heart rate monitor, then this is a deadly bad sign of health …..
  • A team that has been performing at its peak, can’t raise the bar immediately after the peak. After a sprint, human beings need some rest and downtime to recover.

Energy, not time, is what drives enduring high performance. This insight prompts transformations in the way that leaders support the high performance of the teams. The rhythm between energy expenditure and energy recovery of the brain and body system is complex but critical for optimal engagement and performance. Strong teams have found a rhythm between giving and taking, between talking and listening, between valuing the other person and feeling commensurately valued in return, and other circadian and ultradian rhythms.
Altogether, human beings are simply too complex to be managed by linear thinking, because human beings perform according to the quality of their biological rhythms.

Influencing natural rhythms

Intuitively leaders already know that they need to take into account the humanity and the biology of human nature. So where can leaders start to apply these neuro-insights?
As the COVID crises that we are facing are systemic in nature, we need to start thinking in systems and leading the WHOLE person(s) and teams.
The basic idea behind systems theory is that “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts” An easy example of this is baking a cake. If you were to lay out all of the ingredients of a cake, you would not have a cake. But, combine those ingredients in a particular way, you produce a cake. This also holds for team performance.
When leaders want change to happen, they can start disrupting their own linear thinking and learn to approach high performance from the perspective of the neurobiology of the brain and body system.
Disrupt linear thinking
In my work as an executive & team neuro-coach/OD consultant, and to disrupt thinking, we focus on the relationship systems, the intra-personal and inter-personal behavioral patterns of the relations.
When people set goals for their performance, they’re driven by the anticipated reward. But when it comes to working on them, they’re driven by the effort required, which is where they often fail.
Leaders can start learning about the neuro-biological system that is most nearby …. Their SELF. Leaders can learn how to use the energy of their own brain and body system in healthy ways. They can learn how to sustain this energy and be resilient when failure hits
Inner work and mindfulness in some form, but pursued in-depth, and learning about the own unique brain and body system from a neuro-perspective,  is helping to support leaders to spark motivation and to prevent that people don’t become paralyzed by all the changes that are happening with COVID

Can it be so simple? Yes!

A hallmark of successful leaders is the discovery that they can control the level of motivation. They activate the different parts of the brain; they navigate and direct the energy of their brain-body system and by doing so, optimize performance.
Start TODAY! with a WHOLISTIC approach of human functioning and performance.
You can learn, measure, and monitor the performance of your brain-body system.
Connect with us for more information about neuro-coaching, which is supported by innovative tools for individuals and teams .