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How Performance Culture Kills Our Companies

Individual performance is still the number one reason why people get promoted. In a world of high collaboration, should this still be the case?


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Tavian jean-pierre

2 years ago | 4 min read

Photo by Israel Andrade on Unsplash
Photo by Israel Andrade on Unsplash

If you are a leader reading this, for the most part, you are in your position thanks to performance culture. The leaders above you at the time rewarded you with a promotion thanks to your performance.

You more than likely took the time out to develop your skills and work on yourself. In doing so, you were able to elevate above your colleagues and become a leader.

Before we look at why performance culture is negative, we should explore its positives. After all, it has helped build the economy we have today.

Many of us, if not all of us, are driven by incentives. So, there is probably no better way to make someone improve themselves than incentivise them to do so. In organisations, we see this through promotions, pay rises and status.

In a capitalist society, our businesses promote taking full advantage of one’s opportunities. In doing so, we, in an ideal world, create workers that seek out the best to improve themselves and their performance.

Although this all sounds nice, it is not the reality. In the past, the world was less connected and somewhat easier for business. We did not have huge companies, nor did we have a tonne of news thrown at us every day. In this environment, performance culture worked well because it allowed people to focus on themselves.

Individuality was much easier to find as you could not scroll through Instagram to compare yourself to others. Also, original ideas were easier to come across because people were less aware.

However, as time went on, connectivity increased, and collaboration became essential. A good idea is less likely to be found by just one person because now you need a few people to help. And your performance is no longer about yourself but can now be affected by others.

So in a world of deep collaboration, where does individual performance fit? Also, how should leaders award individual performance in their organisations? In this brief article, I will be exploring these questions further.

Individual Performance Does Not Drive Execution

Individual performance is still the top driver of promotion decisions, despite the world-changing. Leaders constantly measure individual performance for two reasons.

The first is that it is the easiest thing to measure. We can see how hard someone has worked over the year based on deliverables. Their work speaks for itself.

The second is that we believe it drives execution. Despite working in collaborative environments, we still believe it is all about the individual. It could be the leader putting energy into their team or the individual doing overtime to get more done. We still believe that individuality makes the difference.

Now that is not all wrong. After all, it takes individuals to do anything. Also, each person has a unique way of working and different attitudes towards work. As a result, we can measure the effectiveness of each person.

So yes, we do need to track and reward individual performance. Those who perform good ways of working should be recognised. And these individual performances can help get desirable results such as more effective working and high energy.

However, we must not neglect the fact that individuals are not separate from their environment. A highly motivated person in one company may not be the same in the other. Things like company culture, the people we work with and areas can affect our performance. Not only this, but it can affect the expectations of performance too.

It is no longer as easy as measuring how many sales, deliverables or good reviews the person got. Leaders must now consider the whole environment because collaboration drives execution.

People working together and all driving towards a goal drive us to the results companies want. And each individual, in one way or another, benefits from the work of others to stand out and accomplish great things.

What Individual Performance Looks Like Today

In a world where everyone seeks to conform, going against the norm is a rare case. Many people today fear to be an individual because it often hurts their careers.

Companies tend to have one way to get promoted or climb to the next level. And in this world, it is to put your head down and mimic those above you if you want their roles.

A lot of people find themselves stuck on this path to leadership in large organisations. However, in today’s world, individual performance looks different to before. It is no longer putting your head down and outperforming the rest. Instead, it is going your own path.

Having the courage to experiment and challenge the status quo are the traits of individual performance. In an environment where results are praised, seeking to do something new can lead to failure and a quick shutdown from those at the top. However, the courage to act against the majority and stand out is true individualism.

Not only to stand out but to drive others to follow them on this path too. If you seek individual performance in a collaborative world, this is what you should look for. As a leader, these are the people you should seek to give your position to when you leave.

Finding the Balance

Leaders are beginning to realise that a balance will have to be made. On one hand, we want high performers and seek to reward these individuals. On the other, we want collaboration to produce new ideas.

As you can see, individual performance in a highly collaborative environment is even more challenging. It takes courage to step out and go against the status quo. But too much of this will lead to a disregard of company values and less collaboration.

However, few are willing to take the step of individualism. As you have probably noticed, many stay the course and mimic those above. So, we need balanced leaders. Those who know when to question and be an individual, but know when to support the collective.

Therefore, I challenge the leaders today to find a balance. Firstly, understand what individual performance looks like. It is not someone following the status quo and mimicking their leaders. It is someone going beyond and seeking to shape the company in a vision they see fit.

Secondly, promote individual performance and praise collective efforts. Do not just reward individuals, for this will only lead to a collapse of the collective goal.

Finally, be a balanced leader. Do not follow company protocols all the time, but do not break them because you can. Learn to find the sweet in-between of bringing your spirit to a collective effort.

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Tavian jean-pierre

I am a Visionary and Writer who seeks to enrich society by challenging how we do business today to lead to a world of better leaders and opportunities tomorrow.


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