This is part eight in a twelve-part series on high performers. Creating a culture that keeps and challenges high performers isn’t easy. I call this kind of culture a “done done” culture because it’s focused on personal accountability and performance. You can read the first posts here:
- They make decisions and act
- They act even when they don’t feel like it
- They do the most productive thing next
- They do only one thing at a time
- They have a bias for positivity
- They have redefined failure
- They don't let fear hold them back
H8: They’re Clear about their Purpose
Imagine for just a second that you were invited to the White House. Maybe that’s too political for you. So instead, imagine that you were invited to speak at Harvard. Not the Joe Pesci in “With Honors” kind of speaking at Harvard. I mean the Steve Jobs kind of speaking at Harvard.
Would you know what to say? What would you say? If you are like me, you’d work hard to try to come up with something brilliant, worthy of Harvard. Just the thought of it feels intimidating. Except for some folks.
Boring At Harvard
There’s a group of folks that, when asked to speak at Harvard, the White House, or anywhere else, are downright boring. They’re boring because they’re predictable. And they’re predictable because they have one message they want to share. It’s the same message they share with anyone who will listen.
I could tell you Bill Gates is the epitome of this – a guy who talks about having an impact and is saving lives every day. But I’ve spent 7 chapters talking with you about high performers who were all men. So let’s look at a woman instead – because they’re high performers too.
Can you guess what Mother Teresa shared at Harvard? Can you guess what she said when she was invited to the White House? Guess what? It was the same thing. It was the same as the things she shared whenever she was invited to speak anywhere. Was it because she was boring? No. She had a purpose. It was a clear purpose. And everywhere she went, she shared her purpose with the hope of engaging others to join her in having an impact on the world.
Mother Teresa was a High Performer…and Boring
I watched a movie years ago about Mother Teresa. What was surprising to me was how she started her ministry to the poor. It wasn’t some big calling. It wasn’t some vision or dream. She was just sitting in a room reading her Bible. And as she read about loving the poor and remembered what she’d seen outside the convent, she decided she needed to act. So she left the room she was in and went out to hug the poorest of the poor. That led to a school for the poorest children in the neighborhood and that led to the creation of her own order, “The missionaries of charity.”
She started with no funding. She started with no staff.
She started with clarity of purpose. And that purpose didn’t change. It didn’t matter if she was in Calcutta, the White House, or Harvard. Even if it meant she was predictable and boring.
Are you that kind of boring?
Are you like that? Is your purpose clear? Are you a broken record about certain things? For over six years I’ve been asking my teams at Emphasys if things are “done done.” I’ve shared the concept with the general managers, vice presidents, directors, and any staff that would listen. I’m boring. I’m predictable. But part of it is because I’m focused on developing high performance teams. Even though I’ve been managing software development for eighteen years, even though I’ve managed the development of tons of new software products, and launched many of them, one of my passions is the coaching and mentoring of staff to develop a high performance culture.
There’s another thing about Mother Teresa that I really dig. She started out by asking if she could just step outside of the convent walls. She didn’t ask to create her order. She started by hugging people. She didn’t raise funds. She started by teaching poor children. She didn’t hire staff. But eventually, volunteers showed up who were like-minded. Eventually, money came in to help her cause. Eventually she asked for permission to create an order. But not up front.
Passionate and Engaged
Does that match how you and your team work? Are you figuring out low cost and low burden ways to get started? Are you looking for volunteers to get engaged because they care about your goals and mission? Are you finding creative ways to extend past your natural limits?
High performers don’t wait for everything to be aligned before they act. They have a purpose. And they move forward with their purpose, regardless of the context they’re in. You probably know many folks who have a list of things that have to be right before they can start their big project – they need the right partners, they need the right funds, they need the right office, the right chair. And when you hear it, you know. This person will never get anything started.
Have you ever read “Renegades of the Empire”? It’s an old book now that really only appealed to game programmers – and only game programmers for the PC. But what was most interesting about the story to me is that up until the last moment, Microsoft was going forward with technologies called WinG and OpenGL. That was the technology the core Windows team expected just months before Windows 95 was released. But unknown to them, Craig Eisler, Alex St. John, and Eric Engstrom staged their own coup. They were building DirectX on their own, in the late hours, in dark corners, and in whatever spare moments they had. And they changed the nature of Windows forever – because suddenly it was a platform gamers could code on, instead of just coding on the faster DOS.
Sure these guys had a job. But more than that, they had a purpose. A mission. And nothing, not even a challenging day job, would get in their way of having an impact on an entire industry. I could tell you more skunk work projects like it, but it’s a sample of what happens when you bring high performance players into a culture where they take personal ownership to do what they believe are the right things.
The Eighth Habit of a “Done Done” Culture
I have a five year old that just started kindergarten this year. He’s been told by his teacher that if the other boys talk to him while he’s working on something, it’s ok to ignore them because he needs to stay focused. My son is good at focus. So when other kids try to talk to him, he literally ignores them. I’m sure if you have employees that ignore people they might be considered rude. But know this – high performers want to get things done. They want to work with people who get things done. To do that, they keep their purpose in front of them. That’s focus. And sometimes that may mean they’re not considered the nicest of folks. But you’re not paying them to be sweet. You’re paying them to deliver on impossible dreams. So give them the air cover they need to stay focused.
Questions for your team:
- What distracts us from our focus and purpose?
- What do we need to do to remind each other of what success looks like?
- How can we help each other remove distractions from our environments?
Questions for you:
- Are you delivering the protection your staff need, so that they can focus?
- Are you encouraging your team to be scattered when they should be focused?
- Are you clear with them on the critical things everyone needs to pay attention to?