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effort -v- results

I spent today with a group of about 30 school children. They were all around the ages of 6 or 7. The cohort was largely well mannered and well behaved. The boys were a little more boisterous than the girls. The girls paid a little more attention to instructions.

The students were divided into smaller groups - six groups of five. There were a number of activities for the groups to complete throughout the day.

Each of the groups finished each of the activities as requested, within timeframe and to an acceptable standard.

At the end of the day the parents and teachers thanked and reward the cohort for their efforts.

On the bus ride home I began to wonder: why did we reward all of these children for their efforts and not single out one group (the best) for acknowledgement? Some of the groups had performed better than others and some of the individuals within the groups had performed better than their peers. Why did we not reward these results?

And it occurred to me that this is actually fairly typical. We tend to reward effort in our children: "well done", "good try", "you did your best", "great effort". But once our children move from primary school to high school we begin to change our focus from effort to results: "you can do better", "you'll do better next time", "are you happy with a B?", "aim for a podium position", "go for gold!", "did you win?"

This focus on results becomes engrained. And as our children continue maturing the focus on results becomes more and more pronounced: to a point where the effort becomes irrelevant unless it is matched by a 'great' result.

In the corporate world, many performance appraisals totally disregard effort and reward results above all else. But at what cost? In the short term - probably not a lot. But longer term, this rewarding of results over effort might be the cause of:

  • mis-selling (witness the Financial Planning scandals in Australia & the Insurance litigation in the UK as examples)

  • role churn (estimates in the financial services industry suggest up to 40% of employees remain in their role less than 18 months)

  • increasing operational risk & compliance costs (virtually every industry is experiencing higher operational risk exposure & associated compliance costs as results are driven by a 'more/sooner' mantra)

  • a less tolerant approach to people management (the Jack Welsh philosophy of cutting the bottom x% based solely on performance results is well and truly alive)

  • a less team based, collaborative & caring workplace (many businesses now feel the need to 'tell' people to care for their peers and work together, making it a part of their "behaviours and values statements")

I can't help but wonder if this trend to focus on results over effort is, in some way, linked to the rise of the 'narcissistic executive culture' so evident in many corporates and, perhaps, one of the causes of the massive increase in mental health issues (stress, anxiety and depression in particular) amongst the student and working populations?

Maybe I'm misguided about this. Maybe this move from effort to results is critical to becoming resilient & productive adults? Maybe it's all about 'survival of the fittest'? Maybe. I'm not sure. But I can't help but recall the 30 smiling faces of those children who had given their all and done their best .... the results were mixed but that didn't matter - their efforts were what mattered.

#leadership #engagement

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