Performance is hard work. The world of sport gets it, because they train more than they compete. In business, where every day is game day, performance needs to be first understood correctly, and then lived every day.

Having worked in the world of business and Olympic sport for the last 21 years, I’ve lived in two worlds where the “performance” gets used in very different ways. Below are six common misunderstandings that, when clarified and embedded in daily work, help you become the best version of yourself.

Myth 1: Performance equals results

Performance means “doing the things you need to do to get the results you want,” while results are “the measurable output that comes from a performance.”

Imagine an Olympic athlete who doesn’t make the distinction, and is only obsessed with results. At the start of the Olympic qualification, they’re focused on the result they must get. Their mind is at the finish line with a body that’s not being guided by the mind about how to execute the next movement with the quality required

How about another athlete who only focuses on performance? They prepare for the qualification with an eye on performing, with no check-in on the results they’re producing. They may find they haven’t improved their performance fast enough, or to the right level, to be competitive.

When you’re clear about the difference between performance and results and use them with intent, your sense of control, confidence, and work improves significantly.

Equal obsession and balance around performance and results is the key to short and long-term success on both components. How’s your balance right now?

Myth 2: You’ll get a performance culture by putting it in your company strategy

The Olympic environment is a true performance environment. But it’s only a performance environment because of the daily rituals that maintain everyone’s commitment to perform. Performance goals are set and reviewed several times a day. Feedback is given and responded to just as often. Preparation and recovery are in everyone’s daily routines. Everyone understands their role in the delivery of performance, whether they’re the athlete, coach, or support staff.

I’ve not seen a sports team yet that outsources performance to other departments. Everyone is their own Head of Continuous Improvement – as well as each other’s.

Man doing clapping push ups on the sand, motivation, commitment, performance, purpose, goals, gymnastics, adidas, GamePlan A
The biggest mistake people make: confusing ‘performance’ with ‘results’.

Myth 3: You only need performance management when you are underperforming

Every Olympic athlete (even the ones who already have a medal) has a development plan. They’d actually be pretty annoyed if they didn’t, because it would mean they were not considered good enough to be on the program anymore.

Contrast this with business environments where in many cases no-one is on a development plan until serious concerns arise that they’re not producing the right results – or performing as well as they could.

Similarly, if there’s a sense that the company only worries about performance if results aren’t up to scratch, motivation decreases.

Why did you join the organization in the first place? Was it with a hope of being able to stagnate for a maximum amount of time before being asked to improve or leave – or was it with a desire to find out how good you can be?

Myth 4: Line managers are solely responsible for developing individuals

All athletes I’ve worked with have been fervently committed to their own development. I’ve often talked to them about how good they are at “exploiting their support team.”

Athletes don’t wait to be told how to develop – they challenge the experts around them to bring value which they can act upon.

Woman hanging on rings upside down, changing perspectives, work out, motivation, inspiration, performance, gymnastics, adidas, GamePlan A
Proactively seek feedback on your strengths and weaknesses. Be in charge of your own development.

Whether it’s advice from the coach, psychologist, physiologist, biomechanist, nutritionist, or physiotherapist, an athlete knows the advice is only as good as their ability to make sense of it, own it, and work it.

Are you on top of the podium when it comes to making the most of the people around you, all of whom have a shared interest in helping you grow? Everyone acts in collaboration to bring maximum shared impact.

Myth 5: It’s enough to do a review at the end of a season

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With a newfound clarity of thinking, you’re in pole position for building a sustainable, high level of performance.

In sport, forensic analysis of past performance and results take place at the end of big blocks of work. Outside of those formal performance reviews exists a daily process of “feedforward” (as opposed to “feedback”) for growth. This leads to cycles of saying what you’re going to do, doing it the best you can, and evaluating how well it was done and what impact was delivered. It’s a daily quest of becoming more confident in controlling the quality of your next performance.

Most athletes are only interested in the past and recounting great stories once they’ve retired.

During their active careers, investing in their future selves is an athlete’s main objective, so feedforward and feedback loops are used with discipline every day.

Myth 6: Goal-setting is only about $$$

Setting financial goals only is like an Olympic coach repeating to an athlete every day they’re expected to win Gold. It’s a goal, sure, but provides no value from a daily motivation perspective.

Truly powerful goal-setting establishes the “how” as well as the “what”. Yes, set financial goals, but also be more committed to setting goals to help everyone evaluate the quality of their daily attitudes, actions, and collaborations.

Goal-setting should be a dynamic process of trying out stuff and adjusting your approach depending upon the results you experience.

With that approach, you get the choice of using different goals to learn different things, rather than being overshadowed by the need to deliver a goal which – 99 percent of the time – is in the future.

Do you need to rethink your definition of performance? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.


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by Sanjib Parial 02.10.2018
Excellent stuff
by Bongani Sonti 20.07.2020
This is very insightful and I'm glad I read it. I think I hold the same values when it comes to performance and improvement but I suspect I take a slightly extreme approach, you tell me. So I'm saying to a friend of mine that positive affirmations do nothing for me, she suggests its because I'm pessimistic so of course they won't work. I don't see it that way, I think that telling myself that I'm smart or great or (insert any desirable quality people hold dear) dulls my drive to work towards attaining it. So by being completely honest with myself I identify the parts of me that fall short with what the goals I have for myself so that I can start working on building them. I'm not sure if I'm making the right connection with performance but I think it holds true for people who want to perform at their optimal level to know and acknowledge their weak spots to be able to work on them.
by Chris Shambrook Bongani Sonti 20.07.2020
Great comment and you have excellent self-awareness and more importantly, self-acceptance, so you're able to work in a highly pragmatic way that is the right way for YOU and not just following the normal advice of "if you say positive things to yourself, then great things will happen."

If you take a look at the Performance Room, you'll see we focus a lot on finding the right recipe for you and there's some specific information on the positive power of 'negative' thinking. Being able to identify sources of worries or areas of performance improvement can lead to very powerful action - it's always about the action you take, not the words that you say. "Does how I'm thinking drive positive ACTION?" is much better than "Am I thinking nice, positive thoughts?" Simply thinking positive thoughts doesn't guarantee taking positive action.

Keep up the great work and you might like this...
by Blancatatiana Lopez 19.07.2022
Very true