Authors and Consultants | GP Strategies Corporation


Top Performer Perspective: The Hard Work


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Last week we discussed how excellent technical performance is the price of admission to the game, as Harvey Coleman calls it. So if excellent technical performance only gets you into the game but is not sufficient to win the game, what is?

That is the key question.

Over the last weeks, we’ve highlighted several perspectives shared by top performers across roles and industries. Note that these are top performers in every sense of the word, not just from the technical prowess aspect. These people excel in their roles in ways that make them stand out objectively when evaluated by their ratings and subjectively when top management is asked to identify whom they would most like to clone. So these folks have not only paid the price of admission, they have cracked the code of what’s necessary to win the game.

Let’s look at the list of eleven perspectives we’ve discussed so far:

  • dreaming
  • humble
  • patient
  • resolute
  • dealing with bureaucracy
  • storytelling
  • team oriented
  • team alignment
  • trusting
  • technically competent
  • willingness to share

Only one of these perspectives is related to technical prowess on the job. That lines up amazingly well with Coleman’s assertion that only 10 percent of success results from being technically competent. Of course, that 10 percent is demanded, hence the notion of the price of admission.

The rest of the perspectives are related to the practice of human interaction skills: the ability to work with others, to build and leverage trusting relationships, and to develop methods to relate in a meaningful way to those around us.

Next week we’ll dig into this idea a little more based on Geoff Colvin’s book: Humans Are Underrated: What High Achievers Know That Brilliant Machines Never Will.

Question to ponder:

  • Do you specifically hire for, cultivate, and reward human interaction skills?



How to Really Work Smarter, Not Harder

12We have all heard it at one time or another: the old adage “work smarter, not harder.” But what does that really mean?  What about all that “nose to the grindstone stuff?” Or that early bird that gets the worm? And why are workweeks getting longer and longer in the face of all that time-saving technology we keep buying?

It turns out the old adage was right, but not in the way it was usually meant. When people said it, they were usually saying you were doing things the wrong way. Or, more commonly, that you weren’t doing things the way they would do them. But what if you aren’t doing the right things at all? Then doing those wrong things in a smarter way certainly isn’t going to produce better results. Instead, you’ll just produce those same wrong things faster and more efficiently. And maybe even produce more of them!

They key is to look at work from a completely different perspective. If you will, a quarter turn in thinking.

People bring their own characteristics, experiences, skills and knowledge to bear in their work. They apply all those things to do the work set before them to the best of their ability. They work hard, they work smart and they try to do a good job. But all of that work, in reality, has no value in and of itself. Think about that for a minute: work has no value. Before you get too angry, let’s finish the thought. The results of work have value, but work doesn’t. Work is a cost. Hiring people with lots of skills, experience and the right characteristics is also a cost. It is only when people put those attributes to use in doing the right work the right way to produce results that matter is there any value in the equation.

So if what we really want are the results of the work, doesn’t it follow that working harder or smarter will naturally produce more valuable results? No. And that is where the quarter turn in thinking comes in.

Instead of starting at the work end or, even worse, the skills and knowledge end, of the equation, we should start at the valuable end: the results that people produce. We call those results outcomes. Outcomes are the tangible things that organizations value after the work is done. Outcomes could be physical things like cars that run right after repair work is finished, or smartphone apps that people can buy and use. Or they could be more cognitive things like a trusted advisor relationship with a client or a customer satisfied with a resolved issue. Whatever the case, the most important challenge is to uncover those few outcomes that really make a difference. Once those right outcomes are clearly understood for any job, then it’s possible to analyze them to figure out the right way to produce them. That’s when the adage kicks in and working smarter becomes important.

A quick example from the real world. Most organizations have a role called Project Manager. They are the people who balance cost, schedule and resources to produce something or manage some process. Virtually all project management courses spend a lot of time on communications: how often to provide status updates, how to document issues, etc. But with all that time spent on learning how to communicate to customers, why are customers still so frustrated at the end of projects? It turns out the best project managers don’t focus on communicating. Instead they focus on producing aligned and managed customer expectations. In that context of producing a thing called aligned and managed customer expectations, all of their communications tactics now serve a common purpose and can be channeled to best advantage. Communicating is a cost, but aligned customer expectations has value.

The bottom line: work smarter to produce the right things.



Photo credit:  Image courtesy of Steve Horder at


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