It was April 1991 and I was at Augusta National Golf Club during the practice rounds of the Masters Golf Tournament. It was there, during that Masters, that I discovered the very cool field of Sports Psychology. They are focused on research and teaching practical skills to help athletes get the best out of themselves, even under maximum pressure.

I grabbed everything I could get my hands on about what actually happens when people feel pressure and how they respond—all the chemical and physical changes. Pretty amazing!

Eventually, I found a book written in 1973 called The Inner Game of Tennis by Timothy Gallwey. It’s considered the ‘BIBLE’ on people performance, explaining what goes on internally, and how it impacts performance.

Now, most of us realize we have a tendency to get in our own way… here’s how it actually happens.

Business man handing two keys to colleagueFor some time, I've taught that there are 4 steps in the decision-making process. They are (in order): Perceive, Associate, Analyze, and Decide [then comes Action, followed by Results]. In his book, Gallwey calls it 'perception, response, results.'

Let’s take a doctor who has convinced herself that she is not good at surgery, yet a simple surgery is now needed. In a flash, she thinks, "Uh-oh, I've got to do a surgery." Now, because of her perception, she attributes meaning to the situation. These meanings can have a huge impact on a performance.

A surgery that should be routine has become a threat. Adrenaline surges through her body causing awkward jerky motions. She makes an innocent mistake with the scalpel. Then comes the self-condemning comment, "That was terrible! See, I'm the worst at surgery!" Now with her confidence further undermined, the next surgery is perceived as an even greater threat, and the cycle of getting in our own way is set to repeat itself.

Our critical mind creates perceived threats and drives distortion into every future thought and action. A distorted self-image [I’m terrible at surgery] prompts a distortion in perception, and that leads to a distorted response further confirming the originally distorted self-image.

This happens all the time with your employees. We sometimes hire people with very distorted perceptions of the world! How do you know if someone’s perceptions are distorted? I measure this stuff in people every day in the search for Real Talent—people with an excellent perception of the world and self.

What’s the answer to overcoming distortion and improving performance? The answer lies in awareness, trust, and choice...

This is just as true when it comes to managing an office. Is your office a place of work where people can get into the peak performance state called FLOW, or the Zone? Where you and your team perform at your best every day? It takes a conscious choice, and skill! But how do you create that in the business environment?

Even the smallest amount of fear, doubt or perceived threat will impair performance. What would you be thinking if Andy Roddick [Pro tennis player], hit a serve to you at 120 miles per hour? "Uh oh...” then what do you do? “I better try really hard!"

The Uh Oh’s restrict focus, create tunnel vision, confusion, tight muscles, restrict breathing and enjoyment, and diminish learning and performance. It’s the judgmental, critical, perfectionist part of your mind that creates this fear and doubt.

Or maybe your boss creates it. Threats, judgment, critiques and even telling people what to do will drive less passion, desire, motivation, creativity, innovation, and engagement in your team.

What if you could quiet those types of unknown performance squelching thoughts and experiences and create better learning and enjoyment experiences at your office? What if you or your office manager had the management skills necessary to create a strong performance state in your staff and in your business culture?

Trust in self and team is the number one principle of high performance. No one is perfect, so this definitely takes patience. But with trust; confidence, learning, and enjoyment naturally increase. Within each person is a genius and when trusted, they will access more potential. This genius does not judge and critique.

How many of these 5 items that diminish performance is your management team creating?

  1. Judgment, critiques, negative feedback
  2. Threats [real or perceived]
  3. Overtrying
  4. Telling people what to do
  5. Low trust

When I worked with Stephen R. Covey of the Covey Leadership Center, we talked a lot about Kurt Lewin’s [father of social psychology] Force Field Analysis. It describes what he called driving forces and restraining forces. There are forces driving performance up AND forces that drive it down.

What do you think would happen if you simply removed the restraining forces? Yes, you will actually see an increase in performance, but there’s a trick to this. The best way is to create focus. Focus accesses that inner genius. Let’s say you wanted to shorten the time patients wait in the lobby to be seen, a direct impact on your customer satisfaction, which results in more patients and greater profits.

Play a simple focus game. Just get the front office staff to track and record the average wait time for patients. Back office staff simply guess each day how long they think patients had waited. Then sit back and watch focus do its magic.

So, there are 2 keys to having the best employee performance in your practice.

  • First. Understanding the keys to gaining greater and greater access to human performance. Much of which I've laid out for you in this article, and it's a skill that is easier to gain than one might think.
  • Second. Hiring people who are a low risk to you and your business. That is, they see the world with clarity of thought, and this allows them to access talent and consistently make good decisions on behalf of your business. We've scientifically tested this for over 37 years, and you would be amazed how one's biases and clarity of thinking impact performance. Validated again and again in the biggest institutions and businesses in the world. Warning! Good references, high IQ, a likable personality, and 'passing the interview' are NOT indicators of success—you must test for this dynamic.

A doctor with a management team having these skills combined with measuring risk before you hire will create a practice that runs like a well-tuned Ferrari.

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