Bridging the gap between high performance and wellbeing

During my time as an HR leader, the concept of ‘high performance’ was a significant focal point in our strategies. Back then, the term “high performance” often felt like a buzzword, and nowadays, it seems the spotlight has shifted to the notion of ‘agile working.’

Throughout my career in HR, working with renowned organisations such as British Airways and Virgin Atlantic, we adopted a proactive approach to provide clarity on our expectations of high performance. As The Head of People at British Airways Holidays, I created a structured framework that would provide our employees with a clear understanding of what was expected from them on a day-to-day basis.

This framework defined what constituted good performance, what set apart the great performers, and what made someone truly exceptional in their role. Essentially, it served as a competency model, a shared guideline that communicated our expectations to our workforce and provided a basis for measuring their performance.

This approach appeared logical on the surface. However, upon reflection, it becomes clear that there was an essential missing component to truly support employees in embodying these expected behaviours – wellbeing and resilience training.

What is wellbeing and resilience?

The terms “wellbeing” and “resilience” have evolved significantly over the past decade, and their meanings can vary depending on individual perspectives. If we rewind the clock 10 to 12 years, wellbeing and resilience were often associated with concepts like employee assistance programs and occupational health. In larger organisations, you might find additional elements like offering free fruit or subsidised gym memberships, but these initiatives were often considered cutting-edge at the time.

For organisational leaders, wellbeing and resilience may have included some form of leadership development training, but the emphasis was primarily on behaviour and output.

Drawing from my experience as a Psychotherapist who has worked with hundreds of individuals, it became clear that focusing on behaviour is addressing the result when it comes to achieving high performance, and not where to start when it comes to creating high performance.

You might find this perspective intriguing or counterintuitive, so let me provide some context.

To understand why behaviour is not the starting point for high performance, let’s delve into how the mind operates.

Our mind comprises two primary aspects: the conscious mind and the unconscious mind (and there’s also the superconscious mind, but that’s a topic for another discussion).

The conscious mind, often referred to as the thinking mind or the prefrontal cortex, constitutes less than 5% of the overall mind’s functioning. This means that the unconscious mind is responsible for approximately 95% of our emotional responses, behaviours, thought patterns, and even the body’s physiology. Think of the unconscious mind as a repository of programs, similar to a computer’s motherboard, governing various functions.

However, the unconscious mind can only execute what it has been programmed to do. Unless we are in a state of continuous, unwavering awareness and consciousness, the unconscious mind takes the lead.

Therefore, when we seek to initiate behavioural changes, we must concentrate on two critical components:

1. Emotions

First and foremost, the ability to regulate your emotions is paramount.

Mastering the art of emotional regulation is not just a matter of personal well-being; it is intricately tied to the pursuit of high performance. Think of the last time when your emotions took control, causing you to react impulsively or erratically. Such instances can disrupt your focus, hinder effective communication, and impede your ability to make sound decisions – all of which are vital components of high-performance achievement.

When your emotions hijack your thought processes, it can lead to what experts call “amygdala hijacking.” The amygdala, nestled within the limbic brain, plays a pivotal role in the freeze, fight, and flight response. During moments of emotional turbulence, this part of the brain can override your rational thinking, pushing you into a reactive mode.

In this state, high performance often eludes us. Instead of making strategic choices and maintaining a steady course, we find ourselves succumbing to impulsive reactions, potentially damaging relationships with colleagues or superiors. Such emotional upheavals can also disrupt our workflow, causing delays and errors, which are hardly the hallmarks of high achievers.

Without the knowledge and skills required to regulate your emotions effectively, you may find yourself caught in a cycle of repeated emotional triggers, leading to inconsistent performance and a lack of control over your responses. High performers understand that emotional regulation is a critical component of their success – it enables them to maintain composure in high-pressure situations, make well-considered decisions, and build positive working relationships.

In essence, emotional regulation is the key to unlocking your full potential for high performance. By learning how to manage your emotions, you can navigate challenges with poise, adaptability, and resilience, ultimately propelling yourself towards your goals and reaching new heights in your personal and professional endeavours.

2. The power of thought

What truly gives rise to our emotional responses and feelings is the power of thought. It’s a fascinating fact that on any given day, we entertain an estimated 60,000 to 70,000 thoughts. Many of these thoughts come and go without us even noticing, leaving no lasting impact on our mood or behaviour.

However, there are certain thoughts that we assign significance to – these are the thoughts that trigger a chain reaction. One thought leads to another, and before we know it, we are caught in a whirlwind of interconnected thoughts, rapidly gaining momentum and ensnaring us in a web of emotions.

Burnout at work

To illustrate this, let’s consider a common scenario: a team member in your workplace makes a mistake. If your initial thought is something like, “They always do this; why can’t they ever get anything right; I’m going to have to pick this up again; no one around here listens to me; I don’t have time for this; I don’t know why I bother; I’m never respected by my boss; they should see the amount of extra time I put into things…,” you find yourself on a high-speed train of thought. This runaway train of thoughts can generate a range of emotions, from frustration to anger.

The key to managing this mental and emotional process lies in self-awareness. If you have the self-awareness to recognise that you’ve fallen into a thinking trap, and if you possess the skills to regulate your emotional responses, you can prevent yourself from becoming further entangled and emotionally overwhelmed. You can, effectively, hit the brakes on that speeding thought train.

However, if you remain ensnared in that cycle of thought and allow your emotional response to persist, it becomes challenging to operate at a level of high performance. Your thoughts and emotions begin to cloud your judgment, hinder your ability to focus, and can even affect your interactions with colleagues and superiors.

Therefore, if we aspire to help our employees reach and sustain high-performance levels, we must address this gap in understanding. We must equip our people with the knowledge and tools to navigate their thoughts and emotions effectively. By doing so, we empower them to break free from the web of unproductive thoughts and feelings, enabling them to perform at their best consistently. Bridging this gap in our approach to personal and professional development is key to unlocking the full potential of our workforce.

The Way to Create a High-Performing Team

Achieving and maintaining high performance isn’t an external endeavour—it must originate from within. To bridge the gap between high performance and wellbeing, we must move beyond occasional employee wellbeing initiatives and webinars. It’s crucial to understand that a few employee webinars on wellbeing and resilience do not automatically translate into a resilient high-performing workforce.

Real, lasting change takes time. To cultivate profound, long-term transformations within our employees that consistently elevate their performance, we need wellbeing and resilience programmes that are not only cutting-edge but also built to stand the test of time.

While it’s important to provide employees with foundational knowledge about nutrition, hydration, and physical activity, it’s equally essential to equip them with advanced insight, knowledge and techniques that shape the inner landscape of the mind, leading to heightened levels of high performance. These techniques should draw from the worlds of energy psychology and neuro-linguistic programming (NLP), offering innovative insights into shifting our thinking and emotions.

So, if you’re genuinely committed to creating a high-performing organisation, don’t hesitate to reach out and contact us today. Prepare to embark on a journey that will challenge your existing paradigms and elevate your understanding of what’s possible. Get ready to have your mind expanded and your organisation propelled to new heights!

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