Take one for the team – and then another, and another!

By ignoring team orders this past weekend (Malaysian Grand Prix, 2013) Sebastian Vettel reinforced that his own goals are way more important than those of Red Bull. I’m not endorsing his selfish behaviour, the fact he flagrantly ignored his boss or the fact that he risked the team for his own glory but in the interview afterwards he at least showed some remorse.

For a while I’ve tried to make performance management conversations as simple as I can. There are really only two things to obsess about; what needs to be done and how to get it done. What this gives is a focus on the right outcome and the right behaviour. So what happens when the performance is astonishing but the behaviour unsupportable? My view is that managers need to have tough conversations (are you sitting comfortably Herr Vettel?) because once the behaviour gets out of kilter then the performance will often shift unfavourably or at least become erratic!

Other than in situations where the prima donna is exactly that – paid to be the one super star around whom everything revolves – anyone who assumes that role by creating their own rules of engagement, can expect to be sitting in the naughty chair el pronto! In the past I’ve worked with clients where individuals (usually high performing and quite often with insecurities) have made it impossible for other high performers to fit in. They’ve gone out of their way to make the incomers life hard – even impossible – and have sought through politics, back stabbing and general nastiness to undermine their new colleague. What are they so scared of? Someone else being skilled doesn’t necessarily mean your skills are obsolete and if it does then smell that coffee and reinvent yourself!

I split my time between managing a sports team and running a business and both revolve around a fanatical focus on outcome and encouraging the behaviours that make those outcomes inevitable. Tough news for the very few who achieve extraordinary things in life, unless they comply with the team’s behaviours. However, many extraordinary talents have become world beaters, great team mates and stayed (relatively) humble. No one could doubt the successes of Michael Phelps, Mo Farah or Sir Bradley Wiggins, for instance. All are talented, work extremely hard and above all prove they are a spoke not the axle.

Business teams and their work/life motivations are much more complicated than sports teams though – and if you don’t agree try getting your colleagues to agree to a three week pre-season intensive training camp with no family contact – because the range of motivations is so varied and the range of measures more complex than win or lose. So ask yourself who you’d rather call a team mate – the world class performer who takes one for the team or the world champion who screws the team? I know who I’d choose every time.

Richard Leech – Managing Partner, One Performance Outcome