Istanbul on 25th May 2005. It’s half time in the Champions League Final, and Liverpool F.C. are trailing AC Milan 3-0.
For every Liverpool fan, you know what happened next; Liverpool clawed back 3 goals and went on to win the final on penalties.
A turn around like few others, on a global stage for the biggest of prizes in football.
But what exactly happened at half time? What did the coach, Rafa Benitez (for whom English is a second language) and the players, led by captain Steven Gerrard, do or say, that led to that second half recovery. What made the difference?
It is tempting in these types of stories, to assume a rousing speech and some thumping of drums made that miraculous second half comeback possible. That just is not the case though. In our experience working with sporting teams and being part of hundreds of half-time sessions, we have rarely seen this approach work.
We know that there were some tactical changes. A substitution, and a different formation. Players have subsequently talked of the motivation they felt from hearing the travelling Liverpool supporters singing encouragement, despite the overwhelming odds.
From a psychological perspective, something else also happened.
The manager and players forgot the scoreboard for a moment. Focusing on the scoreboard would have been disheartening and self-defeating, because scoring 3 goals in 45 minutes would have seemed impossible. So, whether by accident or by design, the players and coaches focused on the game: focused on what they were going to do next to score. They believed if they could score a goal, they could get a foothold in the game. They focused on a set of detailed actions and put everything else out of their minds. They reduced all of their feelings and thoughts into what they were going to do next.
This might sound like the simplest of tasks, and yet it is one we fail at every day in business.
In board roles, we have shareholder targets, financial goals and customer forecasts. In sales roles, we chase targets. In operational roles, we have project deliverables.
Worse, we tend to double down on this over emphasis on outputs, on looking at the scoreboard, by measuring people’s engagement, with the assumption that happier people are more productive people.
Whilst this assumption is flawed and raises more questions on what happiness is, and whether an organisation is responsible for individual happiness, there is a more fundamental problem with relying on engagement as a people metric. You guessed it. It’s another output.
Although it may in some contexts be a valuable metric, it is still an output that is often a reflection of a broader picture; how you feel about your colleagues, the sense of shared value and purpose, the trust you have in your team, your leaders and your organisation and the wider role that your job plays in your life.
Of course, I am not advocating removing output measurements, you need to have an eye on the scoreboard or you don’t know how you are doing. But focusing entirely on the scoreboard means you are not seeing the whole game.
Performance management then, is a scoreboard item, an output. Engagement is an output. Engagement is an output. They measure a moment in time, in narrow terms. They are retrospective. They are looking backwards. They are caused by something else.
Inputs are the things we contribute or do in our teams that enable performance or happiness to flourish.
If we measure skills, capability, training and development, we are capturing the tool kits that help produce the output.
What we really need to know though are the emotional and psychological inputs. These are the factors that drive and sustain performance.
The toolkit can change, and the people may change, but what we want is an environment that encourages the right behaviours to make sure teams are more likely to be effective. Based on 20 years of experience in elite sport, we have been researching and understanding exactly what those emotional and psychological inputs are, as well as how to measure them. This has led us to know that the three most impactful areas to measure are:
Team Relationships: the quality and depth of relationships is behind the effort we invest and whether we continue to invest this effort.
Team Alignment: being aligned in our focus, and a sense of shared purpose is critical to any team achievement.
Team Behaviours: having a set of values and behaviours are your way of operating. These effect how you communicate, what is important to you, and how you go about your job. They are stronger than a set of rules, done well they are a set of commitments that an individual makes to the team.
Together, these give your team’s trust. Trust in your team-mates, leaders and your organisation and ultimately in yourself.
Put low trust in a team and everyone fights for themselves. The focus is protection. Create and maintain high trust and you will find that collaboration and growth become the norm.
Measuring trust is the measurement of an input that drives performance and engagement, to ensure that you are watching the whole game and not just the scoreboard. It may just help you to overcome seemingly insurmountable challenges, and make history along the way.
This article is also featured in HR Director: https://www.thehrdirector.com/are-you-fixated-on-the-scoreboard-and-not-watching-the-game/