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Cohort Alpha

Are you falling for the performance trap at work?

3 min read
The performance trap at work
Are you falling for the performance trap at work?

In a time of great economic uncertainty, when layoffs are mounting across industries, no one’s job is truly safe.

A common source of reassurance during difficult times is one’s performance: the more that one works and achieves at work, many believe, the better. After all, when business is slow, isn’t the best response to demonstrate productivity?

To some degree, that’s true. But even in good times, highly productive employees may still not have the most job security, and they often do not rise the most quickly.

According to research cited by Stanford University professor Jeffrey Pfeffer, finding security and advancement in high productivity and performance could be a trap.

He cites several anecdotes, including one of a colleague named “Beth” who had “experienced a ‘nonlinear’ career after her MBA, punctuated by several spells of unemployment...[and] has yet to attain a stable leadership position in her chosen field.”

“Beth” is a common persona: highly educated, highly skilled, hard-working, well-credentialed, and motivated. However, she experienced an uneven career arc with spells of instability and unemployment.

The point of this and similar stories, according to Pfeffer, is that performance is not a good indicator of career success.

A more rigorous study published in the Harvard Business Review bucketed the motivations of managers into affiliation, achievement, or power. Those who demonstrated a desire and capability for power were most successful within their respective companies, not only in terms of advancing their careers, but also in being effective.

This can be a bitter pill to swallow.

Especially if you come from an immigrant background, where hard-work and education are drummed into you as the path to success, you might be in for a rude awakening. Even if you’re in seemingly “logical” fields like high-technology, a focus on being educated and industrious, alone, may actually hamper your financial rewards.

In fact, failure to shift your thinking and behavior can result in more stress and lower health. According to The Status Syndrome, the loss of control that can come from having tunnel-vision around achievement and productivity can also be hazardous to your health.

Conversely, there are some who appear to do nothing, make poor decisions, lead the company to poor business outcomes, yet they continue to reap financial rewards and job tenure.

Wouldn’t you want to experience those same rewards while still working hard, achieving goals, and delivering results?

However, many people, even when faced with the empirical and anecdotal evidence which shows the mirage of performance, don’t change their behavior.

Three common reasons people don’t change their behavior to increase their rate of promotion, raise their financial rewards, and secure their employment are the following:

  1. They don’t accept the premise.
  2. They do accept the premise, but don’t want to do the “work.”
  3. They are willing to do the “work” but don’t know how.

As you reflect on this topic, which category do you belong in?

Do you reject the notion that something other than hard work is shaping and influencing the arc of your career?

Or do you recognize that you need to do more than just perform, but don’t want to engage in that additional work?

Or are you willing to do the work because you see how it can payoff, perhaps by reducing your stress while increasing your financial rewards, but just don’t know how?

Ask yourself those questions to reveal whether you are permanently in the performance trap, or not.

Cohort Alpha exists to help people who fall into category #3.

Cohort Alpha are invite-only “small groups” of high-performers who want the content, coaching, and connections to help them overcome the “performance trap.”

The membership fees are a form of “insurance” in the chaotic, topsy-turvy economic times we live in.

To learn more and to be considered for an invitation, add your information below.