The Three Laws of Performance , Book Review

This isn’t anything that will ever appear in our book… but I still think it’s interesting. Read “The Three Laws of Performance” by Zaffron and Logan over the weekend. You have to skim past all the dated manager-as-hero stories and MBA-speak and name-dropping. It’s a typical management book – 14 point font, less than 200 pages, lots of positivity and light on the content. That being said, there’s some nuggets of truth here.

Here’s some key takeaways:

  • The First Law of Performance: How people perform correlates to how situations occur to them.

    • Given the different positions that well-informed, intelligent people often take on a situation, there is a significant difference in the objective facts of a matter and the way those facts occur to us…. Our actions relate to how the world occurs to us, not the way that it actually is.
    • Consider that attempts to change a situation often backfire – strengthening, rather than altering, how the situation occurs. (What you resist, persists!) The book uses the example of someone trying to lose weight – it first appears as “a problem I can fix”, he goes on a diet, fails, and the weight occurs as “a problem that requires more willpower than I have.” Because his actions will correlate to this occurrence, he gives up, resigned that his weight is here to stay.
  • The Second Law of Performance: How a situation occurs arises in language.

    • Dampeners to performance live in the unsaid, especially in the unsaid and communicated but without awareness. The unsaid – in corporate culture many people are thinking, I’m doing the best I can but other people’s agendas are keeping what I’m doing from working. This also happens in marriages. The authors call this self-dialogue a racket – which has four components:

      • A complaint that has persisted for some time. (“He’s late again!”)
      • A pattern of behavior that goes along with the complaint. (the wife acting aloof, irritated, withdrawn)
      • Payoff (gets to act superior, feel ‘right’)
      • Cost (a lack of intimacy, ongoing resentment)
    • So for example in one group’s racket:
      • Complaint – “They aren’t leading the way the old group did”
      • Behavior – Resigned, sad, isolated, detachment
      • Payoffs – self-justification, we are “right” and they are “wrong”
      • Cost – Power, effectiveness, business viability, morale
    • The authors recommend to bcome aware of your persistent complaints, about people and situations. Notice that these cycle through your internal voice – and that these are interpretations of facts, not facts themselves. See the payoffs and costs of these rackets. Probe into the situation by writing down everything you need to say to others, including anything you need to forgive or be forgiven for, anything you need to take responsibility for, or anything you need to give up – including the complaint itself. Communicate what you discover to others in your work and life.
  • The Third Law of Performance: Future-based language transforms how situations occur to people.

    • We are bound not by the facts of life but by knots of language – in particular, descriptive language.
    • Martin Luther King, Winston Churchill and FDR – all were leaders that saw and articulated a future worth living into, even when the situations seemed gloomy and treacherous.
    • Articulate the default future – what the past tells you will happen – and ask, do we really want this default future? If not, begin to speculate with others on what future would (a) inspire action for everyone, (b) address the concerns of everyone involved, and (c) be real in the moment of speaking. As you find people who are not aligned with the future, ask – what is your counter proposal? Ikeep working until people align and commit to this vision.

Interesting that some of the points in transforming difficult situations have to do with agile. Total transparency (full disclosure), respect for each other, creating a future that is the context for problem-solving bargaining, engaging each other with integrity.

I found this is definitely true with my team. When I said unthinking things that said, in essence, “shut up and do your job”, people turned off – understandably. When I would say things like, “My team isn’t allowed to work in Remedy or in HPQC – we have one dashboard we work off of, TFS2012. Multiple systems tracking the same things is evil.

I will handle transferring items from those systems to TFS – I never want you guys logging onto Remedy” – wow, a huge positive upswing, because people could see I was looking out for their best interests. Same thing with getting Thur/Fri to WFH at the end of the sprint, if work is marked off.

And when I – forced by Agile to do actual work versus just being a task manager – took my fair share of technical work myself and did it along with my management duties, including it in the retrospective/demo – I could see a big difference. I felt more engaged and productive, and the team pulled together more.

The most powerful point was when it mentioned the 2004 documentary “The Corporation”, where the filmmaker asked – if a corporation is a person, as court cases recently have stated, what kind of person is it? Corporations often demonstrate…

  • A callous unconcern for the feelings of others
  • An incapacity to maintain enduring relationships
  • A reckless disregard for the safety of others
  • Deceitfulness – repeated lying and conning of others for profit
  • An incapacity to experience guilt
  • A failure to conform to social norms with respect to lawful behaviors.

A person that exhibited these qualities would be clinically diagnosed as a psychopath! People will look back centuries from now and say that externalization (making costs external to the company, leaving them for others to pay) allowed corporate leaders to become ‘plunderers of the planet’… and was ultimately self-destructive, as in 2008, when bad debt created by corporations required government intervention to avoid economic collapse.

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