Marc Effron is the author of the Harvard Business Review Publishing books One Page Talent Management and 8 Steps to High Performance. Marc helps the world’s biggest brands and most successful companies elevate the quality and impact of their talent and has been recognized as one of the Top 100 Influencers in HR globally. You can learn so much from Marc including:
- The science behind why people succeed and fail.
- Why big goals drive bigger results.
- How to “maximise your fit” with your company.
- Its ok to “Fake it” and be a success.
- The relationships that you have will either accelerate or decelerate your career.
Full Transcript Below:
Steve Rush: Some call me Steve, dad, husband or friend. Others might call me boss, coach or mentor. Today you can call me The Leadership Hacker.
Thanks for listening in. I really appreciate it. My job as the leadership hacker is to hack into the minds, experiences, habits and learning of great leaders, C-Suite executives, authors and development experts so that I can assist you developing your understanding and awareness of leadership. I am Steve Rush and I am your host today. I am the author of Leadership Cake. I am a transformation consultant and leadership coach. I cannot wait to start sharing all things leadership with you.
On today’s show, I am excited to be speaking with Marc Effron. He is the president of the Talent Strategy Group. He has co-authored One Page Talent Management and also authored The Eight Steps to High Performance. Before we get to speak to Marc, it is The Leadership Hacker News.
The Leadership Hacker News
Steve Rush: In the news today, many world leaders, politicians and businesses are coming under immense pressure from individuals and business owners who hold power, to relax safe distancing and quarantine measures, even though the signs say it’s not quite time yet. How many of us have given permission or been asked to do things differently and then felt that weight of anxiety, nervousness and pressure within us, above us and around us, and particularly when the grounds full of noise is concrete to how we feel as leaders. So what will it take to hold our nerve when there is no roadmap for knowing where we’re going or knowing how we’re even going to get there? And how can we be sure that doing things differently bring better outcomes when there’s no quick fix? The leadership problem here is if we give up too soon under pressure, we are likely to revert to old type, old behaviours and learn less. Of course, we will only know if we did the right thing in the future. So how will we hold our nerve in times like this? There’s an old saying, “Aim for the moon and you might land in the stars”, well, that really applies now. We have been dealing with emotion and managing crisis and recognized our world and our businesses has changed. Science, Politics, Business and Economics have given us real guidance as to how we need to run and think about our businesses, and that should have informed and helped design our business plan. Oh, and if you haven’t got a plan, but you just riding the waves here – get off your surfboard, look out to sea and see the next wave! Strategic thinking and planning can give us the foundations for success. Your plan should have strong foundations in which to work from to help you hold your nerve about doing the right thing and not necessarily doing things right.
Because we are all learning and new behaviours, new attributes and new ways of working. So pivoting a plan is absolutely okay, but not having a plan, will see you washed out to sea metaphorically. Key here – watch out for a groupthink! This will be a massive distraction for us and a massive, de-railer. We will be faced with things like, “everybody else is doing X we should do X”, “most people doing Y, we should do Y”. Don’t do anything that’s not right for you and your business, don’t be swayed by groupthink. There are three things here that will help you hold enough:
Number one, Communication. Socialize and validate your thinking with the widest and diverse group of people that can help you avoid that groupthink and group action.
Number two, Evaluate daily. Are you on track? Do you need to stop what you are doing? Do you need to pivot?
Number three, Repetition. Repeat, repeat, repeat – creates new habits and new helpful routines in the way that you are working for the future. Whatever happens next, hold your nerve because your Leadership BarometerÔ is on show here. This is guiding the behaviours and actions of your team and your organization, and you may not even be aware that you have a Leadership BarometerÔ , but you do. You are the weather forecast for your business. That has been The Leadership Hacker News. If you have news, insights, ideas you think could be helpful for our listeners. Get in touch with us through our social media sites.
Start of Interview
Steve Rush: On today’s show, we have Marc Efforn. He is the president of the Talent Strategy Group and that’s author of two Harvard Business books. One Page Talent Management and Eight Steps to High Performance. Marc, welcome to The Leadership Hacker Podcast.
Marc Effron: Steve, very happy to be here. Thanks for inviting me.
Steve Rush: So you started out as a Yale graduate and after a number of different roles, ended up becoming the president of one of the world’s leading talent strategy firms, tell us a little bit about that journey, Marc?
Marc Effron: Sure, so I will give you that brief history but let’s even start before Yale. I had a very different life before that. I think what influenced a lot of what I do today, I learned there, so before I went to graduate school, I had experience as a congressional staff assistant and a political consultant. And learning a lot about influence and power in those roles was critically important. And I had no concept of big business when I got to business school at Yale, and so I think maybe it was helpful that I went in without any perspective about how companies operated. I got a lot of the raw material when I went to business school and then at business school really found out about this thing called organizational behaviour. And love the science around how people succeed and apply that in both consulting environments and corporate environments over the past 20 plus years and came to the realization that a lot of organizations that didn’t manage talent well and that a lot of consulting firms didn’t provide great advice about how to manage talent well. And so wrote that first book that you mentioned, One Page Talent Management as a way of saying, I think there is a better way of doing this and decided to put my money where my mouth was and start my firm, The Talent Strategy Group, about 11 years ago. Now, based on that book and luckily, things have grown. The firm has grown well since then, and that brings us to where we are today. A firm that helps some of the world’s largest and most complex and successful organizations to manage talent and more effectively.
Steve Rush: And what do you think it is, sits behind talent? Is there a kind of a golden nugget? What would be the one thing that you would call out that sits at the core of managing talent?
Marc Effron: I don’t know if I am smart enough to boil it down to one thing, but I do think we start with the perspective that better quality talent delivers better results. If we can kind of agree on that point. The rest is simply execution and I think that is the challenge that we face in many organizations, is that we in the HR field sometimes grossly overcomplicate what it means to build better quality talent. And if we’re going to start at that kind of the pinnacle, the discussion, do we agree? Steve, moreso, do you agree that better quality talent delivers better results? Oh, yeah, of course we do – Great, can we agree on what better quality talent looks like? Not physically, but now what are the capabilities, skills, mind-sets that better quality talent needs to have in our particular organization? So not looking for a universal truth, but at the Steven Mark Company. What are the three things that are going to differentiate better quality talent? And we agree on that. Oh yeah, there are A, B and C. Cool. Well, let’s figure out how we can build more talent that demonstrates those three capabilities. So we think about what really differentiates kind of great talent or organizations who build great talent, it is fairly linear. It is that series of steps. Do we agree that better quality talent delivers better results? Yes, we do. Great, do we understand the few things that will differentiate better quality talent? Yes. Great, then how do we get more of that better quality talent into our organization more quickly?
Steve Rush: And of course, each organization will have varying different degrees of different things, and I guess that’s what keeps you so busy and so informed because everything is very different in terms of that differential behaviour as well?
Marc Effron: Yeah, absolutely and I think the key is not necessarily that there are a million different behaviours that will allow people to be successful at work. But in our organization, what are the few things that really matter? Because at the end of the day, organizations are both very similar and very unique. They are very similar in that people in organizations tend to behave like people in organizations so there are some universal truths we know about things like if we set big goals, people will perform better or if we work on engagement, they will stay more connected to the firm. But firms are also very different in that the three things that you need at Steve Co right now to succeed might be very different than the three things we need that Mark Co right now. Can we get clear about what those few most powerful, most differentiating elements are and ensure we are aligning everything we do around having more talent that has more of those few things.
Steve Rush: Got it. It makes loads of sense. No, we share a very simple principle that I saw in your latest book and your principle was, “focus on what you can change and ignore the rest”. I think that is just absolutely brilliant, but what was it that was the trigger point for you to writing your second book. The Eight Steps to High Performance?
Marc Effron: Sure. Well, I was probably two years ago now, maybe even more, my editor came to me and said, Hey, Marc, we think it is time that you wrote another book, and I said, thank you. I don’t want to write another book. There are plenty of books out there already. Thanks very much. And she said, well, we actually think that there might be some room for another book on how people can be higher performers at work that takes this science based simplicity approach that you introduced in One Page Talent Management, and of course, appealing to my vanity is always a very good way to get me to do something. And I thought, well, if there is room in the book market place, where is that room found? What can I do differently in a book that others have not done? And I thought to myself, well, a lot of books actually don’t focus on what’s proven to be true. They are based on opinions or stories. A lot of books are written by very smart people. Professors, consultants, but not necessarily people who have had to manage and lead in the corporate world, and a lot of books are about one topic area, so they will tell you how to be more emotionally intelligent or know how to focus on your strengths but what they don’t do is integrate. Well, here is all the advice that you may hear. Here is what has really proven, here are the few things that matter. And I thought, well, there probably is a gap in those three areas. So could I write a book that actually said what really matters? What can you focus on? That is proven to be true.
What should you ignore? Because either not changeable or not easily changeable. Then practically exactly what should you do? And I thought, you know what? One of the things that we don’t do with new university grads or anybody entering the workplace is just tell them exactly that. Here are the few things that you can focus on that are going to guaranteed to make you a higher performer at work and that you should simply do as much of as you can, and here are a bunch of things that you just can’t do anything about, so don’t worry about them. Worry about executing on the few things that are actually proven to make you a higher performer. So the focus on what you can change says there are a lot of things we can change, what the book goes into, what Eight Steps talks about, what are those things? One of the few most powerful things you can do to increase your performance. And then it’s very clear about here is the stuff that’s going to affect how you perform at work that you probably can’t do much about, so stop worrying about that.
Steve Rush: So when we leave university and college, there is no blueprint to becoming a highly successful individual at work and I guess The Eight Steps really gives us the foundations for some of those activities. So let’s go ahead and step through those eight steps, starting with Big Goals. What was the reason Big Goals featured number one for you?
Marc Effron: Sure, and Steve, let me even start with a precursor to The Eight Steps, because what I find is, before we even talk about The Eight Steps, one of the things that maybe isn’t as clear in the literature, but it’s certainly clear from my years of practice is that the foundation of being a high performer is to have a high performers mind-set. And high performers mind-set says that, if I want to be a high performer, I’m going to recognize that I’m probably going to simply put in more time at work than other people put in. Now, sometimes that very innocuous statement leads to a bit of screaming around. Well, it is not about hours, it is about quality, and I work smart, not hard.
Great, but at the end of the day, two equally qualified, equally engaged, equally skilled people are put side by side. One dedicates 40 hours to their task. One dedicates 50 hours to their task. The person who dedicates 50 hours, to their task is likely to either be able to contribute more or learn more, connect more, develop more, do more things in those extra 10 hours a week that are going to quickly add up over the course of a year or two. So high performers mind-set starts with, I recognize all likely need to put in more hours in other people. I recognize that all likely need to sacrifice things that I enjoy because I am going to spend that time on work related activities. Maybe I am not going to go see my favourite sports team as often as I might like to. Maybe in my going to be able to attend to every social event that I would like to attend, there are things that I am going to do that are going to sacrifice, things I might enjoy doing. Spending time with my family because I am going to dedicate some of that time to work and being a higher performer. Finally, third part of that high performer’s mind-set. I recognize that performance is always relative. If I hit one hundred twenty percent of my goals this year but Steve hit one hundred forty percent of his goals, and Susan hit one hundred sixty percent of her goals. I might still have exceeded my goals, but I am the lowest performer in the group.
Performance is always going to be measured against who does the best, so those things really form that high performer’s mind-set that underlies each of these eight steps. Without that mind-set, none of these eight steps are going to work.
Steve Rush: That is really neat.
Marc Effron: Yeah, and to be honest, that eliminates 75 percent of the folks out there, and I think that is fine. You don’t need to be a high performer. People live wonderful lives. They contribute to their communities. They are good brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, without having to be a high performer. But if you want to be a high performer, it’s likely that your mind-set needs to incorporate those three elements, let’s dig into big goals.
Steve Rush: Let’s do that.
Marc Effron: I read through about 2000 scientific articles to try to understand when I wrote the book. What is actually conclusively proven to be true about individual high performance at work? What is not? And the one factor that came out loud and clear and it wasn’t that much of a surprise, was that one of the most conclusively proven pieces of science around what we can do at work to be a higher performer is to set a few big challenging goals. Now, that sounds pretty obvious, but here is the problem. Our consulting firm works with big global companies every day, really smart managers, great HR Resources available to them, and yet in most of those organizations, goal setting is done very poorly. What does the science say about goal setting, and why we should do it better? What it says is that big goals drive bigger results.
Just flat out conclusive big goals drive bigger results, so if you are setting a few big stretch goals for yourself, it is very likely you’re going to respond to those goals with more effort because we’re hard wired to be high performers. If Steve says, Marc, jump a foot in the air, I will give you a dollar, I’m going to jump a foot. If you say two feet, two dollars, I will try that. Three feet, three dollars. I will try that. I’m going to keep responding to that additional challenge you give me with more effort up to the point where either I think, there’s not a good relationship between the effort, the rewards, or if I say 4ft four dollars and you say no Marc, still three dollars, Then I probably won’t do it. Or if I’m too physically exhausted to complete the task, I won’t do it, but except for those two things, the bigger challenge that is given to us, the more effort that we’ll respond with. And while more effort isn’t always guaranteed to yield more performance, in many cases it is, so big goals drive big results but you can’t have 20 big goals. You will kill yourself and that goes to how do we focus on the few things that matter most? That is another challenge a lot of us have. We are very busy. We have many tasks, many activities, and we oftentimes confuse tasks and activities with goals. One trick for your listeners is don’t think about goals. Think about promises to your organization.
If you had to make your boss or your company three big promises about what you will deliver this year, what would those three big promises be? What are those three big deliverables be? And that might sound like a cute word trick. It has not intended to be it’s really intended to shift your mind-set and say we all have goals and we hope we achieve our goals, and sometimes you do. Sometimes we don’t, but how many times do you make a promise to someone not intending to fulfil that promise?
Steve Rush: And that is that intention and action gap, isn’t it? Where we make lots of intentional statements of doing things, but the actions sometimes fall short. Is that goal based in your experience too?
Marc Effron: Yeah, absolutely and so the question then is. How do we raise the stakes for ourselves? To say it is not just a goal. I have made an emotional commitment to that goal. So I’ve made you a promise about what I’m going to do during the year. How do we really elevate that? So it’s not just. Oh, yeah, it is on my list of stuff to do. Well, that’s likely not going to be anywhere near as motivational as here’s a big stretch goal that I’ve set for myself or that my boss has set for me that I know is going to be challenging a little bit scary and I might need to learn something new or behave in a different way to achieve it. But I know I’m going to get bigger results by setting something that is probably just out of my reach.
Steve Rush: That leads us to this second one, which is around behave to perform. What, does that really mean?
Marc Effron: Sure. I mentioned earlier, it would be really nice if we helped every new university grad to understand the few things that are going to matter most in their career.
And one of the things that my experience shows most leaders don’t hear about until they’re mid thirty. Is this concept of leadership derailers, many of your leaders may be familiar with those for those who aren’t? Think of leadership derailers as your personality turned up too high. Some of the things that might have made you successful earlier in your career but if you keep doing them or you turn the dial ups, you are doing them even more. They are actually going to backfire on you.
Quick example. Let’s say that you got early success because you’re a brilliant project manager. Everything gets done on time, perfectly executed, no excuses. You pay a lot of attention to the detail. That is great, so you are a successful as a manager. People promote you or you promoted to be a director. You are still focusing on project management. You are really into the details, into the weeds. Stuff needs to get done, needs to get done on time. But you actually have some managers working for you who are supposed to be doing that and they kind of look at you sideways because you’re playing around in their area. They kind of wish you would just manage instead, but because you drive good results, company likes that. They make you a vice president, man you are still in the weeds. Dig into those projects and really making sure that everything is perfectly executed. Well, now your peers and your boss are saying, well, I actually need more strategic thinking and more leadership. You need to be actually working with your team on projects and pushing that work down to the appropriate level. That type of factor says things that we do early in career may backfire on us or not be as helpful later in our career. Leadership derailers or exactly that, it might be that there is an element that you are very good at but you do it more frequently than you should, and it becomes something that derails you. Let’s take a very practical example.
Let’s say that you are someone who is very good at building relationships and calling attention to yourself. You are happy to talk about the quality of your work. You think that is the right thing to do to showcase it. Now, that is very helpful to emerge as a leader, so if you are an unknown leader in your organization, one fast way to emerge is to make sure that people know who you are and they know the quality of the work that you’re doing, so we’ll call it kind of waving your hand around. I want to be noticed. I want to emerge quickly as a leader. The challenge is that behaviour, when you are 24 looks one way. That behaviour when you are 34 looks completely different. Now, it is well, you seem awfully bold and convinced that your ideas are right.
You are sucking up airtime in meetings when other people might want to talk. You are disempowering your staff because their ideas never come to light. It is always your ideas; so that exact same behaviour has changed from being an asset to a liability and I think the key around behave to perform. Chapter 2 in Eight Steps To High-Performance is. Those derailers that are going to harm our career and that we need to pay attention to earlier than most of us do. Too many of us focus on, well, what is a great leader do? They do A, B and C that will take you so far, but at some point it’s those derailers that you need to be aware of and eliminate or also going to hold back how quickly you progressed in your role.
Steve Rush: Step 3 in your eight steps is growing yourself faster. How do we compete with fast vs. quality?
Marc Effron: The key message there is that the science is pretty clear that we’re going to grow most quickly through the experiences that we have. But far too often what we don’t think about is what’s the journey that I’m supposed to be going on? Meaning where am I today. So how do I show up today? How would I like to show up in the future? And in the book, I frame this as what we call a from too statement, and my colleague Jim Shanley. Who founded the Talent Management Institute at UNC with me, came up with this concept. It is brilliantly, simple concept that says before I develop my plan around how do I grow myself faster, let’s chart out that journey and say, what do I need to move from or where do I need to move from and where do I need to move to? And that statement might sound like I need to move from being seen as a project manager who flawlessly executes and focuses on the smallest detail. To a leader who can bring others along and help them to execute in the same way that I would on large, complex global projects. So from that from too, says let’s map the journey first. Where am I going from? And to, and then think about what are the few big experiences I need to get better at that. So grow yourself faster said, let’s focus on the one thing that matters most in accelerating my development, which is getting me really high quality experiences. But let’s plan those experiences by saying, am I clear about how I am perceived today at work and am I clear about how I want to be perceived at work going forward and then use experiences to fill that gap?
Steve Rush: So I really like that whole using experiences to fill that gap, because actually I don’t think many people spend time focusing on the experiences they’ve had and transferring that to core foundations. And I guess that leads on to your next step, which if ever there was a time for connection and you call your next step “connect”, it is probably now.
Marc Effron: Sure. Connect is one of those steps that, to be honest, I didn’t realize was as powerful as it was until I read through all that scientific research about how people connected to workplace and the strength in those relationships. Obviously, I intellectually understood that but when I read through connecting, what I realized is there is incredible power in connecting to help make you a higher performer, but it matters who you connect with and how you connect with them. What does the best science say about who to connect with? Well, it starts with your boss.
That boss relationship is amazingly predictive of how far and how fast you will move up in your organization. Now, here is where things get tricky. Some people are very uncomfortable being nice to their boss. No, not being unnice, but kind of building that personal, warm, friendly relationship is what the science says is. It is that trusting relationship, not the transactional relationship. A boss asked me to do something. I did it for them. But really, that more personal relationship. Do I have a cup of coffee with him? Occasionally. Have I invited the boss and her or his family over for dinner at my house? Do we travel together? Are there ways that I am getting to know that leader in a way that they really trust me and they really value my judgment? And they feel more than that. Some of that transactional connection of this person is an employee and there is obviously a lot of grey in what that relationship looks like. But what the science would say is the stronger that relationship is, the more quickly you’re going to move up in an organization and part of that is just the basics, treating your boss that you would treat any other friend. Not every conversation is a work conversation. Maybe you are asking that person out to grab a sandwich or a coffee on a regular basis, but you are working hard to consciously build that relationship. And the science would also say that peer relationships are important, and one of the things I say when I’m working with leaders on this step is map the quality of your relationship with all of your peers.
All of the folks may be on the same team and other important folks who are peers in your organization. Rate those relationships on a basic scale. Let’s called it a 5 to 1 scale. 5 is brilliant, 1 is you don’t get along very well at all. Any of your peers who you would rate as a 3 or lower. You need to connect within the next two weeks. In this environment virtual coffee or just a check and call to say, hey, how are things going? That is not a transactional or call. And this might even be something that you need to preface with. Hey, Steve, I know we don’t actually chat all that much, but I thought, you know, given the current environment, you can’t hurt just to kind of have a bit more of a get to know call and understand what’s going on with you and learn more about you and, you know, outside of the work environment. It might need to be that practiced of a conversation where you not kind of trying to suddenly say, oh, I am going to ask him a couple of questions about his weekend, but instead say, hey, I’m just trying to build better relationships. And I thought maybe we could just have a conversation. So connecting, doing it in a planned way, what is the quality of my relationship with my boss? What is the quality of the relationship with my peers and actively managing those to help you be a higher performer?
Steve Rush: It is really fascinating, in the research that I’ve concluded also in a very similar way, I found also that those colleagues who avoid people they’ve connected with less, also trust them less – and they also mirror that same lack of trust because it’s a bi-product, isn’t of connection?
Marc Effron: Absolutely.
Steve Rush: The next one is around “maximizing your fit” Marc, tell us a little bit about what that refers to?
Marc Effron: Mapping yourself is really understanding that your organization is going to change and evolve and organizations are changing, evolving more quickly than ever. They might get into a new market place. They might have a new strategy, a new way of having work get done, and if you want to stay a high performer, your job is to be looking at the future of your company and saying, given where I think my company is going. What are the few capabilities that are going to be valued in that environment that might be different than what’s valued today? And to compare yourself to that future state and say, okay, I’m probably good at two of the four things they’re looking for, I’m not really as good at two of the new things they’re looking for.
How do I build that capability as quickly as possible? Because High Performers are always thinking about how do I ensure that I fit perfectly with the needs of my organization and not relying on the company to come to them and say, Oh, Marc, we’re going to retrain you to fit with the future environment. But being much more proactive if you can’t translate yourself your organization’s strategy into those capabilities, talking to your boss or your boss’s, boss and saying very explicitly, I want to continue to be a strong performer here, what new capabilities do you see our organization needing that I might need to build in the short term? So Maximize Your Fit is saying, the science is very clear that our fit with an organization helps to predict our success. And so our high performers are always going to be looking at themselves and saying, given where our organization is going and the capabilities they need to be successful in the future, it needs to be successful the future. Do my capabilities match kind of well, not very well or very well with that future state and where ever there are gaps that high performers working to build those capabilities and close those gaps as quickly as possible.
Steve Rush: That is great. Thank you Marc. When I read “fake it”, being one of your eight steps, so when we talk about faking it when I read this in your book, it really intrigued me because as I suddenly thought about, how does that square itself with authenticity? But in your book you write, “sometimes it’s better than being your genuine you”. What does that mean Marc?
Marc Effron: It is interesting. The chapter six on “fake it” probably yields more screaming than any of the other chapters and it is often misinterpreted. People say, oh, you don’t really mean that people should fake a behaviour. You mean that they should just kind of adjust things or adapt. I double down and say, no actually! What we are talking about, it is very likely that you are good at many things at work, that you have a lot of the right behaviours, skills, but it’s also very likely going back to the de-railers that we talked about earlier, that there are one or maybe two things that either you do too much of or do too little love and you genuinely feel that those are the right things to do. You generally feel that the level at which you display them is correct, but you know that other people succeed by doing something very different.
So I mentioned earlier some people are very good at emerging as leaders by waving their hand around and calling attention to themselves. You might say, look, I feel that is just the wrong thing to do. Good work should speak for itself. I should not have to do that. You know, I just don’t think that’s the right thing to do. But the science would say if you do that, you’re going to emerge more quickly as a leader. You might need to fake that behaviour. You might need to put on an actor’s mask and say, I’m going to show up in this next meeting, not as myself, but as somebody who’s more than happy to share what they’ve been working on and to draw some attention to themselves, because I know that is going to allow me to be a higher performer. And you might say, look, I don’t like that behaviour. I don’t believe in engaging in that behaviour, but I know it’s the right thing to do to advance my career, and so what you might need to do is fundamentally fake that behaviour. Become for that one hour in that meeting a different version of you, and that’s not adapting. That is not adjusting. That is saying I am going to be a different person in that meeting than I normally am and I can return to being the genuine or authentic me after that meeting.
The challenges is, if we always want to be our authentic selves. It suggests that we think that our authentic selves are the best possible version of us or the most effective possible version. And the science would suggest that’s fundamentally not true. What is this look like in practice? I do this all the time. There is a gentleman, some of your listeners might know of who is a brilliant writer and brilliant speaker and coach named Marshall Goldsmith. And if you’ve ever seen Marshall Goldsmith on stage, he is one of the most engaging, entertaining individuals that you’ll ever come across. I am not naturally like that on stage, even though I do a lot of presenting. And so sometimes if I’m feeling maybe a little bit nervous before a speech or it’s a particularly large group I’m talking to. Before I walk onto that stage, I don’t think to myself, what would Marshall Goldsmith do? I say to myself, become Marshall Goldsmith and I walk out on that stage far more animated and energetic than I would ever naturally be in my life, because I am wearing that Marshall Goldsmith mask. I am faking being Marshall Goldsmith. Now, when I am off that stage, do I go back to being much more of an introverted and quiet individual? I certainly do, but what I did in that section was I showed up as what that audience needed to see, really forget about the genuine me or the authentic me or the me who I wanted to be at that moment. What I knew was that somebody had paid really good money for me to show up and entertain and engage that crowd. And the right person to do that was Marshall Goldsmith, so it’s Marshall Goldsmith’s mind-set and my content. I faked it and it delivered far better results.
Steve Rush: I really like that. I think this demonstrates this is about modelling other behaviours to improve your capability, but not mimicking behaviours. And I think when you model and you are you still you, you’re authentic. When you mimic, then that is where the intuition kicks in and says, I don’t think that is true.
Marc Efforn: Great point.
Steve Rush: Commit your body is the next one. Now, how do you commit your body to becoming highly successful and improved performance?
Marc Efforn: It was interesting. As I read through all those academic articles, and the search simply started with let’s find anything that claims that something improves performance at work. And I started to see all these articles come up that’s talked about. Here are things that you could do to manage yourself as an individual to be more effective. Actually what I really thought I would find was a bunch of proof around exercise, that exercise was the key to being a higher performer at work because I could draw all sorts of logical threads and reasons why that was the case. But when all the research actually said was the single most powerful thing you can do to manage yourself is actually to manage your sleep properly. There has been a lot of writing on this recently. The challenges is that writing is oftentimes very confusing and sometimes contradictory. When you read across all the sleep literature. What does it say about how to ensure that you are a higher performer at work? Well, the first thing that your listeners would want to pay attention to is the separation between quality of sleep and quantity of sleep. The science would say quality of sleep matters much more than quantity of sleep. When you get low quality sleep, it affects what are called your executive functions. That does not mean that you function like an executive. It means things like strategic thinking and creativity and working well in groups of others. So low quality sleep actually undercuts the capabilities that are most likely to make you a high performer.
Now, luckily, scientists have dug into how do you increase that quality of sleep. And it might be a lot of things your listeners have heard of before, but the question is, what are we doing about that? Those factors are things like we sleep better in a cool room, in a dark room, in a quiet room. When we have not had caffeine for at least eight hours and we have not had any alcohol for at least four hours, a very monastic type of existence. And since most people don’t live that monastic type of existence, the question is, can you improve one of those things? Can you make the room a little darker, a little colder, a little quieter, a little less screen reading beforehand? So this is not the necessarily for most high performers. How can you live a perfectly monastic life to get great sleep? But can you adjust some of those factors because the improved quality of sleep is guaranteed to help with performance. Now, on the quantity side, quantity still matters. The challenge of the quantity side is that the advice is a bit all over the place. The National Science Foundation, or National Sleep Foundation says that the right number of hours of sleep is somewhere between 6 and 10. Well there is a four-hour difference in there and I can do a lot with those four hours. So is it six or is it 10? When you read through all the literature on sleep, it suggests that the sweet spot, if you’re getting quality sleep as well as somewhere between six and a half and seven and a half hours.
And if you don’t get quantity of sleep, it’s not going to affect your executive functions. It is going to actually affect your basic functions. You are going to be forgetful. You might not find your keys on the way out the door. You might stumble over somebody name in a meeting. It is not going to necessarily affect your higher order functions. Now, luckily, scientists have also studied, well, what happens if you can’t get the quality or the quantity you want or any sleep hacks available to you? Staying with the theme of our conversation around hacking. Well, the good news is on the quality side, scientists have found that a 10 minute nap, not a five, not a fifteen, not an hour, a ten minute nap is the ideal length to make up for up to an hour of low quality sleep. So a 10 minute nap has amazingly restorative powers from being a high performer, recognizing that not everyone has a nap pod in their office. Science is very clear, 10 minutes of napping is amazingly powerful and for low quantity of sleep. What the science says is it is our old friend, caffeine. That is the best way to wake up some of those more basic functions, so sleep unbelievably strong foundation. The other six steps we have just talked about will not work well if you are not managing your sleep properly.
Steve Rush: And I read some research not so long ago actually around sleep is about four or five times more important to daily routines as nutrition. In other words, if I did not eat for three days, the worst I would be is hungry. If I did not sleep for three days, then I would be starting to really lose my mental cognition.
Marc Effron: I think that is a fantastic parallel. I think that that says a lot.
Steve Rush: And then the last one is avoid distractions. And I think we can all be distracted by things at work and of course, our brain is naturally looking for those distractions as well. How do you reference in your book and maybe share a little bit about what that means for you?
Marc Effron: Avoiding distractions is really all about focusing on what is proven to make you a higher performer, and that is challenging when every day there is a new TED Talks or a blog article or a book or something that says, hey. Look over here, here is a secret, simple, easy way to be a better leader or hear 3 secrets from billionaires or whatever the clickbait is that enters your browser, and we’ve just talked about seven factors that are absolutely conclusively scientifically proven to make you a higher performer. This step around avoiding distractions really said. Why don’t you start with the things that we know are absolutely proven to be true. Instead of responding to whatever hit your inbox or whatever you see in your browser that seems like it is a fast and easy way to be a higher performer. The science is unbelievably crystal clear about what will make us a higher performer. Do those things first, as opposed to whatever seems trendy at the moment.
Steve Rush: Got it, and I think it is the whole philosophy of procrastination, isn’t it?
Marc Effron: Absolutely.
Steve Rush: At this point in the show, we normally ask our guests to share that top leadership hacks, but you have already shared an abundance of your hacks. What I am keen to learn though Marc is from your experiences. We call this Hack to Attack, where things in the past that you’ve done maybe not worked as well or you screwed up on. But we now use that information and those lessons as part of our work or life for the future. What would be your Hack to Attack?
Marc Effron: Sure. This hack comes from early in my career. I was twenty-five years old, working as a political consultant in Southern California in the United States. And we had a small firm, made up of five or six people and our job was to help people in the construction industry to lobby local officials to get big projects approved. So in Southern California, this was many, many years ago. There was lots of open land and builders wanted to buy that land and get approval to build on it as quickly as possible, so we got friendly candidates elected and then we lobbied those candidates to get those projects approved. And this was, I guess, the late 80s and what we found was that business went very well for about two years, and then there was a recession and that recession hit the housing industry hard, and we only had three big clients who we relied on for all of our revenues. And those three clients quickly went bankrupt and we were left with absolutely no income, and that was a very painful thing. As a young individual who was just getting by at the time and the two big lessons that taught me, and certainly how I manage my business today and at times like this have been very helpful. One always structure the business for the worst case scenario, meaning if things shut down and you still need to pay employees, are you going to have enough in that company bank account to weather a six month or 12 month storm? My structure right now is we always want to have a year of payroll in the bank and that might sound extremely conservative, but right now, it seems like a really good way to manage.
So always structure your firm to survive the worst, but then also ensure that you are incredibly well connected across the industry, meaning at times like this when we look at the next year and aren’t certain how business will go. I want as many people in our profession as possible to understand who our firm is, what we do, and how we can help them. Because, well, we have always known in the past where business would come from or likely would come from. It might be that all bets are off in the future. So I much rather work with a network of about thirty five thousand contacts. I’d much rather have thirty five thousand contacts and not be sure about which one of them will reach out next week, then rely on two or three companies and hope that they will continue to be the tent poles for the business.
Steve Rush: Super lessons, and now, more than ever, planning for worst case scenario will call out whether or not business has got those foundations and a very good lesson learned. Thanks for sharing. So a final thing that we would like to ask of you today, Marc, is if you were able to do a bit of time travel and go back and bump into Marc at 21, what would be the best bit of advice you’d give him?
Marc Effron: Probably two things and it reflects on what we have already talked about today. One is, recognize that the strength of the relationships that you have will either accelerate or decelerate your career. As an introvert, I am naturally not good at doing that, and it always seemed like a nice to do, not a need to do and it probably was not until the middle of my career when I understood exactly how essential that was. So one piece of advice I would give my younger self is, even if you don’t feel comfortable doing it. Build lots of good relationships starting right now.
And the second one and this is a very Marc specific. I can be a bit lazy at times. I’m motivated around things I love and I am pretty lazy around things I don’t love to do, and I think my advice to my much younger self would be just work harder. You need to put in more hours if you are at your desk and you think, oh, I can go home now, I have nothing to do. Sit there for another hour and think of something to do. We talked about hard work is part of having a high performers mind-set. I got to business school and I got my butt kicked the first semester on grades. I realized actually Marc, you simply need to work harder and put in more hours, and I have been doing that ever since and I think it pays off well. So build great strong relationships and work really, really hard.
Steve Rush: That is great advice as well, and I think it is that extra effort. The extra yards coupled with that mind-set of high performance will make a difference for people as they progress through their careers. So thank you for sharing. I suspect that colleagues and people have been listening to you talk today. We will be thinking where can I find out more about Marc. How can I get my hands on the eight steps? Where would you like people to go who have been listening in today?
Marc Effron: Sure. Well, if they want to learn more about the eight steps, I think the easiest way is to pick up the book. It is on Amazon and all the major platforms. If you wanted to just learn more about myself, read a lot more of my articles, then you can go to our corporate site. That is talentstrategygroup.com. There are probably 50 different articles that I have written parallel many of these same topics.
Steve Rush: And we will also make sure they’re in the show notes, so after listening to this podcast, folk can go click on it and go straight to find out where and what you’re doing right now. So Marc just wanted to finally say it’s been super listening to you today and I’ve learned loads listening to you and I’m grateful for you taking time out of what I know is a pretty busy time for you at The Talent Strategy Group. So thanks for joining us on The Leadership Podcast.
Marc Effron: Thank you, Steve. I enjoyed the conversation and I appreciate your listeners tuning in.
Steve Rush: I genuinely want to say heartfelt thanks for taking time out of your day to listen in too. We do this in the service of helping others, and spreading the word of leadership. Without you listening in, there would be no show. So please subscribe now if you have not done so already. Share this podcast with your communities, network, and help us develop a community and a tribe of leadership hackers.
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