• Piyumi Kapugeekiyana

Performance or Growth?

The other day, I was watching as Rachael Haynes posted her maiden century in a one-day international between Australia and Sri Lanka. The whole stadium erupted into applause as Haynes and fellow batsman Ellyse Perry went in for a hug. It was a heart-warming moment and I nearly teared up on the elliptical.

A few overs later, a Lankan fielder fumbled and dropped what looked like an easy catch. As the camera panned over that defeat from different angles, I heard a sharp tsk of disapproval one machine over.

It made me think about how much we all value performance—in sport, in business, in ministry, even in relationships. For the purpose of this post, I'm only going to tackle one of those areas.

This Forbes article outlines six reasons why businesses should 'create a culture of high performance and embrace the mantra that low performers and underachievers can exit stage left'. For example, one reason is that low performers actually create the burden of extra work and drive high performers away.

I've long celebrated performance, but I find myself increasingly at odds with the zero sum games that play out around us. Over the years, I've seen plenty of folks fall by the wayside for failing to keep up and it's always bothered me that ours is a culture that will not tolerate anything less than a person's best. Consider this section from The Darwinian Workplace :

"Instead of distributing work evenly among employees, winners-take-all organizations allocate according to merit: Better workers take more assignments, and the others get what remains. The model exploits the fact that workers differ dramatically in productivity because of such factors as skills and attitude, which can be hard to assess when hiring. Over time, it may induce low performers to quit, leading to a higher-performing workforce and a constantly rising bar."

Peel back the layers and you'll often find that performance culture is motivated by fear. The fear of disapproval, missing out, falling short, being left out. Fear of the periphery.

In conversations with employers who've made the leap to hiring people with disabilities or the neurodivergent, I've discovered that their primary mental barriers were often around performance. As much as I can relate to that, there's got to be a better way.

Instinctively, I've been leaning towards Tony Schwartz's idea of growth culture over performance culture. Here's what he had to say about it:

In a growth culture, people build their capacity to see through blind spots; acknowledge insecurities and shortcomings rather than unconsciously acting them out; and spend less energy defending their personal value so they have more energy available to create external value. How people feel — and make other people feel — becomes as important as how much they know.

I like to think of the distinction in terms of priorities. Performance culture prioritizes results over people. How people feel, how hard they're trying, what they're dealing with, how much they've improved relative to last year is of little consequence—if there's someone else who can get it done more effectively. Growth culture prioritizes people over results—and in so doing, actually gets results.

Psychological safety, the freedom to explore without judgment, the ability to experiment, a healthy tolerance of failure, an emphasis on being as much as doing—this is what you'll find in an environment based around growth culture.

If you've ever been obsessed with performance, you'll know what I'm talking about.

There's freedom and power in making the shift to growth, and it always starts with you.