Performance, A Double-Edged Sword

Patricea Pop

8 minutes read

Performance is like an iceberg

If performance was an iceberg, the part that’s submerged underwater is what ‘s really driving it. Even if we have the right context, external resources, team and strategies at our disposal, the invisible and intangible are doing their work in a quiet but significant way.

Culture eats strategy for breakfast, says Peter Drucker. No matter how good the motivational strategies are, culture makes a huge difference in the workplace.

Performance is not just about numbers and metrics, but also about how well these elements mix with behaviours, values as well as how knowledge and skills are used in an organization.  

Moreover, now that remote work has taken over, the way we relate to performance is changing: how do you assess employees who have been put in a position to radically change the way they work overnight and who are under extraordinary pressure? 

As we can see, performance has many meanings, definitions and forms and it still remains a dance between quantity and quality, between I and We, between tangible and intangible.

Last but not least, performance always occurs beyond the comfort zone, which is why one of the factors that keep us out of our zone of excellence is inertia. That is, when you do what you do because you’ve been doing it for a long time and because that’s the way things work. 

On the one hand, inertia gives you stability, but, on the other hand, it hinders progress and change. It’s our lack of curiosity or simply giving up after having tried to change things that keeps us stuck.

As much as we talk about change and performance in organizations, there is a strong current of inertia impeding progress.

Another factor sabotaging our efforts to achieve exceptional results, which is extremely powerful at this time, is the wide range of pressures we are exposed to.

Pressure takes many shapes and colours in the organizational world and each shade leaves its mark on performance. 

First, there is the pressure to deliver results with extremely scarce resources, in a short time, with or without support from others.

Secondly, there is the emotional pressure that either we or others put on us. Overloaded agendas, tight deadlines and the avalanche of change often come with anxiety, stress and fatigue.

Then, there’s the economic and financial pressure. As if the pressure to keep budgets down at all costs isn’t enough, for many employees the main reason for going to work is mainly financial. When you go every day to a place where you have long lost the desire to contribute, participate and enjoy yourself, the road to performance becomes much more difficult. 

All these pressures have a boomerang effect and leave their mark on team morale, another factor that disrupts performance. Where pressure is high and morale is severely tested, some employees may choose to leave and others may be tempted to disregard organizational values and quality standards. 

When work is performed in a way that is contrary to their beliefs and the way they have been trained, some find that the only option they have is to leave the organization in search of a culture that aligns with their personal value system.

While some leave a relationship when their values are not respected, others see opportunities in such situations, especially when there are generous rewards for those who achieve the target. 

This is how the “cobra effect” arises: in the rush for targets that will bring them the desired rewards, employees exploit the weaknesses of the system. What used to be a solution designed to solve a problem actually backfires.

If you’ve ever worked for a big brand that demanded performance and paid the right amount but you were struck by the toxic culture behind excellence, then you understand very well that getting performance at any cost is counterproductive. 

That’s why performance can also mean reaching your goal without unnecessary drama and energy consumption that leaves you exhausted at the end of the journey. Especially in today’s context, when we are all amateurs in unique circumstances, intangible and less quantifiable factors need to be taken into account when defining and evaluating performance. 

Otherwise, performance can easily turn into a double-edged sword that alienates talented people, creates a toxic culture and blocks progress. Perhaps we are now granted the opportunity to see our colleagues’ resilience, flexibility, the contribution they bring to the team, the speed with which they are able to adjust to remote working and maintain relationships with colleagues at a distance

The good thing about going through a tough time is that it comes to hone your ability to perform and take things to the next level. How open are you to allow this to happen?

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Written by Patricea Pop


It is said that a journey of a thousand miles starts with a simple step and mine started a few summers ago when I wanted to do something for myself, so I enrolled in a coaching programme. This gave me the chance to look at myself from a different perspective: little did I know that it would take me to a different career path, that of being a coach.

After more than 12 years in the corporate world which taught me many lessons and several years of preparation for my new role, I now support people in business to improve their self leadership skills. I think leadership is an inside job and it is part soul searching, part strategy and part relationship skills.

I love writing about work and organizations because it is the place where we invest heavily our time and energy and we often end up feeling stressed, trapped and dissatisfied. My strength relies on my resilience, critical thinking and intuition and I believe it is an honour to accompany someone on their inner journey.

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