The Overlooked Secret to Great Performance; Few companies or leaders systematically focus on, and invest in, how their employees feel, even though doing so would serve their bottom line

NOVEMBER 27, 2013, 10:33 AM

The Overlooked Secret to Great Performance


Think of a time when you were performing at your best and another occasion when you were performing at your worst. Now, take a few moments to visualize the two occasions in your mind. The vast difference between these two experiences has nothing to do with your inborn talent or your skills. How much of your capacity you bring to work on any given day depends, to a large degree, on how much energy you’ve got in your tank.Obvious as that seems, we underestimate how much impact taking care of ourselves — and feeling taken care of — has on our performance.

Unlike machines, which run on a single source of energy, human beings require four types of fuel to perform at their best: physical, emotional, mental and spiritual. Each of these influences one another, and none is sufficient by itself.

Physical energy is the core fuel we require to get things done. Everything we do rests on that foundation, and how we feel is influenced by what we eat and when, how much we exercise, whether or not we renew our energy intermittently through the day and how many hours we sleep.

Go without eating for five or six hours, for example, and you’re depriving the brain of its ravenous need for glucose. Work continuously for multiple hours without a break, and you’re progressively depleting your capacity to remain calm and collected under pressure. Ignore exercise, and you will get progressively weaker, and more vulnerable to illness.

No single behavior in our lives matters more than sleep, because without enough of it — a minimum of seven to eight hours for 97 percent of us — the toll shows up in every aspect of our lives. Even small amounts of sleep deprivation take a toll, for example, on vigilance on a task, our mental agility on tasks, our mood and even our motivation.

The second fuel in our lives is emotional. We assume we’re rational beings, but it turns out we’re run largely by our emotions, for better and for worse. Think again about how you feel when you’re performing at your best. We’ve asked this question to tens of thousands of people over the years and the adjectives people describe are always the same: energized, excited, happy, positive, engaged and in the flow.

Put simply, we perform best when we’re feeling high positive emotions, and we perform less well as our feelings move in the direction of anger, frustration, impatience and fear — all of which are also draining, and antagonizing to others. Just being aware that negative emotions undermine us can be a powerful impetus to address them.

Psychologists like Roy Baumeister have long written about our “negativity bias” — the default inclination to focus more on what is wrong in our lives than what’s right. While we’re wired to be vigilant to threat, it’s also possible to consciously cultivate positive emotions.

Taking time to appreciate one’s bounty and express gratitude all serve this end. So, too, does spending time with people we care about deeply, which helps explain why having a close friend at work has a powerful and positive impact on engagement and performance at work.

The mental fuel we require to perform at our best is focus, and more so than ever in a world of infinite distractions. Control of our attention — the capacity to put our focus where we want it to be — makes it possible not just to get the right work done, but also to intentionally shape our experience. Attention, like any other muscle, gets stronger when we train it — which helps explain why practices like mindfulness are suddenly generating so much interest in organizations

The fourth fuel that influences our performance is the sense of purpose we bring to our work. Is there any doubt that we feel more positive — and bring more passion and focus to what we do — when we believe what we’re doing really matters? Paradoxically, the more we invest in adding value to others, the better we feel about ourselves.

Just as we underestimate how much these sources of fuel influence our performance, so do the organizations for which we work. Few companies or leaders I’ve encountered systematically focus on, and invest in, how their employees feel, even though doing so would serve their bottom line.

The 2012 Global Workforce Study conducted by the consulting firm Towers Watson measured the relationship between engagement — the willingness of employees to invest discretionary effort at work — and financial results. The key for the most highly engaged employees turned out to be their ability to maintain their energy and enthusiasm at work.

The differentiating factor among companies with the most highly engaged employees was an environment that supported people’s physical, emotional and social well-being. Companies that did this least well had an average operating margin of 10 percent. Companies that best supported employees had an average operating margin of 27 percent.

It’s a dual challenge. Organizations stand to improve performance by helping their employees feel better every day. We perform better and more sustainably when we take better care of ourselves.

About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (, the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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