How to be a Consistently High Performer with Martin Croft
In this episode, Ankush speaks with Martin Croft about sustaining high performance at work over time. Some of what they discuss include:
– What high-performance at work means
– The secret to becoming a consistent high performer
– The link behind our psyche and peformance
– A case study of where Martin helped a client to achieve higher levels of performance
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[00:00:00.00] Ankush: Welcome back to another episode of the Business Series podcast. Today I’m joined by Martin Croft. Martin is a leadership and change consultant, and has a background as an engineer in mechanical and electronics engineering. He’s worked in automotive, telecoms, chemical and defence industries as a designer, project manager, programme manager and also as a business transformation manager. So, welcome Martin, great to have you with us.
[00:00:30.05] Martin: Ankush thank you for that welcome, it’s a pleasure to be here.
[00:00:34.18] Ankush: Today we’ll be talking about how to be a consistently high performer at work. I’m sure this is a topic that’ll be interesting for interesting for many of our listeners. And we’re going to be talking about what does that mean, what does it come down to, and what are some key takeaways for listeners, and I’m excited to explore this conversation with you.
[00:00:58.21] Martin: Let’s find out where it goes.
[00:01:00.10] Ankush: So let’s start there with, what is a consistently high-performer? What does that actually mean or what do you mean by that?
[00:01:09.12] Martin: Well performance is something that is always measured at work actually these days, and we strive to do the very very best that we can at work, but some days it’s a real mess and other days it is brilliant and it feels like you’re walking on water and nothing gets in your way. You’re bouncing off emails and dealing with every problem. But those days that I would call “high-performing,” are kind of few and far between for a lot of people. And most of the time we come across people that are stressed, people that are having difficulty with just doing the bare basics at work and achieving projects and negotiations and making relationships and things like that. Now, performing highly, and continually doing that is something that I work with, people in business at the senior leadership level mostly, it really is about helping people get to a place where they know that they’re performing at the best of their capability and recognising when they’re not. And the kind of a “when they’re not” is a bit of a signal to them to help them with what’s going on with their state of mind and stuff. So, being consistent about this is something that we’re always striving for.
[00:02:26.04] Ankush: So you talked about it a little bit, about the awareness of the mind, but how do you become a consistent high-performer? What’s the secret?
[00:02:38.01] Martin: A good question. So, I thought about this a little bit actually and, the consistent piece is the stuff that’s often baffling people, because they know it’s there, they know that they can have days that are great. They know that they can have days that are just amazing, but they don’t come along too often, and that’s the baffling thing, because we often find that nothing actually externally changes with the situation, but one day I’ll feel rubbish and the next day I’ll feel great, and the consistency piece is something that we try, it’ll be great to try and grab hold of. Now, from the understanding that I share, how do I get high performance is something like how do I get a nose. Performance is always there, your ability to have a performance, or be performing at your peak is always there, just like your ability to have a nose is always there and so, it’s sort of built in. However what we tend to do with our day-to-day relationship with our reality is that we tend to get involved in the reality that we think is getting created outside. Now that relationship that we believe is happening, tends to have a bit of an effect on us and gets in our way of performing. And so, what we do really is to help people understand what the true relationship is with the way we feel. That will enable us, for that performance to come out, and for us to shine more readily and also to be able to do the things that we really want to do. So that’s it in a nutshell I really teach people kind of how, what the relationship is that’s really going on, and once they see that relationship and how the mind works and how what we believe is happening is actually happening, there’s a real slight difference in that and so, once you’ve got the key to that, that’s the key really to understanding how you can perform more and more and more.
[00:04:34.16] Ankush: So is what you’re saying that, understanding how our relationship to, the challenges that we’re, the circumstances that we might face, workloads, all of this stuff that we deal with day-to-day, or we might deal with day-to-day at work, our relationship to that, understanding that better or how we react to that and how we feel about it, that’s what you’re saying is the key to being a consistent high-performer?
[00:05:05.28] Martin: Yeah absolutely. It’s interesting, you did mention kind of one thing there about the amount of work and the stress we have at work, quite often people have a lot of work to do, and you’d see one person being really really stressed about it and another person not being so stressed about it. It’s a little bit like, maybe 100 people on an aeroplane and one person will be stressed when it goes through bumpy weather and someone else at the other end of the scale will think they’re on a rollercoaster. The 98 people in between will have a very different feeling and a different reality about what’s going on, so it actually can be the plane or the weather. There’s a different relationship going on, there’s a different thing going on actually there, that’s actually the real key.
Most of the time though as humans what we tend to do, we tend to look for the outside influences that we believe is making us feel the way that we do. When that’s deconstructed and we show people actually what’s really going in in the way that, how our reality is created and what that does to us or the actual mechanism behind how we work as humans or how the engine works as it were… we tend to see it a little bit more readily, we tend to see a little bit more about what’s going on and the actual messages that we’re getting to tell us whether we’re off target or on target, whether we’re in a good space or a bad space, whether we are being useful and when we’re being not useful, and just a real simple understanding, difference in understanding, real difference in understanding about kind of what’s actually really going on with our feelings in the situation and more importantly what our thoughts are giving us in the feelings that we’re getting, is really the key to kind of understanding the mechanism and what the engine’s actually doing to give us the feelings. Now, from a work perspective, when I talk to people from a work perspective, when they see that they’re overwhelmed for instance, it’s not coming from their work but actually coming from them, that’s actually incredibly helpful, because then they stop trying to do something with the work, they stop trying to put something off or they stop trying to load it onto other people or stop trying to blame things the way that they feel on other things that are going on, when people see that it’s actually an inside job and it actually comes from you, that’s actually incredibly helpful, so, what I do is I help people see that really really acutely.
[00:07:34.10] Ankush: Now some people might not see the link between high performance and understanding, that link and some people might say, well, everybody’s psychology is different, so, whilst other people might get affected, or think a plane is affecting them in a certain way and you used that example, they might say, “yeah but that’s just me,” and so whilst you might be stressed under pressure, I actually thrive under pressure and my psychology is different. So, what would you say to people who might be thinking that right now?
[00:08:09.02] Martin: Yeah good point. Well actually I would disagree. I would say that their psychology is the same as everyone else’s, so the logic of the psyche, is the same in everyone. What as humans that we tend to do though is that we get into a state, at certain stages of our lives we kind of grow through a stage where we have a situation happening to us, a bit like a child, is a real good example, if I was a 3 year old child, when I’m actually trying to make sense of the world, when I’m actually trying to make sense of the way that actually I feel from moment-to-moment. I’m looking for clues, that’s sort of helpful. Now if someone wants to take my crayon away, and I felt a certain way about this child taking my crayon away, if I felt bad about that, then I would believe that I’d need more crayons in order to be happy, because I was happy before I had the crayon, now I’ve not got the crayon. It’s because it’s been taken away.
Now, making sense of the world means that, okay, I need more crayons, I need lots more crayons. And we tend to protect ourselves with more crayons, I want another crayon, I want another crayon. We don’t need more crayons. Now, at that stage in our lives, and all the way through from that sort of age, we try and make sense of the world, by assuming that the world is kind of outside-in. So we assume that the thing that happened outside of us, caused the weight to feel the way it did. Now, we make sense of that because we’re in a specific state of mind. What I call state of mind. So my state of mind could be really really low, so I’m kind of feeling a little bit unhappy, a little bit nervy, a little bit afraid of things, and when someone takes my crayon, I would tend to react against that, because I think that’s causing this, this feeling. Now, the same goes with, I don’t know, maybe a relationship across the playground. Someone looks at me funny in a different way, and I’ll think about that as a child and think, “I wonder what he’s thinking about me?” And I’ll get anxious about that maybe, and I’ll get worried about that, and all of a sudden that person’s not my friend anymore because I think he’s thinking something about me. Happens a lot in playgrounds. Or if I was in a good state of mind, I could feel okay about that and go over and talk to that person, likewise it could be across the canteen when you’re at work. Likewise it could be across the street, look, likewise it could be in any situation.
If you’re in a bad state of mind, you’re more likely to grab hold of things that are likely, that are going to be going on around you. Thinking that they are affecting you. If you’re in a good state of mind, you’ll notice that you don’t do that, you’ll notice that the world is okay, nothing’s bothering me, and yet, these things are still happening around us, but we tend to ignore the fact that, actually when I feel great, nothing bothers me. Those are kind of outliers in this kind of normal distribution or curve of analysis that we do trying to make sense of the world. And so, from a basic perspective, our psyche, I would say, is absolutely identical, person-to-person-to-person-to-person. In other words, we feel what we think, moodiest thought, we’re living in the feeling of our thinking, and it’s not something that’s… and that’s an inside-out relationship. So we feel what we think, so this feeling that we get here comes from the thoughts that occur to us. We believe though that it’s outside-in, we believe that that thing over there causes this, the feelings come from there, over there. Now I might well have thinking on that, it’s really fast, but, from one moment to the next, I can feel different. And so that’s all a bit like me learning to eat greens again when I was a child. There’ll be a point where, I’m not going to touch greens, because greens are going to kill me. They’re going to be bad for me, so I’m not going to eat greens, I’m going to push myself away, I’m not going to eat any greens. And they’ll still appear on the plate and, okay, I’ll try a pea, I’ll be in a different state of mind, and I’ll try a pea, I’ll try a pea… that’s not so bad, I’ll try another pea… And all of a sudden, I’m okay with eating peas. So again, it can’t be the peas our state of mind changes and all of a sudden, we’re eating more greens than our parents ever thought possible, subtly we’re eating greens. Nothing’s changed about the greens, but our state of mind changes. And that’s exactly the same with every situation that we come across through our lives, but, our personal conditioning, takes us back to whenever this happens, whenever this situation happens, like a bad email arrives from someone that we’re not getting on with too well. I’ll feel a certain way. Now, we go back to what we think is happening. Our beliefs and we set up a belief system that says that this affects me this way, so that’s how I need to react. Well actually that doesn’t happen every day, but we tend to ignore those, now those, not happening every day moments, are the powerful bits, are the real powerful bits because that’s the piece that says, it’s inside out or rather it’s an inside job, you’re making it up. Does that make sense?
[00:13:24.21] Ankush: Some people might be listening to this and thinking, okay, so what you’re pointing to is state of mind. And so what I need to do is get into a better state of mind, and I remember speaking to another coach a few years ago, who said he would teach strategies and techniques to help people go from a low state of mind to a great state of mind, until what he saw was that, and this kind of really relates to our topic, was that performance is higher, the higher state of mind you have, right? But what he saw was, you don’t need to do anything to get up there, that’s kind of our natural state, that’s our base state, and I think that’s what you’re saying, so to tie state of mind just to the title around performance and being a consistently high performer. I think what you’re saying is if your starting point is, you are a high performer, and anyone that’s listened to this is built for high performance. And the more that you see how the mind works, you don’t drop down into a low state of mind, or when you do, you bounce back quicker, that’s how it relates to performance, is that correct?
[00:14:40.10] Martin: That’s sort of true yeah, let me explain on that a little bit more, because it’s a great question, I’m glad you asked it that way. So, there are two things that I help people with… maybe about three things, the mind only works one way is the first one, it’s built for it to reset, so there’s a reset mechanism in there, and the third thing is the more you look at these two first things, the more successful you’ll be and resourceful you’ll be. Now these two things, there’s that second thing, that it’s built to reset, is, it’s a mechanism that is part of the built in correction force as it were that we have. Force is maybe a wrong word, but I’ll think of another one. It’s an immune system for the mind, let’s put it that way, now our immune system if I can the immune system, our immune system, when we get ill, our illness is expelled, we don’t even have to do anything about it. We don’t have to practice being more immune, we are immune, and our internal system takes care of that, it expels it over time, we may vomit, we may sweat, we may refuse food, and that sort of thing, and that’s our internal system saying “stop doing this.” Our internal system also helps us with our respiratory system, our respiratory goes on without us interfering with it. And our blood circulates without us interfering with it, now, and also, if we are to get a cut hand, the cut heals itself without us interfering with it, and in actual fact, when we do interfere with a cut, it gets worse. There’s stuff that goes on that stops the coagulation of blood and we get scars and there’s more blood and the stuff doesn’t heal, so when we interfere with that cut and want to stop it a little bit itching by scratching that cut, it stops it from healing. No, the interfering process is actually what we’re doing inadvertently because we’re assuming it’s an outside-in relationship. We interfere with the natural process of a fresh thought coming in and our ability for us to come back to normal. So, that reset mechanism is incredibly important, because the more you get involved with trying to sort it out, the less successful you’ll be.
[00:17:00.18] Ankush: Have you got a really quick case study where you’ve worked with someone to see this, which has led them to have high performance?
[00:17:07.11] Martin: I have yeah. I was writing to her earlier actually and it’s this lady that I’ve had now for a good year as a client, she’s a senior vice president of a major US bank, but situated in London, and she looks after marketing and strategy and all sorts of things and we met at a bit of a charity event with her entourage of people, and there were days, and she was sharing to me, because she asked me what I did and I said, well I help people with their head stuff, and she said, we’ll that’s really interesting, she said that some of my days I’m sitting in my office crying and the staff is all around her trying to console her and stuff and she’s in complete tears, not able to cope with things, a mountain of things she feels that she needs to work on, overwhelmed from what she thinks is overwork, overwhelmed from all sorts of places, with her relationships, with her ex-partner, with her children, with her mother and so on. The world looks like a train crash.
Now anyway, we spoke for 3 days, I invited her down to the Cotswolds, which is a lovely place, not today, it’s raining today, but invited her down to the Cotswolds, we spoke for 3 days, and by the middle of the second day, everything began to change, when she saw that, the real true relationship between inside out and outside in, and actually what was going on, and we provided more and more proof, of “well how does it work here, and how does it work here, and how does it work here?” And she got more and more and more insights, based on kind of where I was going, and her level of calmness about what actually was happening at work, and what’s actually happening with her relationships with children and stuff, just changed over night. She called it her reset. And she wrote beautifully about it, but she, in the last year has gone from strength to strength within her business, she got accoladed with the most powerful performer, or the most… I can’t remember what the actual title was, but the employee of the year, for the stuff that she was doing, and went from strength to strength within her role, she’s now running different parts of the business as well, so she’s actually now got promotion, but she’s actually taken on a wider role, she’s actually taken on a charity as well, and she’s finding just more and more space in her available time to be more impactful, both within business and also her personal life as well. It’s just astonishing whenever I share this, that people just lift and wake up and think, “oh! That’s what’s really going on.” And all of a sudden, their spectrum of time, changes from 99% worry about the past or the future, to, at least 50% or 60% being in the present, and actually dealing with the things that are in front of you. So, yeah, I hope that’s a good example, there’s lot of others.
[00:19:47.08] Ankush: Yeah, thank you, that’s quite a remarkable turnaround for your client. Just to wrap up, what’s the one takeaway that you want people to leave this episode with?
[00:19:59.27] Martin: Well, if they’ve not come across the principles before or people that practice coaching from this perspective, yeah do go connect with people, there’s plenty out there, but I would say, if nothing else, if you don’t do anything else, just slow down, and not so much slow down in terms of slow down, but just slow and take note of what’s happening within your mind, take note of the thoughts that you’re having, and the ones that are useful and the ones that are not useful. Slow that down. Once you slow that down, things become to get clearer, you get more clarity, you get that reset mechanism happening more and more and more. So, slow down and attach that, do nothing, do nothing with the thoughts you’re getting. Do nothing with the stuff that you believe is making you feel unwell or not performing. And I’m not saying do nothing with the work that’s in front of you, that needs to be done, I appreciate that, but take note of the thoughts, that’s it.
[00:21:00.21] Ankush: Great. How can people get hold of you, if they want to find out more, if they want to get in contact with you, how can they do that?
[00:21:07.17] Martin: Good question. Well I’ve got my business called Thought Business, you can get hold of me at: email@example.com, also I’m working with an agency, well not really an agency, but a change agency, and they’re called Applied Change, and you can get hold of me there, it’s: firstname.lastname@example.org, and we’re up to all sorts of business change there as well, so either of those addresses will be fine.
[00:21:30.17] Ankush: Thanks for joining us today Martin, thanks for listening everyone that’s tuned in, and I’ll be back next time with another interviewee.
[00:21:39.05] Martin: Thanks Ankush bye bye.