What are the “three laws of performance”?
Amazon-Exclusive Q&A with Steve Zaffron and Dave Logan
The laws of performance are universal. That is, any time people are involved in a situation, the laws apply. They aren’t steps or tips, but general principles that are always at work. They are also phrased in a precise way, to give maximum insight and applicability. The laws are:
1. How people perform correlates to how situations occur to them.
2. How situations occur arises in language.
3. Future based language transforms how situations occur to people. In your opinion, what do leaders struggle with the most and how can the laws help them?
The two biggest issues we hear from leaders are lack of buy-in and an absence in ownership. The first problem often becomes acute when the leaders, working with experts, determine what plan people should implement, and the work force doesn’t want to do it, or doesn’t engage with passion. Many leaders try to solve the resulting issues with incentives, which often make the problem worse, as Daniel Pink’s book Drive demonstrates.
The second problem--absence of ownership--is related to lack of buy-in, but runs deeper. The problem, as many leaders have expressed to us, is that people don’t treat the business as though it’s their business. In some cases, it literally is their business, for example when people have some equity in the company through stock options. Yet even in many of these situations, people don’t act as though they are owners. Many leaders have expressed that nothing they ever tried has fixed the ownership problem.
The Three Laws of Performance can help with both problems by encouraging leaders to see that people’s actions are correlated to how situations occur to them. The second and third laws, taken together, say that future-based language—such as declarations, promises, and commitments—transform how situations occur to people. By focusing on the way in which things are “ occurring to the people, their actions naturally shift. The point is clear when we remember that the Declaration of Independence transformed how the experience of being a colonist occurred for the colonists. The facts hadn’t changed—the British still asserted their control. But the actions of the colonists shifted in a dance with the Declaration. What had been skirmishes by the colonists now became full-scale war and eventually the birth of a nation.
The same situation happened recently in Egypt, when decades of tyrannical rule ended in 18 days. What really happened is that the situations occurred in a new way to Egyptians, and their actions naturally shifted. Imagine this level of empowerment and engagement in your organization. Using these three laws in an organization calls forth people’s participation and involvement in surprising and exciting new ways. It seems that people can apply the lessons here in many ways – how they communicate, how they think, how they act. Since publishing the hardcover version is there a “way” that stands out to you?
Since we’re writing about laws, and not tips or techniques, there is not a single “way.” Rather, there is a general flow of conversations that taps into the power of the Three Laws. The flow goes something like this:
1. Ask people: what is the “default future?” That is, what do people see coming at them in the future, almost for certain and unless something completely unexpected happens? Getting and experiencing what people see as the default future gives everyone insights into how people are experiencing the organization and their opportunities in it.
2. Go deeper:, asking people: “if this default future existed throughout the organization, what actions would people find themselves taking, perhaps even without thinking?” Even though people may not want the default future, it acts as a mostly unspoken, often unconscious, self-fulfilling prophecy. People find themselves making it happen through their actions. Getting people to see their role in this process is critical. People created the default future, and are actively bringing it about. The same people can rewrite the future.
3. Ask people: “is this default future what you want?” If the answer is a resounding “no,” they have the ability to set the default future aside and create something new.
4. Invite people to consider this question: “what do you really want instead?” People should speculate until a new future—technically, called an “invented future,” takes shape. For an invented future to be effective, it must take people’s individual concerns into account, as well as the concerns of the organization and its stakeholders.
5. Develop projects that make realize an aspect of the invented future.
As people successfully implement the projects resulting from this flow, the invented future occurs as more attainable to people. Over time, people will find themselves acting in line with the invented future. There are no steps required, no need to remember to act in a certain way. Elevated performance is now natural and automatic. In your new epilogue to the paperback edition you zero on the three critical implications for leadership SINCE the first version in hardcover came out. Which one really stands out and why ?
The fundamental aspect of leadership that most people miss is the importance of listening. Listening, as we describe it, is not simply gathering data and opinions from people, but rather exploring how situations occur to them, what they aspire to make happen, and what stands in their way. By listening in this way, leaders combine what they hear from lots of people into an invented future that represents the bulk of people’s concerns. When people hear the invented future, they say, “That speaks for me!” because it is, in part, their idea. Lack of buy-in and ownership are replaced with excitement, inspired action, and full engagement. People seem to describe this as a “different” type of business book? Why is that?
In working with our editor, Warren Bennis, our goal was not to write another list of steps or platitudes. Frankly, such books accomplish little more than short-term motivation, or incremental improvement. Our goal was to focus on the fundamental laws that govern human performance. We didn’t set out to write a simple book, but rather, a book that would make an impact. People have told us that the Three Laws of Performance has allowed them to approach old problems in new ways, and often move to elevated performance in much shorter time, and with less effort, than they had thought possible. This book taps into what appears to be a shift in organizations to more openness, transparency etc. Do you agree? How so ?
Yes, we agree. Organizations are going through a shift for a variety of reasons, perhaps most importantly the ability to connect with other people. Years ago, companies could hide activities, especially in the developing world. Today, these activities are captured by cell phones and shared on social media. There’s really no place to hide anymore. As a result, organizations need to transform adversarial relationships with governments, local populations, unions, and communities, into partnerships. Doing so requires really grasping why people do what they do. We believe the Three Laws of Performance gives leaders a unique insight into how to make this shift one in a way that inspires greater levels of satisfaction, results, and the experience of making a difference.
From the Back Cover
How do companies, both large and small, in different countries and industries, achieve breakthrough performance when the odds are stacked against them? Such results are possible when people apply The Three Laws of Performance and rewrite their futures. This book will show you how to do the same in your organization and your life.
Although most of us aren't aware of it, we have a future that's already been written. Our future is written by hopes, fears, dreams, expectations, and decisions made about life. In the same way, organizations have futures written by history, circumstances, culture, aspirations, successes, and failures. These already-written futures determine and shape the level of performance that's possible for individuals and organizations. In The Three Laws of Performance, Steve Zaffron and Dave Logan crack the code on rewriting the future for people and organizations, elevating performance to unprecedented levels.
"This book is a wonderful reminder that things we don't see determine what we do see, and therefore, what really gets done. The Three Laws of Performance hits the mark in providing both rich food for thought and techniques that can create profound results."—David Allen, author, Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity; Making It All Work: Winning at the Game of Work; and the Business of Life
"The Three Laws of Performance is must-reading for leaders who want to make a positive difference. Change doesn't happen in a vacuum; it happens when people see and hear a future they can get excited about. Steve Zaffron and Dave Logan show how true leaders sidestep negative stumbling blocks to articulate visions that heal and inspire."—Ken Blanchard, coauthor, The One Minute Manager and Leading at a Higher Level
"An inspiring, practical book that will assist all who seek to rewrite the future of our world."—Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, Nobel Laureate
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