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From
Comfort Zone
to Performance
Management
A L A S D A I R W H I T E
ISBN 978-2-930583-01-3
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Understanding
development
& performance
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From Comfort Zone to Performance Management Alasdair White
Page 1 of 18
From Comfort Zone to Performance
Management
Understanding development and performance
Introduction
This paper seeks to take the established behavioural models relating to
comfort zones, group and individual development, and managing change,
and use them to create a methodology for understanding and managing
performance. It seeks to provide a reliable approach to getting the best out
of people that is firmly based on sound behavioural and psychological
principles backed up by observational data and practical field research. It
is not, however, a ‘scientific’ paper full of detailed research data, complex
theories and high-flown rhetoric, but rather it is a practical guide based on
twenty years of consultancy in the field and eight years of teaching
university students in a business school.
In understanding and managing performance, the key is the management
of the stress. Both motivation and anxiety are, behaviourally, sub-sets of
stress and, consequently, they are tools to assist in performance
management – there will be times when motivation will be the most useful
tool, while at others the introduction of anxiety will be more appropriate.
However, too much motivation or anxiety will result in too much stress
and this will result in performance being disabled.
The correct management style needs to be applied in each phase if
performance is to be maximized. Applying the incorrect style has a
negative impact on performance. In situations in which a series of
performance-enhancing steps need to be taken, it is imperative to start the
new performance cycle at the point at which the old performance cycle
develops a slowing performance trend.
In Section I, the author reviews the principle working models. This is
followed in Section II by the development of the Transforming-Performing-
Reforming (TPR) Life-cycle Model a composite working model that can
be used to understand and manage performance, development and change.
Section I
Page 2
Section II
Page 10
Bibliography
Page 17
Biography of the author
Page 18
From Comfort Zone to Performance Management Alasdair White
Page 2 of 18
Section I – the working models
The Comfort Zone
The origin of the phrase ‘comfort zone’ is very hard to track down and
everyone has a personal definition and understanding of the term. The
earliest usage in relation to performance is in the title of Judith
Bardwick’s 1991 work Danger in the Comfort Zone: From Boardroom to
Mailroom How to Break the Entitlement Habit that’s Killing American
Business1 but, although the book explores performance and behaviour, the
author does not even use the term ‘comfort zone’, let alone define it.
Expressions such as ‘being in one’s comfort zone’ or ‘I’m comfortable with
that’ exemplify the extent to which the concept has become accepted in the
English language. Psychologists and behaviourists have their own
meaning of the term but when it comes to performance, it is relatively
straightforward to construct a definition that encapsulates the principle
elements:
The comfort zone is a behavioural state within which a person
operates in an anxiety-neutral condition, using a limited set of
behaviours to deliver a steady level of performance, usually
without a sense of risk.
This implies that, providing there is no change in the ‘anxiety’ or the skills
applied, the level of performance will remain constant. Equally, if there is
a change in the ‘anxiety’ or the skills applied then a change in the level of
performance will result – either upwards or downwards.
Yerkes and Dodson2 were the first to investigate the impact of ‘anxiety’ on
performance in their groundbreaking 1907 experiment with mice in which,
as quoted in Bardwick (op. cit.), they found that “Anxiety improves
performance until a certain optimum level of arousal has been reached.
Beyond that point, performance deteriorates as higher levels of anxiety
are attained.” This result points directly to the conclusion that increasing
the anxiety will boost performance and that too much anxiety will
decrease performance but that either case will cause the subject to move
out of their comfort zone. McCelland, Atkinson and others3, when
researching into motivation in 1953, found a similar correlation between
performance and motivation and their findings, as quoted in Bardwick (op.
cit.), were that “…motivation to achieve and level of effort keep rising
until expectancy of success (or level of uncertainty of success) reaches 50%.
1 Bardwick, J. Danger in the Comfort Zone: From Boardroom to Mailroom – How to Break the
Entitlement Habit that’s Killing American Business, 1991, American Management Association.
2 Yerkes, R., and Dodson, J. ‘The Dancing Mouse, A Study in Animal Behavior’, 1907, Journal of
Comparative Neurology & Psychology, Number 18, pp. 459-482.
3 McClelland, D.C. et al. (1953) – The achievement motive, 1953, Princeton: Van Nostrand.
From Comfort Zone to Performance Management Alasdair White
Page 3 of 18
Then, even though the expectancy continues to increase, motivation falls.”
The question here is whether motivation and anxiety have extensive
commonality – this question will be addressed in Section II.
Carnall supports this in his 1995 work on managing change4, in which he
establishes a direct correlation between how people feel about themselves
(self-esteem) and their performance. When this is compared to the stress
they are under – a term Carnall uses interchangeably with anxiety as
used by Yerkes & Dodson – he too found that performance increases with
stress until a certain level is achieved, after which, as stress increases, so
performance decreases until it reaches a level at which behaviour may
become volatile and performance can go into free fall.
Since a performance-boosting increase in anxiety is, in performance
management terms, a good thing, we can define this state of arousal as
being the ‘optimal performance zone’, while we would define a level of
anxiety that causes deterioration in performance as being a bad thing or a
‘danger zone’. From this we can develop the simple model illustrated in
Figure 1 in which the off-set positioning is to indicate that, in some areas
of behaviour in a comfort zone, a small increase in anxiety can tip the
subject into the danger zone, while in other areas there has to be a large
increase in anxiety before a deterioration of performance occurs.
Figure 1 – Comfort Zone Model
This representation of the comfort zone model is not new and similar
models can be found in a variety of locations especially amongst
materials that deal with team and individual development.5 The general
principles in each case remain the same there is a comfort zone
4 Carnall, C. Managing Change in Organizations, 1995, Prentice Hall.
5 e.g. http://newsletter.rapportleadership.com/July2006/process.html (accessed 11 March 2008).
From Comfort Zone to Performance Management Alasdair White
Page 4 of 18
surrounded by a discomfort zone and these are together surrounded by a
danger zone. In all cases, the objective is to push or lead the subject into
the optimal performance zone so that their skills are increased and they
become comfortable with the level of anxiety, thus enabling them to
consistently deliver an increased level of performance. In other words,
holding the subject in the optimal performance zone for a long enough
period for them to reach a new and expanded comfort zone.
The three phases involved in this process form a transition between one
steady performance state (Comfort Zone 1) through a performance phase
to an enhanced second steady performance state (Comfort Zone 2) as
shown in Figure 2 below. These phases are fully discussed in Section II of
this paper.
Figure 2 – Transition between comfort zones
Because, in the first performing phase, we are disturbing the steady state,
we can expect the initial performance to decline as the subject adjusts to
the enhanced anxiety levels and then for performance to rise sharply. As
the anxiety levels reach what Yerkes and Dodson, as quoted in Bardwick
(op. cit), called the “optimum level of arousal” the performance
enhancement will start to decelerate before settling back at a new steady
performance level. This performance follows what Charles Handy calls a
“sigmoid curve”6 as shown in Figure 3.
There is plenty of empirical evidence that this performance curve is a true
reflection of what happens – when first asked to do things differently,
people need instruction in the new process and, during the time they are
learning, their performance will be below the original performance. The
6 Handy, C. The Empty Raincoat, 1994, Hutchinson.
From Comfort Zone to Performance Management Alasdair White
Page 5 of 18
Figure 3 – Transition between comfort zones showing the expected performance curve
reasons for this can be found in two other models: Tuckman’s development
theory and Carnall’s coping cycle.
Development Theory
From a behavioural point of view, the most useful starting point for
development theory is Bruce Tuckman’s 1965 work on group development7
in which he focused on the stages from inception to performance and,
originally, created a four-phase sequence: forming, storming, norming and
performing. His work focused on the behaviours of team members as the
group developed and these can be summarized as in Table 1 below.
Unwilling to undertake the work and unable to
do so. Lack of knowledge and lack of skills.
Tendency to focus on themselves rather than
the team.
Willing to attempt the work but still unable to do
it as the skills are missing. High conflict potential
with team members. Challenges ideas.
Unwillingness returns, possibly due to lack of
self-confidence in newly acquired skills, but they
are able to do the work. Focus tends to be on
rules and procedures, processes and the ‘how’
of the work.
Willing and able to do the work and to act as an
effective team. Focus changes to delivery of the
objectives.
Table 1 – Summation of behaviours in the Tuckman sequence
7 Tuckman, Bruce W. Developmental Sequence in Small Groups’, 1965, Psychological Bulletin, Volume
63, Number 6, pp. 384-99, American Psychological Association.
From Comfort Zone to Performance Management Alasdair White
Page 6 of 18
Over the years, various researchers8 have investigated and modified
Tuckman’s original model, and in the mid 1970s Tuckman himself added a
fifth phase which he described as ‘adjourning’ in which the group
disengages. Tuckman’s hypothesis has stood the test of time as a suitable
behavioural model for understanding group development to the extent
that few practitioners involved in training in the leadership or team-
building field do not use it. What is particularly interesting, though, is
that few have seen the potential to apply the Tuckman sequence, with
suitably modified behavioural descriptors, to the development of
individuals. This absence led the author to establish a series of empirical
observations to test the hypothesis that the Tuckman sequence can be
applied to the development of individuals. The result of this was a
behavioural grid that bears close comparison to that which can be derived
from the Tuckman sequence, and the conclusion is that a similar sequence
could be constructed for the development of individuals. However, a
second conclusion was also drawn: that a strict adherence to the Tuckman
sequence was not sustainable when performance (output), rather than
process, was taken as the dominant measure. In this case, some
modification was seen as necessary which has resulted in the development
of a new model that will be discussed in Section II.
The Coping Cycle
Carnall’s coping cycle arises from his work on managing change in
organizations in which he observed that, when people are subjected to
‘change’, this has a significant impact on their self-esteem.9 He further
states that “linked to this impact on self-esteem will be an impact on
performance” (Carnall, 1995, op. cit.) and that rebuilding self-esteem is
essential to rebuilding performance after major change has taken place.
The author considers this finding significant since, in the first phase, we
are disturbing the steady state and thus causing change to occur.
Based on the work of de Vries and Miller (op. cit.) and Adams et al.10
(1976), Carnall has constructed a five-phase coping cycle, as shown in
Figure 4, from which behavioural descriptors can be derived.
Stage 1: denial as Carnall puts it “when significant changes are first
mooted the initial response may be to deny the need for change” (op. cit.).
People suddenly find that the current comfort zone is really ‘just what
they are happy with’ and change invokes fear and anxiety. A sudden
increase in anxiety may well push people towards the danger zone and
this, instead of enhancing the performance, may well have a detrimental
8 e.g. Runkel, P. J. et al. ‘Stages of group development – an empirical test of Tuckman’s hypothesis’,
1971, Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, Number 7, pp. 180-93.
9 Carnall quotes the work of Cooper, 1981; de Vries and Miller, 1984; and Kirkpatrick, 1985 in this
respect.
10 Adams, J. et al. Transitions – Understanding and Managing Personal Change, 1976, Martin
Robinson.
From Comfort Zone to Performance Management Alasdair White
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effect. Carnall suggests that the initial response does not always cause an
immediate decline in performance but it does generate resistance.
However, eventually performance does decline well below previous levels.
Figure 4 – The expected performance curve associated with the coping cycle
(Adapted from Carnall, 1995)
Stage 2: defence –people in this stage demonstrate defensive behaviours
and try to force the new reality into the old model that has allowed them
to continue to perform in the current comfort zone. But, defensive
behaviour channels effort and energy into resisting change and not into
performance and so there is often a severe decline in performance. Carnall
has noted that ritualistic behaviour emerges as people try to defend the
old ways and postulates that such behaviours have the effect of allowing
the person space in which to come to terms with change. Part of these
rituals may be a demonstrable willingness to attempt the new but with
the objective of ‘proving’ that the new ‘won’t work’ or is simply ‘wrong’.
Stage 3: discarding – Stages 1 and 2 are focused on the past but in Stage 3
people discard and abandon the old ways of doing things, and either
commit to new work methods or invent new ways of acting. A fatalistic
attitude often accompanies this discarding – ‘if things have got to change I
suppose we’d better go along with it’. Behaviours emerge that suggest that
people are able to undertake the new actions but that considerable
unwillingness exists and that they want group support. This suggests a
lack of confidence. But, in discarding the old ways and committing to the
new, their self-esteem returns and with it a renewed performance that
results in a definite upward curve.
Stage 4: adaptation as people adapt to the new realities of their
situation, they expend significant levels of energy on finding ways of
making things work. They are attuning and aligning themselves with
From Comfort Zone to Performance Management Alasdair White
Page 8 of 18
what they have to do.11 This boosts self-esteem and, as Carnall observed,
performance starts to recover at a significant rate. This stage produces
acceleration in performance and people are willing and able to do what is
being asked.
Stage 5: internalization – Carnall uses this term to describe how the
people involved have adopted and adapted the new working methods and
made them their own they have internalized the new procedures. But
this very process, which has resulted in high levels of anxiety, is now
‘running out of steam’ and the growth in performance is decelerating as
the people involved settle towards a new and sustainable level of
performance: a new comfort zone.
The working models: Conclusions
Carnall’s coping cycle is a valuable approach to understanding how people
deal with change, but change is an ongoing event and every time a
modification of behaviour or performance is requested, then a new change
process starts and a new coping cycle begins. The behavioural patterns
exhibited in each of Carnall’s coping cycle stages have strong parallels
with those observed in the Tuckman group development phases. This
leads the author to conclude that the underlying behavioural processes are
the same: indeed, that, behaviourally, ‘development’ and ‘coping with
change’ are, essentially, the same thing in that both lead from one
reasonably steady state to another. The comparison carried out in this
section also leads to the conclusion that the ‘comfort zone’ model is also
just another way of describing the same process.
If the Tuckman development behaviours and the Carnall coping strategy
behaviours are grouped as in Table 2 then a clear pattern emerges which,
the author contends, demonstrates a close similarity and leads to the
conclusion that development and coping with change are effectively the
same thing.
The performance curve that is suggested in each of the above models, that
of a sigmoid curve, is based on observational data rather than
mathematical analysis, although the work of McCelland et al. (op. cit)
provides empirical evidence to support the contention. Handy (op. cit.) and
Carnall (op. cit.) also propose the same shaped curve as representative of
performance, but neither offers empirical evidence. However, if we were
able to measure performance of humans in the same way as we can of
machines, then it is very probable that a similar performance curve would
result and that it would be ‘sigmoid’ in shape. The author concludes,
therefore, that as the literature and working models cite the sigmoid
11 According to the author’s colleague, John Fairhurst, “Attunement is a process, similar to
synchronization, wherein previously diffuse systems come into alignment, often spontaneously.”
From Comfort Zone to Performance Management Alasdair White
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performance curve so extensively, it is acceptable to use it as a good
representation of the performance described.
Forming
Unwilling to undertake
the work and unable to
do so. Lack of
knowledge and lack of
skills. Tendency to focus
on themselves rather
than the team.
Denial
Constant reference back
to previous performance
and previous models. As
they find the work hard,
their self-confidence
collapses precipitating a
dramatic decline in
performance. Signs of
extreme stress.
Storming
Willing to attempt the
work but still unable to
do so as the skills are
missing. High conflict
potential with team
members. Challenges
ideas. Defensive.
Defence
Tries to force the new
realities into the old
model. Energy spent
resisting change. Sharp
decline in performance.
Ritual behaviours
apparent. Energy spent
trying to prove the new
model is wrong. Signs of
extreme stress.
Norming
Unwillingness returns,
possibly due to lack of
self-confidence in newly
acquired skills, but they
are able to do the work.
Focus tends to be on
rules and procedures,
processes and the ‘how’
of the work.
Discarding
Abandoning the old way
and developing new
ways of working. In need
of group support.
Performance picks up as
self-esteem returns.
Reduced stress evident.
Performing
Willing and able to do
the work and to act as
an effective team. Focus
changes to delivery of
the objectives.
Adaptation
Find ways of making
things work. Aligned and
attuned with the
requirements of the
work. Acceleration in
performance.
Table 2 – Tuckman and Carnall behaviours
From Comfort Zone to Performance Management Alasdair White
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Section II – the new model
In 2006, the author began a review of the various models relating to
performance, development and the management of change. The result of
this review was the selection for further analysis of the working models
discussed in Section I with the objective of establishing whether they were
in fact versions of the same thing and, if so, to develop a new and
simplified working model. Section I provides a detailed overview of the
analysis carried out and the conclusions reached.
During the analysis, it became apparent that in behavioural terms
Carnall’s coping cycle stages and Tuckman’s group development phases
overlapped to a very large degree and the pairings shown in Table 3 were
established. Although the behaviours described are not exactly matched,
the closeness of the correlation leads the author to the conclusion that
they are virtually the same.
Tuckman – Group Development
Phases
Carnall – Coping Cycle Stages
Forming
Denial
Storming
Defence
Norming
Discarding
Performing
Adaptation
Adjourning (added in 1975)
Internalization
Table 3 – Comparison of the Tuckman Phases and the Carnall Stages
When these pairings were reconsidered in the light of the comfort zone
model, and particularly when the performance curve was taken into
account, then a further set of correlations becomes evident and these are
shown in Table 4.
Development
Phases
Coping Stages
Comfort Zone (Fig. 3)
Performance Model
Forming
Denial
Storming
Defence
First Performance Level
Transforming
Norming
Discarding
Performing
Adaptation
Transition
Performing
Adjourning
Internalization
Second Performance Level
Reforming
Table 4 – Correlation of Development Phases, Coping Stages and Comfort Zone transitions
(Fig. 3) and the Performance Model
From Comfort Zone to Performance Management Alasdair White
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In 2007, the author worked with a colleague, John Fairhurst12, to develop
a new simplified working model: the TPR Life-cycle Model shown in
Figure 5. They based their work on the analysis given in Section I and
subsequently developed a matrix of behaviours and appropriate
management styles which can be used to help assess the development
phase of individuals and groups, and thus determine the correct
management style necessary to obtain the best performance.
Figure 5 – The White-Fairhurst TPR Life-cycle Model
The choice of names for the phases is, on the one hand, very arbitrary and,
on the other, based on the characteristics experienced. We have to raise
the anxiety level and transform the subject from a passive steady state
into an active and dynamic state before allowing the subject to reform into
a second passive steady state at Comfort Zone two.
Stress, Anxiety and Motivation
Before we can consider the management approaches appropriate to each
phase, it is necessary to determine the relationship between stress,
anxiety and motivation. Yerkes and Dodson (op. cit.) talk about anxiety in
relation to their experiment. Carnall (op. cit.) talks about stress and
anxiety almost interchangeably, while McCelland et al. (op. cit.) talk about
motivation.
Hans Seyle, considered by some as the ‘father’ of stress theory, defined
stress as “the non-specific response of the body to any demand made upon
it”,13 while the Medline Plus website of the US National Library of
12 Fairhurst was, at the time, working for an international technology company and was involved in the
management of change.
13 As quoted in www.mental.health.wa.gov.au/one/resource/46/Stress%20document.pdf (accessed 24
March 2008), no author attributed.
From Comfort Zone to Performance Management Alasdair White
Page 12 of 18
Medicine and the National Institutes of Health14 says that “stress can
come from any situation or thought that makes you feel frustrated, angry,
or anxious” and goes on to suggest that “what is stressful to one person is
not necessarily stressful to another”.
The same website15 also says: “Stress is a normal part of life. In small
quantities, stress is good – it can motivate you and help you be more
productive.” It also puts forward the view that anxiety is “a feeling of
apprehension or fear” and is a response to stress. Clearly, then, at a
psychological level, stress is a causation factor that can produce anxiety
and motivation (which can be defined as the stimulus or incentive to
initiate a behavioural response).
The corollary is that ‘anxiety’, as referred to by Yerkes and Dodson (op.
cit.), and ‘motivation’, as used by McCelland et al. (op. cit.), are both
responses to the overarching concept of ‘stress’. This also correlates with
the comfort zone theory in which an increase in anxiety can and will cause
the person to leave their comfort zone and enter the transition or
discomfort zone which is the optimal performance zone (see Section I).
The author has written elsewhere on the subject of motivation16 and there
are numerous theories and approaches to the subject17 but in simple
terms, if a person is to be moved out of the comfort zone and into the
optimal performance zone, then an increase in stress is needed and the
person’s manager must find the most appropriate way of achieving this.
The conclusion that can be drawn from this is that to move a person out of
their comfort zone and so enter the optimal performance zone, it is
necessary to increase the level of stress they face, either by increasing the
anxiety or increasing the motivation, but, at the same time, ensuring that
the increase in stress does not become disabling.
Phase Management
The author has written extensively elsewhere (op. cit.) on the subject of
management styles and their application to the various phases of
development and the reader should consult the reference for a full
explanation: however, a summary is provided below in Table 5.
If the desired objectives are to be achieved, the correct application of the
appropriate management style is essential and observational evidence
suggests that using the wrong style (i.e. a style inappropriate to the
14 http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003211.htm (accessed 24 March 2008) no author
attributed.
15 Ibid.
16 White, A. Managing for Performance, 1995, Piatkus Books.
17 e.g.: needs theory (Maslow, Hertzberg); drive reduction theory; affective-arousal theory; cognitive
theory; and others.
From Comfort Zone to Performance Management Alasdair White
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development phase) can and usually does result in the person or group
remaining ‘locked’ in that phase. Tuckman, in his original 1965 work (op.
cit.), observed that moving through the first or ‘forming’ phase is usually a
matter of time, but development can come to a standstill in the second or
‘storming’ phase and that some groups never emerge from this phase.
Similarly, in this second or ‘defence’ stage of the coping cycle a recognition
of reality occurs but the challenges faced may be so overwhelming that the
stress/anxiety may reach a level that disables and the group or individual
enters the danger zone. Again, this is a result of using an inappropriate
management style either continuance of the ‘commandingstyle or the
too early introduction of the ‘motivational’ style.
Field observations by the author show that the other place at which
groups get ‘stuck’ is the third or ‘norming’ phase. Here the groups are
involved in ‘discarding’ the old methods of working before developing and
agreeing new methods. They tend to spend a great deal of time discussing
and documenting their new methods and developing procedure manuals –
and much of this is displacement behaviour to cover their insecurity and
lack of self-confidence in moving forward. There is enough of an upward
Development
Phase
Key
Characteristics
Management
Style
Key
Characteristics
Transforming
Forming/Denial
Unwilling/unable,
defensive, fearful,
resentful
Commanding
Clear goals, clear
delivery
methodologies,
fairness, firmness
Storming/.Defence
Willing/unable,
defensive, challenging,
aggressive,
argumentative
Cooperative
As above, plus
encouraging
participation, calmness,
recognition of concerns
Norming/Discarding
Unwilling/able,
finding solutions,
lack of self-confidence
Motivational
Encouraging,
confidence building,
clear goals,
performance
monitoring
Performing
Performing/Adaptation
Willing/able,
works independently,
confident
Directive
Clear goal setting,
monitoring, strategic
preparation, seeking
innovative approaches,
empowering team
members
Reforming
Adjourning/Internalization
Disengaging,
seeking new comfort
zone, needs new goals
Collaborative
Establishing new goals,
solving confusion,
managing risks
Table 5 – Correlation of management styles and development phases
(Adapted from White, A. Managing for Performance, 1995)
performance trajectory to convince them and their managers that things
are going well, but little evidence that the actual performance is above
From Comfort Zone to Performance Management Alasdair White
Page 14 of 18
that of the comfort zone. This willing blindness to reality probably
explains why most companies think they need motivational management
training and most workers are frustrated because they are never allowed
to ‘perform’. It probably also explains why many academic institutions fail
to achieve exceptional academic performances from their students and are
content with the average.
Finally, the performance life-cycle curve shows clearly that performance
growth will eventually slow and then actually decline towards a new
steady state – however, research suggests that in fact this steady state is
only achieved through careful management of the end of the performing
phase. If the transition to the second steady state is delayed, possibly
because managers still see growth occurring, then a real decline is likely,
leading to a collapse in performance.
Managing the Performance Curve
For most organizations, a one-step improvement in performance is simply
not enough and they are looking for a maximization of potential through a
series of performance enhancements.
When researching and writing his 1995 book, Managing for Performance,
the author conducted an experiment within a major US bank spread
across nine countries and found that by using a series of 90-day targets,
each being a minimum of 10% higher than the previous, performance of a
group could be doubled in 18 months and, with the right management,
this doubling could be repeated more or less indefinitely assuming market
conditions and competitive advantage remain constant. This seems to
ignore the findings of McCelland, et al.18 that “…motivation to achieve and
level of effort keep rising until expectancy of success (or level of
uncertainty of success) reaches 50%. Then, even though the expectancy
continues to increase, motivation falls.” However, what the author found
was that the 90-day goal cycle allowed targets to be set in such a way that
(in terms of McCelland et al.) the “expectancy of success” (or failure) was
unlikely to reach 50% until very close to the end of the cycle. These targets
or ‘stretch goals’ were always a significant challenge but were always
achievable (although not always achieved). In the experiment, the author
allowed no incentives or rewards (except praise) but made a major point of
commitment to a common cause during the first phase of each cycle. The
experiment was successfully repeated in a major Greek bank and in a
Belgian marketing company, and in all three cases the author found that
the key to the success of the approach was less in what happened in the
transforming and performing phases and more to do with how well the
managers handled the transition between the performing and reforming
phases.
18 McClelland, D.C. et al. The achievement motive, 1953, Princeton: Van Nostrand.
From Comfort Zone to Performance Management Alasdair White
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In his 1994 book, The Empty Raincoat, Charles Handy explores this idea
and suggests that it is vitally important that, as performance growth
starts to slow, the assets of the first performance life cycle (the people,
their skills and other resources) need to be partially allocated to the
development of a new transforming phase, the end goal of which is a
further enhancement of performance. Thus, for a while, the group’s assets
are split and some will be part of the old performance cycle and some will
be part of the new. This leads to what Handy calls a time of great
confusion, which must be carefully managed using the appropriate
management styles. Handy’s hypothetical approach makes a very
important point: the time to start the new transforming phase is as soon
as the trend in performance growth starts to slow.
In conducting an assignment with a parastatal organization in an Indian
Ocean republic, the author concluded from observation and behavioural
reporting that the organization had already ‘gone over the top’ and the
performance was about to collapse. It was particularly interesting to
discover, therefore, that when the senior management team was asked to
determine where they thought the organization was on the performance
curve, the CEO placed the organization close to where the author had, and
the rest of the managers were split between being in the early reforming
phase and at the start of a transforming phase. Putting wishful thinking
aside, the argument was that, having recognized the situation, change was
already underway and that the CEO’s/author’s positioning was the start of
a new transformation. The author considered this as reasonable and,
given the subsequent problems of turning the organization round, feels it
reinforces the need to start a new transforming phase as soon as
performance slows rather than after performance has started to decline.
This process of starting a new performance life cycle is shown in Figure 6
Figure 6 – Restarting Performance (adapted from Handy, 1994)
From Comfort Zone to Performance Management Alasdair White
Page 16 of 18
and can go through any number of iterations providing always that the
targets set are achievable in current conditions utilizing the new skills
developed during each new transforming phase.
The new working model: Conclusions
The analysis of the behaviours exhibited in the working models leads to
the conclusion that each model is essentially a different way of looking at
the same thing and that this can then be simplified. This leads to the
development of the TPR Life-cycle Model as a working tool for
understanding performance. In each phase, the key is the management of
the stress the person is under to ensure that it remains a performance
enhancing condition rather than becoming a disabling one.
In understanding and managing performance, the key is the management
of the stress. Both motivation and anxiety are, behaviourally, sub-sets of
stress and, consequently, they are tools to assist in performance
management – there will be times when motivation will be the most useful
tool while at others the introduction of anxiety will be more appropriate.
However, too much motivation or anxiety will result in too much stress
and this will result in performance being disabled.
The correct management style needs to be applied in each phase if
performance is to be maximized. Applying the incorrect style has a
negative impact on performance.
In situations in which a series of performance enhancing steps need to be
taken, it is imperative to start the new performance cycle at the point at
which the old performance cycle develops a slowing performance trend.
From Comfort Zone to Performance Management Alasdair White
Page 17 of 18
Bibliography
Adams, J., Hayes, J., and Hopson, B. Transitions – Understanding and
Managing Personal Change, 1976, Martin Robinson
Bardwick, J. Danger in the Comfort Zone: From Boardroom to Mailroom – How to
Break the Entitlement Habit that's Killing American Business, 1991, American
Management Association
Bendell, T., Boulter L., and Kelly, J. Benchmarking for Competitive Advantage,
1993, Pitman Publishing
Burns, W. (Ed) Performance Measurement, Evaluation, and Incentives, 1992,
Harvard Business School Press
Carnall, C. Managing Change in Organizations, 1995, Prentice Hall
Clutterbuck, D. The Power of Empowerment, 1994, Kogan Page Ltd
Cooper, G. Psychology and Managers, 1981, Macmillan
De Vries, K., and Miller, D. The Neurotic Organization, 1984, Jossey-Bass
Drucker, Peter The Practice of Management, 1954, Harper & Row
Goold, M., and Quinn, J. Strategic Control, 1990, Hutchinson Business Books
Hampden-Turner, C. Corporate Culture, 1990, Hutchinson Business Books
Handy, C. The Empty Raincoat, 1994, Hutchinson
Harris, T. I’m OK – You’re OK, 1973, Pan Books
Hersey, P. The Situational Leader, 1984, Center for Leadership Studies
Kirkpatrick, D. How to Manage Change Effectively, 1985, Jossey-Bass
McClelland, D.C., Atkinson, J.W., Clark, R.A., and Lowell, E.L. The achievement
motive, 1953, Princeton: Van Nostrand
Runkel, P. J., Lawrence M., Oldfield S., Rider, M., and Clark, C. ‘Stages of group
development – an empirical test of Tuckman's hypothesis’, 1971, Journal of
Applied Behavioral Science, Number 7, pp. 180-93
Tuckman, Bruce W. ‘Developmental Sequence in Small Groups’, 1965,
Psychological Bulletin, Volume 63, Number 6, pp. 384-99, American
Psychological Association
White, A. Managing for Performance, 1995, Piatkus Books
White, A. Continuous Quality Improvement, 1996, Piatkus Books
Yerkes, R., and Dodson, J. ‘The Dancing Mouse, A Study in Animal Behavior’,
1907, Journal of Comparative Neurology & Psychology, Number 18, pp. 459-482
From Comfort Zone to Performance Management Alasdair White
Page 18 of 18
Biography of the author
Alasdair White is a consultant and university lecturer specializing in
performance management, managing people and leadership. He is based
near Brussels in Belgium and has an international practice with clients
throughout Europe, the Middle East, Africa and the Far East. He is on the
Faculty of the United Business Institutes in Brussels and of the European
Management Development Institute. He is a visiting faculty lecturer at
Lotus University in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam and is a guest lecturer at
the University of Winchester in the United Kingdom.
Alasdair White is the author of Managing for Performance (1995),
Continuous Quality Improvement (1996) and The Essential Guide to
Developing Your Staff (1998) all published by Piatkus Books in London.
Educated at King Alfred's College (now the University of Winchester),
Winchester, England, where he studied education and physical science,
Alasdair White spent time teaching in Spain before becoming a business
journalist and newspaper editor in the UK. He became a management
consultant in 1984 and moved to The Netherlands in 1987 and then to
Belgium in 1993. He is a Fellow of the International Napoleonic Society.
Details of some of Alasdair White’s recent work can be found on his
consultancy website at www.pm-solutions.com
... We found that the three main themes found in this study-namely fear and resistance; awareness, learning, and adjustment; and identifying support-are similar to Carnall's five-phase coping cycle, namely, "Denial", "Defence", "Discarding", "Adaptation", and "Internalization" [28,29]. ...
... First, "denial" is a stage where the individuals release their fear and anxiety, followed by resistance when they first encounter a change in the process [28,29]. Second, "defence" is a stage where the individuals begin to portray actions of protecting themselves while at the same time looking for self-adjusting strategies to cope with the new reality in their current comfort zone [28,29]. ...
... First, "denial" is a stage where the individuals release their fear and anxiety, followed by resistance when they first encounter a change in the process [28,29]. Second, "defence" is a stage where the individuals begin to portray actions of protecting themselves while at the same time looking for self-adjusting strategies to cope with the new reality in their current comfort zone [28,29]. These stages are very similar to the first theme found in this study: fear and resistance. ...
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Danger in the Comfort Zone: From Boardroom to Mailroom-How to Break the Entitlement Habit that's Killing American Business
  • J Bardwick
Bardwick, J. Danger in the Comfort Zone: From Boardroom to Mailroom-How to Break the Entitlement Habit that's Killing American Business, 1991, American Management Association
Ed) Performance Measurement, Evaluation, and Incentives
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Bendell, T., Boulter L., and Kelly, J. Benchmarking for Competitive Advantage, 1993, Pitman Publishing Burns, W. (Ed) Performance Measurement, Evaluation, and Incentives, 1992, Harvard Business School Press Carnall, C. Managing Change in Organizations, 1995, Prentice Hall Clutterbuck, D. The Power of Empowerment, 1994, Kogan Page Ltd Cooper, G. Psychology and Managers, 1981, Macmillan
The Neurotic Organization Jossey-Bass Drucker, Peter The Practice of Management
  • De Vries
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De Vries, K., and Miller, D. The Neurotic Organization, 1984, Jossey-Bass Drucker, Peter The Practice of Management, 1954, Harper & Row
Strategic Control Hutchinson Business Books Hampden-Turner, C. Corporate Culture Hutchinson Business Books Handy, C. The Empty Raincoat Hutchinson Harris, T. I'm OK-You're OK
  • M Goold
Goold, M., and Quinn, J. Strategic Control, 1990, Hutchinson Business Books Hampden-Turner, C. Corporate Culture, 1990, Hutchinson Business Books Handy, C. The Empty Raincoat, 1994, Hutchinson Harris, T. I'm OK-You're OK, 1973, Pan Books Hersey, P. The Situational Leader, 1984, Center for Leadership Studies Kirkpatrick, D. How to Manage Change Effectively, 1985, Jossey-Bass
Managing for Performance
  • A White
White, A. Managing for Performance, 1995, Piatkus Books White, A. Continuous Quality Improvement, 1996, Piatkus Books