high performance disengagement

I’ve been trying to go to the gym a bit more regularly lately, not that that’s unusual. Compare the number of gym memberships to the number of people who consistently go to the gym and it’s safe to assume that almost all of us are trying to go to the gym a bit more regularly lately.

That said, there are regulars – folks with impressive self-discipline and dedication who show up nearly every day. But, not all regulars are the same. The majority are focused and pushing themselves through workout after workout. Some are really fit and some are trying to get there, some are young, some old(er), some men, some women.

Look close, though, and there is a second group of regulars. I find this second group really interesting.

It’s always guys, mid to late 20s, who look superfit. Lean and muscular, you’d think they give their all every day. But… they don’t. They do a set of weights, then they get a drink at the fountain. They walk around. They chat with others. No sense of urgency, no sense of purpose, and no apparent plan. If they actually get a workout in it must take four times longer than necessary. Yet, even though they don’t appear to workout hard (if really at all) there are two crucial points to remember: 1) they are at the gym religiously; and 2) they are clearly very fit. What’s happening here?

My best guess is they played sports in high school and college, built up a fantastic physique with coaches and teammates pushing them forward, continue to eat pretty healthy, and with the metabolism of a 20-something are able to maintain their fitness without too much effort. Today, the gym is a part of their lives so they show up, but they’re really coasting on past effort and yesterday’s success.

Sound like anyone you know at work?

I’m really intrigued by the idea of high performers who become disengaged and are now just going through the motions. Chances are, they are still performing higher than average, just far below their potential and past performance. I guess what interests me is that most of the high performers I’ve known have moved on to other companies when disengagement started to set in. They were curious, focused, and had an enormous desire to do great work. If that wasn’t possible, if they felt hemmed in or started to get bored or became cynical about the company, they were gone. On to the next exciting opportunity.

So why would a disengaged high performer stick around? Why would they start pursuing mediocrity instead of excellence? Why would they stay in a position where they weren’t able (for whatever reason) to give their best instead of actively seeking a situation where they could? And if they have become ok with disengagement, why keep pretending to be committed instead of giving up entirely? Remember, we’re talking about high performers with established track records – they have options, they could change jobs – so they’re not just gutting it out because they have to.

I’ve lots of thoughts, but what thinks you?

Photo Credit: Patrick Feller via Compfight cc

the good news about disengagement

“Stereotype fools, playing the game. Nothing unique, they all look the same. In this Sea of Mediocrity, I can be anything – anything I want to be.” ~ Arch Enemy

The Bad News:

People everywhere are disengaged from work. The statistics, if accurate, are horrifying. Within just the past year or two, Gallup indicated that 72% of US workers were not engaged in their work. This disengagement ranges from just going through the motions and getting through the day to actively undermining the efforts of co-workers and the company. Gallup also reports that the lost productivity from actively disengaged employees puts a $370,000,000,000 drag on the economy each year. Other research and news outlets consistently report similar findings.

That’s bad news for the economy, bad news for the average company, and not much fun for the majority of workers.

The Good News:

There is actually so good news that comes with so many people setting such a low bar for themselves and the world.

At the leadership / company level, there is a very effective and nearly uncopyable competitive advantage for those who can attract, develop, and retain people who care. [Here’s a little secret: people who care want to be around other people who care. Use this information to your advantage.]

At the individual level, the more others are disengaged, the easier it is for you to stand out as a superstar. Show up, smile, do a good job, do right by the customer and the company, and you’ll be looking good. Have some enthusiasm, give a damn, strive to go the extra mile, and you’ll be a full on rock star.