How to Power Your Performance in Uncertain Times

April 4, 2017 8:54 pm

Volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity means disruption for business and jobs. What it takes to be successful at work has changed.

Adapting and learning on the job are no longer ‘nice to haves’ but essential to just keeping up.

The good news is that the science overwhelming tells us that we can all continue to learn and develop throughout our lives. Driving our own development not only positions us to influence our destiny at work but also contributes to our personal health and wellbeing.

Here are some science-based tips to help you take charge of your development at work.

  1. Action orientation is essential

Neuroplasticity is not just a theory. Neuroscience has clearly demonstrated that our brains can keep learning into our 80s. The key to this is action. For example, scientists scanned the brains of 80-year-olds to reveal significant brain changes after learning and practising the violin. They also saw growth in brain regions related to navigation and memory for taxi drivers who committed themselves to learning and driving the streets of London. Similarly, monks who practised meditation increased the volume of brain waves associated with concentration.

All three of these research projects looked at changes in the brain that resulted from what people were doing. Not from neurosurgery, not from gene therapy and not from someone doing something to them, but from their own efforts.

A photo by Maico Amorim. you want to do something new, it is essential that you actually do it. Just thinking about it or watching someone else perform it will not do the trick. This is why coaches insist on rehearsal and practice. We could not imagine an athlete going into a game or an event without having practised a lot. Yet we frequently just expect ourselves to be perfect on a new procedure or process at work the first time! Taking the time to rehearse, role-play or otherwise practise enables our brains to make the neural connections that are necessary for learning.

If you are trying to learn new information you need to:

  • Interact with the new content and transform it by discussing it with others
  • Connect it to what you already know
  • Apply it to your work/life.

This is why most learning actually happens on the job. We have to use it to make it our own.

  1. Manage your mindset

Research has revealed that some people operate from the assumption that all skills and abilities are ‘fixed’ – that is, what we start out with in terms of intelligence, EQ or even something like ‘financial acumen’ is determined by our genes and nothing we do can change it. This is a myth. In fact, science says virtually all skills, abilities and behaviours are changeable.

It turns out that people who reliably achieve – professionally and/or personally – tend to hold the belief that they can change. Scientists call this set of beliefs a ‘growth mindset’.

People with a growth mindset not only learn more but they experience a number of other positive benefits including:

  • Self-awareness – they know both their strengths and weaknesses
  • Resilience
  • Willingness to take personal risks and learn from failure
  • More creativity and innovation
  • Personal wellbeing
  • Enthusiasm for challenging opportunities
  • Collaboration.

Head_and_ImaginationDeveloping a growth mindset is like any other habit, we have to monitor and adjust our thinking. For example, actively try to catch yourself saying things like, ‘I can’t do that’, ‘I am bad with numbers’ or ‘I just don’t have good people skills’. When you hear yourself thinking these things, actively repeat the phrase but insert the word ‘yet’ as in: ‘I can’t do that yet’ or ‘I’m not good with numbers/people yet’. Then set about creating a plan to improve.

  1. Know yourself

The more open we are to taking in the environment around us at work and using these experiences to increase our self-awareness, the more you can direct your own development. Essentially, you need to understand yourself in relation to the changing requirements of your job.

This has as much to do with recognising your own strengths as knowing your vulnerabilities. Both are important indicators for where it makes sense to focus our development energy. The key is to use this information to help you best leverage and grow your personal resources to make contributions at work that are valued by others.

This includes your manager, colleagues and customers. If you think about it, that is why we get paid; we contribute something that someone values/needs and they give us something of value that we need in return.

In a world that changes fast, we have to constantly monitor the situation and integrate what we learn with what we know about ourselves so that we can make adjustments in line with the changing demands.

  1. Putting it all together

Take a few minutes right now and take stock.

  • What does your manager/colleague/customer most need from you?
  • What skills and abilities do you have that you could develop further to make a stronger contribution?
  • What do you need to do to develop your expertise in that area?
  • Who you could observe, who could give you instruction/feedback?
  • How could you practise and monitor your performance in this area?

Then get started!

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Dr Connie Henson, author of BrainWise Leadership, runs change leadership programs informed by the latest neuroscience research through her company Learning Quest. For information visit Follow on twitter @LearningQuest


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