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To be successful, set big goals, maximize your fit with the work you do and learn to fake it rather than be authentic.

Consultant Marc Effron pieced those three steps together from an eight-year study of the scientific literature.

He stresses that 50 per cent of your performance is essentially fixed, determined by your intelligence, core personality, body (beauty and height is very helpful) and your socio-economic background. Those factors are powerful and largely unchangeable. But you can control the other 50 per cent and have a huge impact on your performance by following the eight actions he highlights:

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  • Set big goals: Ask yourself what are the three big promises you will make to your organization this year. That heightens the stakes – promises rather than goals, and big rather than anything safe that comes to mind. Often this will require combining a number of activities into a big, challenging promise. “Science has clearly found that bigger goals deliver bigger results, so increasing the challenges of your goals should help your performance. Bigger goals will also help you grow, since you’ll need to learn new ways to accomplish tasks,” he writes in his new book, 8 Steps to High Performance.  
  • Behave to perform: Choose the right behaviours to ensure better performance – behaviours can be responsible for 15 to 40 per cent of your total performance, depending on your role. You want to be fast, aggressive, persistent, efficient, proactive and wedded to high standards. Back that by being respectful to others, open to criticism, listening well and exhibiting teamwork. Avoid being excitable – overly enthusiastic and then disappointed by people and projects – or being excessively skeptical or too afraid of criticism so you are unduly cautious.
  • Grow yourself faster: You want to keep improving and learning. He notes that 70 per cent of your professional growth will come from work experiences, 20 per cent from interactions with others and 10 per cent from formal education. Think of growth as a cycle – perform, get feedback, perform again better. “The faster and more often you move through that cycle, the faster you’ll develop and get the next opportunity to learn a new skill, test a new behaviour, and get more helpful behaviour,” he observes. Just as you plan a trip from start to destination, plot your growth from where you are to where you want to be.
  • Connect: You need to connect well to others and influence them. He starts with your manager, your most critical work relationship. Science shows the strength of that relationship can propel you ahead. Perform strongly, delivering what matters. Become your boss’s friend, through regular contact, trusting actions, listening and acting selflessly. Also, of course, connect with peers – he suggests your future will be influenced more by your relationship with high-performing peers than the group in general – subordinates and your external network.
  • Maximize your fit: “If your personal capabilities and interests match what your company needs, you’re better positioned to success. It’s this fit, not just individual brilliance, that science says helps predict strong performance,” he writes. Understand your company’s changing needs and where you naturally fit. Manage your fit to maximize your performance. That involves sharing your insights about yourself and your plan with your manager and others who can help.
  • Fake it: You need to display certain behaviours that are needed at the moment but are not necessarily your preference. When that occurs, don’t be authentically yourself. Fake it. Sound unnatural? “You’re already a more accomplished faker than you may think,” he says, pointing to the extra loud laugh at a boss’s joke or telling an important peer they just gave a great presentation when they didn’t. “Your ability to, as the saying goes, ‘fake it until you make it’ is an essential way to practise the behaviours that will ensure your success going forward.”
  • Commit your body: Since your body plays a critical role in your performance it’s important to eat right, exercise and get enough sleep. Think about how to get the right quality and quantity of sleep. When you fall short, put some thought into how to compensate and still perform strongly the next day.
  • Avoid distractions: Here he is not talking about Facebook and Twitter but fad advice that will lead you astray. He warns you should be careful about focusing on your strengths, as dialing those up too high can turn them into negatives. Grit won’t be developed by reading a book. And don’t get hung up on emotional intelligence: Just behave in a way your peers value.

Some of that is unusual, some isn’t. But all of it, he insists, is proven to work.

Sit-stand desks improve health, study suggests

Most studies of flexible desks that allow sitting or standing have been conducted in a lab. But a new study that looked at a real office environment of an architecture firm offers an additional glimpse into the advantages (and challenges) of those desks.

The 67 people who agreed to participate were divided by the researchers – led by Elizabeth Garland of the department of environmental health and public science at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York – into two groups: one that continued in normal sitting desks and another that was offered the adjustable-desk alternative. Both groups took classes in ergonomics to understand posture and were advised on well-being.

To determine sitting time, each received random alerts during the day asking whether they were sitting or standing. The assessments found those with adjustable desks cut their time sitting by about 16 per cent while those with traditional desks showed no improvement. A significant reduction was also reported in upper back, shoulder and neck discomfort for the sit-stand crew. They reported more energy and a more positive outlook, and felt the adjustable work station improved their health outside the workplace. “I love it. I’m surprised by how much I enjoy having the option of standing. It has made my post-lunch energy slump disappear … and I’m more focused when using it,” one participant said.

But a disquieting note was that the positive effects seemed to occur more in people who were underweight or of normal weight. Those who were overweight or obese were more likely to keep sitting. At the three-month mark, they managed a 5-per-cent drop in sitting, but three months later that had declined to just 3 per cent and, a year after the experiment started, their time standing had faded to a negligible 0.6 per cent.

Also cautionary is another study in a lab that suggests that while the sit-stand desk can improve creativity, the muscle fatigue and discomfort from standing decreased focus. “Prolonged standing should be undertaken with caution,” those researchers, from Curtin University in Perth, Australia, warned in Ergonomics journal.

Quick hits

  • Mindfulness meditation has been receiving rave reviews in the workplace. But a new study suggests that it can affect the will to work hard and get things done. Meditating made people focus less on the future and provided a sense of calm, as expected. But they didn’t feel like doing work or want to spend much time on it.
  • To reset your goals for the year – should, as often happens, progress has stalled – career coach Allison Task suggests re-evaluating them and developing new priorities, so you are tackling the right challenges. Then use the fact Dec. 31 is closer than it was in January to help motivate you.
  • Women are more likely than men to volunteer for non-promotable tasks that benefit the organization but likely don’t contribute to someone’s performance evaluation and career advancement. They are also more likely to be asked to take on such tasks and to say yes when asked, academics Linda Babcock, Maria Recalde and Lise Vesterlund report. Examples including organizing the holiday party, filling in for a colleague or sitting on a low-ranking committee.
  • Good customer service has become a contrarian act, says consultant Alan Weiss. He says most companies use customer service phone lines and e-mail as a means to divert complaints and feedback into black holes and to insulate executives.  
  • By the end of each week, try to connect three people who should meet, following advice by author Tim Sanders (shared in the Shepa Learning Company’s Networking Tips Newsletter) to build your relationships.

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