Lukas Michel’s Performance Triangle

Swiss consultant Lukas Michel recently published The Performance Triangle. It may be enlightening to think of Michel’s approach backwards. Imagine you did an employee survey and asked questions about leadership, culture, systems, collaboration and so on. You end with a mess of data. It is easy to see what’s high and what’s low, but how do they interrelate? What are the important questions? What do you work on first? Michel’s performance triangle is a way to make sense of a complex organization.  My description is backwards because Michel starts with a philosophy and a model, the diagnostic flows from that.

Michel’s method is not algorithmic in the sense of “do this diagnostic and it will tell you the three things to do.” It is more: do the diagnostic, understand the system, and this will focus your attention on what matters.

I spoke to Lukas Michel about his book and his work.

Creelman: What is the origin of the performance triangle?

Michel:  When you consult for many interesting companies there are always some instances where you felt like you added a great deal of value. One of those instances was at the World Economic Forum. Overnight I had to prepare something for my work with then COO, Dr. André Schneider. That is how the initial version of the diagnostic tool was created and it was a great success.

Every time we had a similar project, we went back to the diagnostic, hung up our sheets on the walls, and asked leaders to go through the questions.  Once we had got to the third  question, most people in the room had started a conversation like they have never had before. That conversation essentially grew into the triangle model described in the book.

Your book is packed with content. How do you expect the reader to interact with it?

There are two ways.  One is to read through it quickly, really just flipping through; that way you get the story about the performance triangle with agility, innovation and people at the centre.

The other way is that once you do the diagnostic the book turns into a how-to manual on how to look at specific things.  As a manual it takes a coaching-like approach saying, “I’m here to ask questions.  I don’t really want to give you the answers.  I don’t have them anyway—but you do.  Here is where you can look for potential answers.”

Jim Collin’s work, like Good to Great, boils down to a handful of tips. Your work is not like that. How is your approach to management issues different from Collin’s?

This is quite straightforward.  I don’t believe in tips. I don’t believe in best practices. I don’t believe in the value of any recommendation that I am giving to someone else.  You cannot help someone develop a golf swing by explaining how a golf swing works. You help them by getting them to focus on one specific thing. By carefully observing your swing, you will actually improve it dramatically.  This is why the book doesn’t come across with five tips.  It has a lot of ideas in it, things that you can think about, things you can focus your attention on. This has been a very purposeful decision not to go the five-bullet point way, but the opposite way.

The book seems to demand that readers pause and think.

Businesses are like airports: things are coming, things are going, and no one takes time to pause and think about why we are here.  Nothing is more important than for people in business to observe what is going on. The book helps people pause and observe.

You are critical of management by objectives, how does that relate to your philosophy of management.

Every goal narrows you in.  Your scope narrows in.  This works well if nothing changes.  If you worked with the Swiss government specific objectives might work reasonably well because in a year things stay the same. But for most organizations the moment you sign the sheet of paper it is outdated and you have to re-open negotiations. Essentially  you spend half of your time re-doing the negotiations on your objectives.  The costs of management by objectives in organizations is huge.

One of the solutions is a very simple one and it is derived from Timothy Gallwey’s The Inner Game of Tennis. Gallwey was very clear about what it takes to perform a task at your best: high quality awareness of what is needed. Know what is needed and then focus your attention on just that.

Focusing attention is the best tool for learning in any kind of organization.  This means that the only thing a manager has to do is have an intense conversation with his or her team about what  things we need to look for. What focus do we have?  If employees and their managers agree on that focus then employees don’t fear the manager because they look for the same thing. The employees’ observation is geared to look at that one thing and they manage themselves to achieve it. When there is this high quality attention on a common focus there is no need for detailed goals, objectives or targets.

The book is available at Amazon: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Performance-Triangle-Diagnostic-organizations-performance/dp/1907794417