Getting Performance Without Performance Management

michael-sonntag's picture

Self-Regulated Performance Improvement

The conclusions of the newest findings in neuroscience are that the need to perform creates fear, which in turn produces stress. Chronic stress has a dramatic impact not only on individual performance, but also on the performance of teams and thus the long-term survival of a company.

In this Hack the authors, Michael Sonntag MD and Bennett Shapiro PhD, are addressing the individual in his or her capacity to improve self-regulated and sustainable performance.

How ever, it is mainly a question of organizational conditions, which have to be created to enable self-regulating and self-organizing capabilities of the individuals and teams.

Getting your Feet Back on the Ground

The need to perform whether it is requested from a manager, or initiated by our selves, can create anxiety, stress and fear. This causes us to pull up in our shoulders and in our diaphragm, which limits our breathing and leads to our becoming UP-set and UP-tight. This is what needs to be managed - anxiety, stress and fear - not the performance itself! If it is not managed, work performance can and will suffer. But if we can bring our energy and feeling down to our feet and lower legs, we become more 'grounded' and our fear, anxiety and stress subside. Therefore, if we wish to increase our performance, we need to get our feet and legs on the ground.

An added bonus to getting our feet back on the ground is that we become more realistic. The phrase "having our feet on the ground" means that we are more realistic in whatever we undertake e.g. our personal work goals, what we can achieve in our teams or together with our customers.

First Steps (extra credit) 

We have developed some simple, easy and discreet physical exercises, which will help you get your feet on the ground. These exercises can be done in less than one minute and involve sitting in your work chair or standing alongside it. The exercises also provide intermittent rests (at least every 90 minutes), which are necessary throughout the day in order to increase sustainable performance.

Exercise: Meeting a Challenge and Relaxing Afterward

Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, and feet fully on the floor; bend your knees until they reach a natural stopping point.

On inhalation:

  • Slowly rise by pushing your feet into the floor until you are fully erect, without locking your knees. As you rise think “I can rise up from my feet to meet a challenge.”

On exhalation:

  • Close your eyes and slowly bend your knees until they reach the original position again. While you are letting down, think “…….and afterward I can let down to my feet to rest.”
  • Let your jaw relax and your shoulders drop as you let down.

Repeat the Rising Up and Letting Down at least 10 times: Feel your feet at all times.

It is better to do this exercise in a standing position, because it is easier to feel your feet physically – but principally you can do the same exercise sitting in a chair. 

Afterward, do you feel your feet more on the floor? Do you feel more energized yet more relaxed? Do you feel less stressed, more present with less chatter in your head, more confident, more realistic?

Options: Clench your fists and open your chest as you rise up; unclench your fists and relax your chest as you let down


As an individual doing these exercises can help you to understand on a deeper level, which conditions will have to be created in your organization, that would help you to increase your performance without being pushed into a chronic stressful physiological state.


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heiner-steckel's picture

I like the simple and very effective little technique you suggest. We all need to be aware "to keep our feet on the ground".

bjarte-bogsnes's picture


This is the second time the important issue of fear has come up. See Mike Caracalas' post "Performance Dialogue".