A little bit, done often: why the key to high performance is not what you think

There are two things I do most days which have led to massive improvements in my life.

One is to meditate every morning for ten minutes. The other is to exercise most days for a minimum of 30 minutes.

In both cases, it’s a case of ‘a little bit, done often’ that’s been the trick to success. No grand New Year’s resolutions. No massive and untenable pronouncements, like meditating for an hour or training twice a day at the gym.


In both cases, I started even smaller with my ‘little bit, done often’ routine. It was five minutes of meditation a day and exercising three days a week for 20 minutes. Once I mastered this, I upped the ante a little bit more.

It was the commitment to do one small thing, and to do it often, which mattered. I knew I could commit to small steps. That was the magic of my success.

Turns out, Stanford researchers also say this is the way to go if you want to master positive, long lasting change. Habits are what matter. The one small thing you do consistently every day is what delivers steady and long lasting positive change.

This philosophy also applies to building a high performing, cohesive leadership team.

Too often, leadership teams try to do too much, all at once. They bite off more than they can chew. They get all carried away with the possibilities. I've noticed this especially at the end of strategic planning or leadership team workshops.

Don't get me wrong. It's great that we get fired up. But we commonly load up the ‘to do’ list and don’t edit our ideas into manageable, bite sized pieces.

And then we wonder why, when we meet up at the next leadership team session, we haven’t achieved half of what we said we would.

This is why I often recommend leadership teams to come up with one thing, and one thing only, which they will commit to do consistently as a team (and sometimes individually as well) before we meet next in a few months’ time.

When I suggest this, there are usually a few raised eyebrows.

“Aren’t we setting the bar too low? After all, we’ve just come up with such great ideas and at least five of these things need to be implemented IMMEDIATELY. There are 10 priorities here which are urgent and important!”

By the way, can you spot the oxymoron in the phrase “10 priorities”?

The leadership team then goes back to the office the next day. Phones ring. Email inboxes fill up. People and things demand attention. That’s when the wisdom of committing to one thing, but doing it consistently over time, starts to show more appeal.

Here are three ways you can implement “a little bit, done often” into your leadership team practice:

1. As a team, brainstorm and choose one small thing which, if done consistently and collectively, will get you closer to your vision and goal. Look at things like team habits and operating rhythms (like meetings). Or the way you communicate and make decisions. Specific ways to build trust is always a good thing too. High trust is a superpower of high performing leadership teams. It could also be how you hold each other accountable for agreed team behaviours or actions.

The one small thing must be meaningful AND engaging to all members.

2. Measure it. What doesn’t get measured, doesn’t get done. When you choose your one small thing, ask and answer to your collective satisfaction, the following questions:

a. How will this help us get closer to our vision or strategic goal?

b. How will we measure it? How will we know when we have achieved success?

c. What will we do when we don’t do it? In other words, how will we hold each other to account when we don't do what we say we are going to do? Bee tee dubs - THIS WILL HAPPEN. So best you work out how you’re going to handle this before you start your ‘one small thing’ journey.

3. Use gamification. Gamification is increasingly seen as a useful tool in performance and development. See here for what I mean. How can you apply gamification to your one small thing? Doing so will increase your chances of success.

So don’t fall prey to the ‘too much, start with big guns blazing goals, then trail off’ leadership gremlin. Instead, adopt the ‘little bit, done often’ approach and watch, over time, the performance of your leadership team lift off.

And if you’re interested in improving the performance and cohesion of your leadership team, check out my Pivot Programme. I have two spaces left in 2020 for leadership teams wanting to up their game.

By progressing little by little, consistently, over time, of course…

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