Performance by Design

Humans are obsessed with performance. We are thrilled with discoveries of ever greater heights, of one second shaved off a time, of what seems like fortune. We are in awe of success, burning our eyelashes on the intensity that glows around the defeat of the ordinary. And we are relentlessly, doggedly intrigued by how these achievements come to be.

As the daughter of a welterweight boxer, gazing through the ropes of a boxing ring, I became entranced by performance. In the ring, performance is absolute and unforgiving.  Muhammad Ali became my hero and his performance my fixation. I needed to know his secret, to the point of spending much of my 6th grade year interviewing owners of local boxing gyms. How was it possible for him to perform this way? What made him different to the rest of us? Could his greatness be decoded and emulated in a different context?

Growing up, I have come to realise that there is no one way to achieve performance. We all wish there was — one attitude we could adopt, a supplement we could take, a capability we could master — but that’s not the way it works. Performance is never a single thing, but rather an accumulation of variables that come together in a way that is almost magical, beyond the realm of most mere mortals. Akin almost to the holy grail, it is elusive, mysterious and highly sought after. When you find it, there is so much more to it than you could have ever imagined yet it is perfectly simplistic in its absoluteness.

I am now concerned with what performance means to business and the people that make up that business. Business has moved into a space where, just like the ring, performance is absolute and unforgiving. Never a still target. Years ago, drawing motivation from popular management consultancies and the methods they numbly imposed on organisations, the gap for an alternative performance agency presented itself. An agency that wouldn’t rely on brand, jargon or obsolete services, but one that did things differently. TPA wouldn’t roll in a set of preconceived, predefined systems to force-fit clients into. We would design performance for an organisation via unique solutions; representing who they are, what they stand for today, and what they’re going to stand for in the future.

Through the privilege of exposure to performance problems TPA has been able to work in the disciplines of strategy, culture, leadership, performance management, operating model, talent management and people capability development. Change management underpins all of the disciplines, ensuring tangible translation, uptake, impact and sustainability. Over nearly three decades of experience two certainties have emerged: 1. Approach these disciplines by design, and 2. View them as intrinsically interdependent. If we do that, we stand a chance of taking an organisation to a level of performance that it never deemed possible.

What is by design?
It is a blueprint for actionable performance. It is a framework, evolved by TPA, that integrates our drivers of performance — strategy, leadership, performance management, culture, operating model, talent management, people capability development, change management — and approaches these as one would approach brand. Strategy is key, yet it is only the first step.

By design accounts for institutional memory, existing culture and the unique context of an organisation. By design commissions us to ask you who you are, what you stand for, what your original story is and where you would like to go. What about the past is instrumental? And how do we engineer you for the future?

Organisations are caught up in a whirlpool of change — times are frantic — but instead of a deliberate by design approach to the future they’re simply caught. Trapped in a vortex of rapidity and a culture of benchmarking. What does it matter what your competitors are doing? Or what yesterday’s successes were? It actually doesn’t matter. What matters is a compelling why and an inspiring vision, communicated to and adopted by your people. By design defines a clear articulation of brand, of leadership, of culture, of what your organisation and its leaders stand for. It allows your organisation to create its own performance, from the inside out; no retrofit. Performance that has your leaders and people at the helm, waving the flags; inspired, purposeful and crystal clear about why they do what they do and how what they do contributes to the future.

 

What is TPA’s vision?

Let’s repeat that beautiful marker — performance! That’s what we’re about. We’re going to continue getting better at what we do, every day, so you can get better at what you do.

We’re going to continue to challenge the paradigm of the conventional management consulting firm to show the market an alternative; to reveal what is possible when you work by design and deal with experienced consultants who care deeply about the impact of their efforts to create a better workplace, with better performance and better possibilities. Consultants who have the capacity to listen and who are held accountable for the recommendations that they put forward.

Personally, my ultimate aspiration is to leave an indelible mark on this country and this continent. I feel passionate about Africa and her possibilities. I am going to contribute in the most meaningful way to the legacy of this country. I’m going to help lift her to her potential.

PERFORMANCE BY DESIGN
What does performance mean to you?

South Africa is a complex country. Business is tricky. Politics is mind-boggling. The context and culture created by these factors leads to a collective psyche of hopelessness and a deep and inherent sense of demotivation. This is hardly surprising. But what value do either hopelessness or demotivation add? They’re redundancies, neither one of them moving anything forward. They are corrosive, insidious, and will pull you down before you know it. As humans we are inherently tempted to the negativity default, often as a cop out for not taking accountability for our lives.

From great chaos can come great performance. Muhammad Ali grew up in the segregated South. He lived and fought within a massacre of civil rights, experiencing racial prejudice, discrimination and gross injustice. His was a context that would surely seem hopeless and drain the strongest of their energy. But he didn’t wallow, and he certainly didn’t give up. The context that so often came up against him, radical and unjust, fuelled his determination to fight back, and he became a champion, an activist and an icon for African Americans and the counterculture generation. Out of great adversity, came performance unrivalled because Ali understood so fundamentally that his life, his success and his legacy was his accountability and his alone.

If the world were more accountable, if consulting agencies were more accountable, and if the people who appointed agencies were more accountable, we might have a different reality playing out in business today. But they are not, so we have work to do. At TPA, we’re going to hold ourselves accountable, every day. We will become a benchmark for what a great agency can do. We will be an example of what a vested agency looks like; a group of individuals who take responsibility for their actions. Our goal, and biggest contribution as a company, is to become a beacon for what performance and business right now isn’t, but very well could be.

 

November 29, 2018

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