The importance of redefining performance

By Caroline Ménard

Have you ever found yourself, like me, mistaking performance for productivity? Do you also find yourself in a similar situation? In my case, and possibly in yours too, I used to measure performance solely in terms of hours worked, money earned, or won contracts. The more I focused on work, the more I equated it with productivity, often overshadowing other aspects of my life.

The question of performance and its impact on individuals and organizations continues to be relevant. The traditional definition, emphasizing hyper-productivity for career advancement or financial gain, has significantly evolved in recent years. The effects in mental and physical well being is clear, let alone its adverse impact on the environment.

As part of a panel presented last April at the provincial congress on Women Leadership organized by the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Quebec City, I had the opportunity to discuss the definition of performance with Sonya Cliche, Senior Director, Programs and Specialized Financing at Investissement Québec, Lise Lapierre, ASC, FCPA, board member, and Anne-Marie Leclair, Partner, Senior Strategist and Lead, Innovation and ESG at lg2, all businesswomen known for their professional success and natural ability to speak in public.

Since I’m not used to addressing large audiences, I felt a strong urge to put excessive pressure on myself to achieve a public speaking performance according to conventional standards, leading me to compare myself with others instead of focusing on my own personal development. This public speaking panel prompted a deep personal reflection that led me to explore and articulate my thoughts on themes such as success, performance, organizational change, and corporate responsibility.

A personal story of performance

When I was younger, I held a strict and demanding standard of what meant to be a high-performing professional, which entailed: hard work, unwavering dedication, and late hours. This often included a certain degree of hardship, although the term might appear somewhat intense. Success was perceived solely through measurable outcomes and gaining recognition, leading me to believe that personal fulfillment was exclusively tied to numerical achievements.

But now in my perspective, ‘performance’ remains a feminine concept, even as we redefine its gender. It’s associated with success, but in a different manner: it holds significance when it contributes to making a positive impact. That’s why I differentiate it from mere productivity or profitability. Performance encapsulates value, subtlety, kindness, grace…

It now evokes for me a better balance between work and personal life: I truly feel accomplished when I can enjoy the presence of my children and take time for leisure, all while achieving my professional and financial goals. To truly embrace a performance-oriented approach, I believe it involves adaptability, confronting uncertainties, and possessing the self-assurance needed to challenge established norms. The idea of performance shifts based on context; it’s not confined to the traditional formula of ‘work equals productivity equals profitability,’ commonly emphasized in business. Performance isn’t solely an individual’s responsibility; it’s a concept that must be integrated into the organizational vision.

From individual to collective

Attributing the company’s success solely to a high-performing individual employee is alluring, implying that the entire responsibility for success is solely placed in an individual. However, true corporate performance is a team effort, not an individual task, hence the need to not only consider performance as a versatile whole composed of multiple factors that change over time and projects but also as a form of empowerment.

This is why reward systems that favor individual logic, such as a significant salary increase or a financial bonus without other benefits (flexible hours, work-life balance, telecommuting, insurance programs, training, mobility, etc.), should be reconsidered.

Performance beyond numbers

Every business or organization is interconnected with society; it’s not an isolated entity but an integral part of the system, exerting an impact on it. Organizations, therefore, have an influence on the community where they are located, implying a form of accountability that is increasingly being recognized. Do we still want to be evaluated solely on what we sell, what we deliver, completely disconnected from our impact on the world we live in?

The panel addressed the question directly: Does a company that prioritizes making money truly represent performance? Or, in other words, are financial indicators the exclusive results that truly matter?

To appreciate performance, undoubtedly, one needs to be able to look at results. In the past, only financial data were considered conclusive, starting from the viewpoint that a successful business was a profitable one. Now, in a society where corporate social responsibility (CSR) is increasingly discussed and examined, we must redefine performance criteria. Numbers in the revenue column will always have their importance when put into context; we now also consider the social, environmental, and human impact of an organization.

To be performant, both as an individual and as an organization, one must understand what one should contribute to. We must ask ourselves: what is my intention, and what is my impact? The answer will vary depending on the context, but the question will remain a guiding light in the choice of actions to take. This reflection guides my approach and that of many entrepreneurs and professionals today as we collectively reflect on the purpose of businesses, the meaning they create, and the solutions they can and should be part of. This involves examining the impacts of decisions from the perspective of social responsibility. Beyond returns and profits.

For me, Énergir’s decision to invest in energy transition stands out, showcasing their proactive involvement as a key player in addressing the pressing environmental concerns that affect us all. Solely focusing on the financial aspect might lead to the conclusion that, from a strictly financial perspective, it may not appear as a high-performing organization on paper, especially considering that it could be a less financially lucrative decision in the short term. Isn’t this an inspiring illustration of genuine performance over the medium and long term? It exemplifies a more comprehensive vision, one that integrates a purpose that significantly impacts society for the better.

Viewed from this angle, being high performing comes with a cost. Redefining it requires boldness – the audacity to acknowledge that profits alone do not define success. Instead, it is an investment, like investing in talents: in long run, it yields substantial returns. An organization that focuses only on productivity and profitability, disregarding its best talents, may not be as high-performing as it perceives, no matter how wealthy it is. I firmly believe that a truly high-performing organization can contribute to building a stronger community and fostering better individuals.

Likewise, when assessing my performance during the panel, I opted not to rely on y previous convictions. I dare to begin from within myself, sharing openly and delivering my message despite my initial unease. To my surprise, I encountered receptive listeners who, beyond my slight discomfort in public speaking, showed a genuine interest in what I had to say. In essence, one might say that, based on my own standards, I performed rather well.

By Caroline Ménard



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