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27 Nov 2018  |   Pentana Disclose

Performance Not Conformance

I’m looking forward to meeting Dame Kelly Holmes this week and listening to what she has to say as guest speaker at our European Customer Conference.

The room will be full of compliance, quality, safety and audit professionals plus software people from Ideagen.  It will be an honour to have Dame Kelly with us, and her story will be inspiring: I just read her Wikipedia page and am intrigued by many aspects of her life such as, what happened between Atlanta (aged 26, 4th in the 800m, 11th in the 1500m) and Athens (aged 34, gold in the 800m, gold in the 1500m)? How did she dig so deep during those intervening 8 years? How does someone achieve that level of determination and focus?  I think that is the key question for a room full of auditors and quality managers who seek operational performance and excellence. What can mere-mortal compliance professionals learn from the superhuman determination of Olympians?

In recent years I’ve heard several sport stars speak, including Sir Chris Hoy and, most recently, Shannon Miller. There is a business lesson in what these people have to tell us, but it is often hard to discern because awe at their personal qualities and the extent of their achievements bemuses us. Chris Hoy’s message about incremental gains is the most accessible from an organisational development point of view. Shannon Miller (of the Atlanta ’96 Magnificent Seven) spoke at our USA customer seminar in NYC last month and the details that stuck in my mind were the gruelling training routine that lasted for years (heading out every day past siblings who were relaxing in front of the telly; doing an extra 20% of sit-ups during every training session) and the willingness to get back up on the balance beam after she just dislocated and broke her elbow on it (just before Atlanta). To be honest it was difficult to get past the astonishment at such incredible personal strength: it seemed remote and not much to do with ordinary life.

So, yes, be amazed and come away with a vague sense of inspiration and admiration. Enjoy the cachet of meeting a celeb: it’s something to tell your friends about. But if you think it through, as I know compliance professionals like to do, there is a deeper, simpler lesson in the accomplishments of the Supers. And here it is.

In a word: focus. Olympians are very focused on a goal. Everything else comes from that focus. They’re not focused on many goals. Often it’s just one: a gold medal or a world record.  Single-minded focus on a small number of goals can make a human being into a super.

A single goal provides clarity of purpose. Motivation and attitude can build up behind a single goal. Those incremental gains that Chris Hoy talks about all become meaningful in the context of a single big objective. Nothing seems trivial anymore. Anything that is not important becomes obviously superfluous and can be ditched. Chase one rabbit and catch it; don’t try to chase three rabbits and lose all three. When athletes train, they are not training the way many of us do just to maintain some level of fitness: they train for a single-minded purpose. It’s all part of a single battle and nothing is random or busy-work. Performance comes from focus and focus is about having a single purpose.

Quality, safety, audit and risk management professionals can be heroes too (cue Enrique Iglesias). They protect their organisations, their colleagues, the public and society from FIRMS risks (situations that present Financial, Infrastructural, Reputational, Market or Safety threats).  And, hang on a second, this is starting to sound familiar … setting a small number of very important goals … measuring progress … being structured about execution of tasks … overcoming obstacles and threats … that’s our old friend, the Golden Thread!

The title of this blog is Performance Not Conformance. Why not conformance? What’s wrong with conformance? Well, nothing of course. Legal compliance and conformance to standards are obviously vital. The point I’d like to make via that provocative title is simply this: if you focus on conformance alone, you won’t necessarily achieve high performance; but if you focus on performance, conformance and compliance happen as a necessity. In our sporting analogy, performance is winning gold medals, conformance and compliance are maintaining a training regime and staying fit and clean so you pass dope tests. Playing by the rules and taking care of quotidian business is enough to conform and comply, but not enough to be a winner. Try telling Shannon Miller that taking part is all that really matters …

Our integrated risk management products are built to help you focus on important goals, but if I were to pick one out that is particularly useful in driving strategic performance improvement, it would be Pentana Performance.  The core modules are Performance (for setting strategic goals and managing KPI’s), Action Management (to support diligence), Risk (integrated risk management) and Reporting (with comprehensive dashboarding). It is this particular configuration of standard GRC capabilities that reflects a high performance mentality: set goals and metrics and then focus really hard to overcome weaknesses and obstacles while making incremental improvements. It’s the Golden Thread in a software application. If you are want to create a high performance organisation, take a look at Pentana Performance.

I can’t wait to listen to Dame Kelly. I fully expect it to be an absolute master class in focus and single-minded determination and purposefulness. Which, after all, is really what compliance and the management of safety and quality is all about!