Interview: Marc Effron

Global Citizenship Review spends time with leadership and talent management specialist Marc Effron, whose insights into cutting-edge educational research could transform work-place productivity

Global Citizenship Review (GCR): Bravo on the publication of your latest book, 8 Steps to High Performance: Focus on What You Can Change (Ignore the Rest)! How did the book come about and what are its key topics?
Marc Effron (ME): I wrote 8 Steps to High Performance because I wanted to help more people perform better at work but was frustrated by the scattered, and often wrong, advice offered by typical leadership and management books. Those books often focus on doing only one thing better, leaving the reader to figure out how much that thing matters and if other factors matter as well. Very few of those books are based on hard-core academic proof and some are just thinly disguised sales tools for a consulting firm’s products. The goal of 8 Steps to High Performance was to integrate the most powerful, scientifically proven information in one place and provide highly practical guidance about how to apply it. I reviewed thousands of scientific articles to find the most conclusive findings about what drives performance at work. The eight steps capture those insights in one easy read.

GCR: 8 Steps to High Performance has been described as “the definitive guide to high performance”. What’s your interpretation of high performance?
ME: A high performer is someone who consistently delivers results and behaviors that are better than 75% of their peers. That’s a very high standard and it’s meant to differentiate between those who work hard and behave well, and those who consistently excel in everything they do.

GCR: As President of Talent Strategy Group, can you tell us a few areas in which you are a high performer?
ME: Well, since I reject the notion that anyone should focus on their strengths, I’d rather describe which of the eight steps I still need to work on. I need to do a better job of Step 4: Connecting so that I build more and deeper relationships with key leaders in my field. I also need to work on Step 6: Fake It so that I worry less about how I want to show up in front of clients and more about how they need me to show up.

GCR: In your experience with large, global brands, what are the common influencers — positive and negative — on employee levels of motivation?
ME: Motivation is a combination of the environment the company provides and what different individuals need. That means that there’s no such thing as a universally motivating environment, but there are a few factors that create a strong foundation for motivation.

The first factor is a company that employees are proud to work for. This typically means that it has a strong brand, interesting products or services, and/or a clear mission. The second factor is that managers show interest in and concern for the well-being of their team members. This doesn’t mean coddling employees — in fact, just the opposite. High performers will value a manager who is direct with them about their performance and behaviors and challenges them to perform at a higher level. The third factor is that employees feel they have a chance to learn and grow. Most importantly, a high performer doesn’t rely on their company to motivate them. They understand that they’re responsible for their own performance independent of the environment and that they are free to prove themselves elsewhere if their current employer doesn’t recognize their capabilities.

GCR: What are some practical steps that companies, irrespective of size, can take to foster a culture of natural and inspired high performance among teams?
ME: First, they can set expectations and accountabilities for how teams will behave. This means that they clarify the few behaviors they expect teams to show both within the team and to other teams.

Next, they can set very clear and specific goals and metrics for each team. Goals are a powerful motivator of higher performance and the metrics al low for friendly competition. High — not unreasonable — goals send a strong signal to team members that performance is valued and differentiated.

Perhaps most important is aligning those goals to the core mission or purpose of the company. The teams’ emotional commitment to high performance will grow when they see their work as part of a larger corporate purpose.

GCR: In the book, you discuss the importance of individual growth. To what extent should companies invest in the individual, and maybe even personal, development plans of employees?
ME: We know from science that high performers are always building their capabilities and aligning them with what their organization needs in the future. But, as I say in the book, you shouldn’t outsource your professional development to your company. You should create your own professional development plan and work with your company to fulfill it. They may support you in some areas and you may need to take independent action in others.

Companies should carefully differentiate their development investment so that their most promising talent receives the most significant investment. For most employees, the best development is being in a big challenging job with stretch goals. Those factors will make any job developmental.

GCR: What are your thoughts on the future of talent management and the negotiation of the relationship between employer and employee?
ME: The relationship between employer and employee will likely become shorter and more intense with the use of contingent workers and the increased prevalence of AI. The gradual but continuing increase in contingent workers (consultants, gig workers, etc.) suggests a drop in the average tenure of a “connection” to a company. This will make the relationship feel more contractual but should also allow a sharper focus on performance. If I hire someone for six months to get a job done, there’s a clear metric and deadline. If that person were an employee, I might let them take eight months or ten because there are always good excuses why the work hasn’t been done.

That shorter relationship will also likely be more intense because my company will know much more about my work style, personality, preferences and effectiveness. They’ll use AI to turn that information into insights they can use to better direct my performance and behaviors. On the positive side, that might mean that they’ll find person-specific ways to try to keep me engaged. On the negative side, it might mean that they tell me who to network with or what meetings not to attend because they precisely understand how to make me more effective.

GCR: Moving away from the professional sphere, how can one apply 8 Steps to High Performance in a personal, away-from-work reality?
ME: The first two of the eight steps (Step 1: Set Big Goals and Step 2: Behave to Perform) can make your personal life even more successful. Ask yourself: If I wanted to make my relationship with my spouse, partner, parent, or child twice as strong as it is today, what big step would I take in the next 30 days? Set that as your big goal, put an action plan behind it, nd execute.

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