We want better performance, in our cars and fuel, in our laundry detergents and other products, in our sports both professional and personal, and in our business results. We seem to be consumed with the search for improved performance and how to keep getting more of it.
NPR aired a story a few months ago, about research being conducted at Purdue University on the connections between performance and the perception of the activity and specifically the goal or target. Jessica Witt, who studies the relationship between performance and perception, studied golf. She gathered data on how golfers perceived the hole and the difficulty of the shot. Golfers who did well described the hole as larger than it actually measures, and golfers who had higher scores saw the hole as smaller and more difficult.
The size of the hole and the circumstances external to these golfers did not change. Individual golfers’ perception of the hole altered how large they thought it was and how difficult they thought the shot was. And this deviation in the golfers’ view or perception had a direct and consistent correlation to how well they played.
This relationship between perception and performance has been identified in other sports as well as other areas of human performance. How a target or goal appears to the performer actually impacts their results.
For business professionals, executives and leaders in organizations, this is an important principle: How we make tasks and goals appear, impacts people’s ability to reach them and therefore their results.
This is not how our organizations have traditionally been organized. Much importance has been given to incentives and rewards or punishments and how to drive results. Not much attention has been directed to making the goals and targets seem easier to hit.
The studies on this phenomenon of a physical object looking different in size to an observer who has it as a target or goal are many and cut across different disciplines and activities. Leaders and executives have also been applying what has been learned from these studies. The business performance and results follow what happens in sports.
There is much to be gained through taking on this challenge and opportunity that may also seem like a puzzle today: How can we impact the perception people have of targets and goals, including making them appear easier and clearer.
And as with golf, this can be a lot of fun as well.