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The very notion of performance needs an update. Here is why.

According to the research of the two ex-McKinsey’s Doshi and McGregor published in the New York Times bestseller Primed to Perform most companies focus on only one type of performance. That is the Tactical performance – the type of performance derived from the company’s strategy and deployed through cascading objectives, plans and policies.

Their research shows that the highest-performing companies in a range of industries also focus on another type of performance. This type of performance is created not by strategy but by the culture of the company and called Adaptive performance. It is measured by how well people in the organization are able to diverge from the plans, rules and strategies when needed.

Needless to say, the importance of Adaptive performance is on the rise. As stated by Doshi and McGregor: “It allows organizations to create value in a world filled with, as the U.S. military says, volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity, where technology and strategy changes rapidly” (Harvard Business Review, Oct 10, 2017).

They found that overdoing tactical performance and setting up performance measures and incentives based on “hitting numbers” will crumble people’s adaptive performance. In their work as consultants they have found that setting learning objectives produce results much faster than setting performance targets. For example, setting a learning objective for a sales representative to be able to present his or her product to the customers in five new engaging ways will promote sales results more effectively than negotiating a target of selling x number of products more in the coming quarter. That is moving from extrinsic to intrinsic motivation which can drive up performance by factor ten.

The better approach to building performance therefore is to start measuring the effectiveness of the conditions that affect Adaptive performance, ranging from how people are motivated to how the organization’s structures, performance review systems, and planning processes are designed. That is to start getting smarter about where to use tactical performance and where to focus on adaptive performance to strike the right balance between the two.

When tracking the effect of specific learning and development initiatives, we therefore increasingly should focus on measuring how people’s behavior in terms of how effectively they deal with unforeseen events or new situations is impacted. Ultimately, the impact of development initiatives should be measured by how they contribute to creating an adaptive culture as the underlying driver of Adaptive performance. Adaptive culture is in our view the best indicator for how effectively people in the organization can learn and change and hence predicts the future business performance of the company.

This link between adaptive performance culture and learning is for us the key to understanding and measuring Empowered learning culture. That is, building a culture where people take charge of their own competency development and performance. This is at the very core of what we at Triggerz are helping companies doing.

Doshi and McGregor’s work on Adaptive performance therefore is highly relevant and inspiring for our work. We have adopted elements of their framework in our approach to measuring Adaptive performance as a key driver of Empowered learning culture.

In our Adaptive Culture survey, we have identified four factors that relate of the individual’s mindset and behaviors and five factors relating to the team, or other organizational anchoring, of people. By means of this inventory we are able to survey the factors that drive the learning culture in an organization, or part hereof. The survey results serve as inputs to selecting development initiatives and designing specific learning interventions that target the individual and team-based factors that will evolve the learning culture and, in turn, the adaptive performance of the company.

We are currently in the process of testing our Adaptive Culture survey in a number of cross-industry companies and within different areas in the organizations. In the forthcoming posts we will share the insights and key results emerging from our research.

If interested in learning more about our approach to measuring and evolving learning cultures and the possibilities of free participation in our pilot-study, please contact Frank Lilleøre at

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For more inspiration about “Empowered learning” read our White Paper: Learning at the Speed of Change

Author: PhD Frank Lilleøre, Senior Learning Advisor & Partner at Triggerz