How to get employees to perform under pressure

Cecilia Holmblad
June 28, 2022
How to get employees to perform under pressure

We all feel pressure from time to time and your employees are not an exception. Some people tend to thrive under pressure, but depending on the amount of pressure, most of us are affected negatively. In a recent Lunch & Learn, we talked to performance expert Martin Fairn to discuss how we can help our employees to perform under pressure.

We all know by now that employees need to feel good to perform at a high level. Trust, autonomy and engagement are key factors to help your employees reach high performance. But even if you have all the right components to achieve this, pressured situations will still arise. So, what happens when we get pressured, and how can we make sure that their performance doesn’t drop when it happens?

Martin Fairn is the co-founder of Gazing Performance Systems, where they teach the Red2Blue mindset and framework. It’s a technique that will help you coach your employees to perform even when circumstances make it difficult. We invited Martin to discuss this framework in a recent Lunch & Learn, and in this article we’ll go through the key takeaways from our talk.

Start by asking the right questions

Increasing performance is all about taking the steps necessary to become better in certain areas. It can include productivity, working on skills, increased focus and so on. But in order to increase performance, you need to know how your employees are feeling and what’s on their mind.

When we ask people how they’re doing, we often hear people talk about being stuck and they can’t see their way out of their situation, Martin says. Or we see people saying they’re adapting, especially in these past two years. And we also have people talk about thriving and doing really well.

Many leaders don’t have a deep enough understanding on how their employees are feeling, and what’s on their mind. The best way to collect these insights, is to ask them and let them answer via anonymous comments. You can read more about how the Winningtemp Platform allows for anonymous interactions here.

When you know the current status of your employees' attitudes in different areas, you want to improve their mindset and encourage growth, ambition and continuous development in those areas.

People tend to think about performance from a win or lose type perspective, or all or nothing, or achievements and targets. But we find it helpful to reflect on it from a perspective of zero to 100%. How are you doing against what you think is possible? This is where you can start moving in the right direction and build a growth mindset, both as an individual or as an organisation.

3 steps to high performance

As an employer, you have a big responsibility in making sure your employees have what they need to feel and perform at their best. According to Martin, for a person to create the mindset shift, and allow them to perform closer to 100%, even when under pressure, they need three things:

  1. Structure. Some people call this routines or processes, but it is all the same. You need a structure that suits you, where you can get in the zone and make it easy for yourself to perform at your highest level.
  2. The right skills. A high skill level is especially important when working under pressure. When things around you are shaking and unclear, you need to trust your skills to come through.
  3. Mindset. Your mindset impacts your motivation and attitude, and it affects your reaction when under pressure. You should view mindset as a skill and work on it all the time. Where your attention goes, your energy will follow.

The red head and the blue head

At Gazing Performance, they teach their students about mindset shifts through the Red2Blue model. This model represents two mindsets, or two heads, a blue and a red one. You switch between blue and red depending on where your attention lies.

Basically, what we’re suggesting is that there is a difference between your attention being focused on the job at hand, or if your attention is diverted. When you’re in the focused, blue head, you are more able to act and get the job done. When you’re in the diverted, red head, you tend to be focused on the future or the past, and stuck in a loop.

The goal, as you can tell from the name of the model, is to get away from the red head and into the blue head.

In the blue head you are calm, you understand why you’re doing what you’re doing and you can focus 100%. That’s our goal all the time. But it’s important to understand that most of us live in a state of purple. It’s not always either red or blue, we can be in between. But it’s important to use the blue head as a target to aim at.

Focus on what you can control

One huge shift you need to go through to be able to use the red2blue model, is to make sure you focus on the things you can control. The key is to let go of the things you can’t control, and shift your focus towards things within your control.

Our mind tends to hold on to stuff that we feel anxious about, and until we let it go, it's almost impossible to shift your attention onto the task.

Having this framework within your organisation will help you and your employees to prepare for tough situations. Situations with high pressure will always show up, and if your employees are not prepared for them, they might crumble and their performance takes a nosedive.

Most of the stress-factors are predictable, so one part of the work we do with teams in organisations is to spend time with their preparation. Working on the “what ifs”. Preparing for pressure will allow you to free your focus and zoom out to see the bigger picture. You need this step back before you zoom in and focus on getting to the blue head, and put your attention to the task at hand.

If you want to listen to the whole talk with Martin, you can watch the Lunch & Learn for free right here.


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