Underachieving sucks!!!

Underachieve: To perform below expectations or achieve less than expected, especially by others

Just like it was yesterday, I remember the very first time I underachieved. I forget how old I was but I was on a school excursion and all I had to do was to swim the length of the local swimming pool to earn The Herald swim certificate. I wasn’t a great swimmer but I was confident enough I could swim the required distance because all my friends were able to do it. About halfway into the swim I was struggling to stay in stroke and I still recall the sense of frustration and disappointment when the teacher told me to “get out of the pool, you won’t be getting The Herald today.” This childhood memory didn’t scar me, but the feelings of frustration or disappointment have been similar throughout my life whenever I have underachieved.

This anecdote of the first time I underachieved came flashing back to me recently when I was consulting to a group who were looking for areas of improvement to help them achieve their targets more consistently. Their world is extremely busy with high workloads, however, the expectations by the business to succeed are exceptionally high. Layered on top of this was each person is a high achiever so they were frustrated whenever they missed a target. Does this sound similar to your situation at work?

We found it was critical to establish an environment they could succeed in. As high workloads were an issue that seemed to compound everything else we decided to tackle efficiency first to relieve the workload pressure. After implementing various actions on how to process their work faster, we then essentially broke achieving down into the following 3 step approach: 

  • Preparation - the saying “proper preparation prevents poor performance” is attributed to the British army. Therefore, if the activity is important enough then give it an appropriate amount of preparation (I hope my daughter followed this approach in studying for her recent VCE exams!!!)
  • Execution - some activities are larger than others by nature. Break the larger activities down into small manageable tasks to ensure progress is possible but also measurable and visible at any stage. Then action each task by its due date
  • Collaboration - being self-sufficient is admirable but not at the expense of missing targets. At times collaboration is necessary to get the best result. Collaboration doesn’t have to mean inefficient communication (think meetings and emails), therefore don’t be afraid to collaborate to either request or provide help.

Other factors, such as anxiety, feeling overwhelmed, lack of urgency or motivation etc. all influence our ability to succeed. However, we increase our chances of succeeding the more we’re able to build a rhythm of how and when we do our best work. The group I referred to earlier had the right intent in a difficult environment. By addressing the environment, they could get more done in less time to achieve their targets.

What can you do to reduce the likelihood of underachieving?