Blog & Insight

7 barriers to optimal performance

I often get asked about the return on investment for coaching, or any soft skills learning and development interventions I deliver.

It's not a question I have a ready made answer for, as it very much depends where the individual is starting from.

That said, there are some common outcomes that I explore in this post from the 2017 archives - and they're outcomes that relate to what coachees or attendees will be improving, and the impact that improvement will have.

More precisely the barriers to optimal performance that are demolished or reduced as a result of the coaching/workshop are.

  1. Unconfident
  2. Lack of motivation
  3. Resistance to change
  4. Reactive
  5. Indecisive/negative
  6. Ineffective communication
  7. Stressed

1. Unconfident

Easily written, and often under estimated, but what price a lack of confidence:

  • Avoids conflict with colleagues, managers, stakeholders and suppliers
  • Doesn't set stretching targets
  • Gets bullied into doing something they shouldn't
  • Isn't able to stand up for, and therefor deliver, real value
  • Is easily swayed away from an agreed processes, procedures or decisions
  • Inconsistent in approach
  • Consistently looks outside themselves for approval and direction
  • Delayed decision making
  • Doesn't challenge others even in areas where they have the expertise
  • Stays within their comfort zone and avoids anything innovative or new
  • Doesn't look for advancement or promotion (not in and of it self an issue, unless they have the capability to do that, if only they had a little more confidence)

It depends on the role requirements, yet each of these examples will have costly time and financial implications, never mind increased risk and opportunities lost.

2. Lack of motivation

Motivation is an interesting topic as people often ignore that there is a lot they can do to impact and improve their own motivation.

Motivation, however, is not a done deal it's impacted by your values and they can be proactively used to inspire action.

Coaching can significantly improve coachee motivation, and provide an understanding about what makes them tick, and therefore results in reducing or mitigating the following outcomes:

  • Can't be bothered attitude
  • Tired and lethargic
  • Unfoccused
  • Unable to make decisions
  • Dissatisfaction
  • Inability to inspire others or even get them to listen to them
  • Quick to judge and blame others
  • Not taking personal responsibility
  • Lackadaisical
  • Makes mistakes
  • Refusal to do some tasks
  • Applying for the wrong jobs
  • People leaving

Just imagine what your team performance would be if these were removed.

3. Resistant to change

Whilst coaching and soft skills interventions may help us to personally expand our comfort zones and reduce our resistance to change, most often than not the workshops I deliver help people to understand the process of change, and how to manage others resistance to change better.

This results in minimising:

  • Stakeholders doing their own thing
  • Time spent arguing and persuading stakeholders of the merit of the proposed strategy
  • Benefits not being realised
  • Innovations missed
  • Operational stagnation
  • Dealing with defensiveness
  • Inability to adapt to new processes
  • Suppliers being able to divide and conquer
  • Denial of the need for change 

In my soft skills toolkit there's a postcard to you from Change Management getting a little frustrated with you for re-prioritised its importance.

4. Reactive

One outcome of coaching can be holding the mirror up to a coachee on how often they absolve responsibility and don't take personal responsibility for actions, outcomes or problems, which may currently be resulting in:

  • Problems escalating

I kept writing about the other barriers, and left this to last and realised that being reactive is all about not getting the job done - waiting to be chased, waiting for someone else to tell you what to do. Which may lead to a lack of completion and issues being left unresolved!

After all, if you keep doing what you've always done you'll get the same outcome - as demonstrated in this vlog (just turn the sound down a little first).

5. Indecisive/Negative

I was being indecisive about whether to highlight indecisive or being overly negative here - a great reminder about why 1:1 coaching is helpful.

In a classroom the impact of negativity or strategies for decision making can be outlined and explored. In a coaching session an individual's personal relationship with, and reasons for, indecision or negativity can be explored much more deeply, and action plans agreed to release their hold.

Without an intervention it's easy for performance to be impacted by these underlying behaviours, that if not addressed can cycle down into inaction and even depression.

6. Ineffective Communication  

Perhaps it's because we talk every day we assume we know how to do it effectively, forgetting that our own preferences can often get in the way of effective communication.

The cost of ineffective communication is so high it surprises me that so little is done to improve communication skills on a regular basis.

The outcomes of ineffective communication might include:

  • Miscommunication
  • Misunderstanding
  • Conflict
  • Resistance
  • Isolation
  • Failure
  • Inability to persuade others
  • Inability to influence others
  • Uninspiring to others
  • Unable to change others points of view 
  • Missed deadlines
  • Lack of support to do the project
  • Lack of support for the recommendations
  • Lack of support to implement
  • Humiliation
  • Wasted time
  • Benefits not realised
  • Wrong requirements delivered
  • Unhappy customers
  • Problems escalating
  • Lack of respect across the business

Oh dear I could go on. Even if only one of the above was mitigated it's likely that the saving (in time or money) to the organisation over the year would more than pay for any coaching session or workshop.

You may also like my post the top 10 things to remember when communicating.

7. Stressed

Well being and mental health all have a positive, negative or detrimental impact on outcomes and performance.

However I'll leave those best able to communicate the significant cost of absenteeism, presenteeism and mental ill-health to a dear friend Amy McDonald over on HeadTorch.

Poet Angie Strachan who I've have heard speak at many of the Headtorch conferences has written a wonderful poem entitled Stressed- I'm not stressed.

Other barriers I considered for my top 7 included: fear, anger, blame, lack of trust, distracted, controlling, lack of empathy, lack of self awareness, arrogance, not being a team player, lack of creative thinking, and ineffective management of time.

What barriers to optimal performance come to mind for you?

Perhaps more importantly, what is the impact on performance from not dismantling these barriers?

I'm sure there will be teams full of very self aware individuals who do have wellbeing, and who are confident, motivated, decisive, proactive, open to innovation and change and who are effectively influencing and communicating others.

For those teams where this is not the case the question to be answered is:

What action are you taking to demolish these barriers to optimal performance?

There's much you can do - but hiding behind the need for direct ROI for an intervention before taking action means you're going to be waiting a long time - whilst all of the outcomes above continue to deliver at best sub-optimal outcomes, and at worse significantly increased risk.

What action will you take today to move your team towards optimal performance?

Do get in touch if you'd like to find out more about the coaching and training available to help remove the blocks in your team's mindset for success.


© Alison Smith
VAT Registration: 224 5001 58
Registered in Scotland, Registration Number: SC457105
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