Talent Management

Balancing Pressure and Stress in a High-Performance Culture

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High-performance cultures often translate into high pressure environments.

The challenge is for that pressure not to create stress. And when you add to the mix the desire to nurture the talent within an organization through development opportunities, this balance becomes delicate.

According to Liz Wiseman, author of Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter, multipliers are the kind of leaders that know how to create a high pressure environment that pushes people to be their best.

Multipliers often maximize the talent around them, pushing people to work harder than they’ve ever worked before — but without the feeling of stress.

Experiencing “multiplier leadership”

I’m fortunate to have experienced multiplier leadership in my lifetime. Perhaps most impactful for was Erin Gruwell, founder and president of the Freedom Writer’s Foundation, a non-profit organization that empowers educators and students to change the world around them. I have heard from many of my fellow Freedom Writers that she had this amazing ability to see greatness in them that inspired them to see the greatness within themselves.

But Erin didn’t play around. She refused to let her students fail. No matter what, she expected us to be and give our best.

In fact, when she asked students to grade themselves and one student gave himself an “F,” she responded famously:

You know what this is? This is a f— you to me and everyone in this class. I don’t want excuses. I know what you’re up against. We’re all of us up against something. So you better make up your mind, because until you have the balls to look me straight in the eye and tell me this is all you deserve, I am not letting you fail … Do you understand me? I can see you. And you are not failing.”

Do you think that student felt the pressure? Without a doubt. But was he stressed about achieving the goals? Absolutely not. He was empowered to give his best and nothing less.

Today, the Freedom Writers — a group comprised of students who had largely been written off as “unteachable” — are entrepreneurs, marketing consultants, teachers, software engineers and professional athletes.

A release valve is important

Here’s the thing: we might look back on that time fondly, but the truth is that those were challenging times for all of us. Erin has a reputation for being bubbly and energetic, but she was also demanding and held us to a high standard.

We learned a lot, we did amazing work (Hello! A book turned movie starring Hilary Swank), but it was hard work. She also had a knack for making things fun and campy, which had the effect of relieving the pressure.

In high performance cultures, this release valve is also important. Sure you learn and grow, but the leadership is responsible for creating an environment where people can blow off steam, celebrate successes and recover before they burnout.

That release can and does take many forms including office amenities such as fitness equipment, a game room or a team outing. Even something as simple as a project close out meeting where individuals are acknowledged for their accomplishments is a great way to relieve the pressure.

Not every company can offer amenities like Google, Facebook or LinkedIn and you don’t have to. When the pressure is and has been on for a long time, it’s really little things that don’t take much to give employees space to breathe before they put the pedal to the metal again.

Kimberlee Morrison also writes frequently on the Infusionsoft Culture Corner blog. 

Kimberlee Morrison is an writer, editor and Culture Evangelist for Infusionsoft, where her job is to help people feel connected to the company culture, both internally and externally. She also writes the Infusionsoft Culture Blog discussing how to build a culture based on shared purpose and values. Contact her at kimberlee.morrison@infusionsoft.com.