Is Your Goal Performance Or Learning?

January 30, 2011

There is no substitute for performance. Your fundamental responsibility at work is to master the work you’ve been given. Once you master that work, it is your responsibility to continually suggests ways that you can improve the work for yourself and others; otherwise, you risk becoming a complacent master of mediocrity.

If you ever become too good or too smart to learn, you are in serious trouble. In his book “Becoming the Evidence-Based Manager.” Gary Latham has this to say about the difference between performance and learning goal orientations:

People with a performance goal orientation paradoxically lack a high performance mindset, because they focus too much on their performance. Their goal is to look good in the eyes of others. As a result, they actively avoid situations in which they run the risk of seeming incompetent. Instead, they seek assignments in which they can perform effectively. On the other hand, people with a learning goal orientation seek to master new skills and knowledge. Consequently, they enjoy challenging, difficult projects. They even seek constructive criticism…Constructive criticism enables people to learn from the errors they make. (p. 71).

Encourage your people to take on new projects or otherwise work in ways where they are continuously trying new things. Don’t accept an approach to work where people never make mistakes. When people try new things, never punish them for the mistakes they make. Instead, help them learn to see the mistake as a beneficial opportunity for improvement.

You are never relieved of the personal responsibility to continuously learn and improve. Working for someone that does not encourage you to learn is certainly an obstacle, but never an excuse.

“The ability to learn faster than your competitors may be the only sustainable competitive advantage” (Peter Senge quoting Arie De Gues). Take care not to perform yourself into a hole so deep you forget how to climb out.

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Comments (6)

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  1. Another great book on this topic is Carol Dweck’s “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.” She is currently at Stanford University and has done a great deal of research on people of all ages, finding that having a growth mindset usually leads to better performance on just about any task.

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    Excellent point, Michael. Latham talks about Dwecks work write after the quote in my post. Thanks! Bret

  2. Bret,
    The ideal system is one that has a good balance between learning and performance. I have seen that in an environment that promotes growth once profiency has been attained, the employees tend to work hard on their own to improve to better themselves and the company. In order for this to happen the correct system must be in place. The challenge of the company is to create a system that balances performance and learning. Thanks, Brandon

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    Totally agree, Brandon. I usually only see the either/or when it comes to performance over learning. We all know lots of folks that perform but never learn, but I know much fewer that learn and grow at the expense of performance. they usually learn and grow so they can perform better. Thanks, Bret

  3. Julio says:

    Bret, my answer for this question is both: performance and learning. I mean there should be a strong connection between them in order to attain a productive sustainability. Knowledge is a power, in consequence, if a person combines with his/her performance, definitely, will be more successful; on the contrary, we would be fostering being mediocre.

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    Thanks for sharing, Julio! Bret