How to be a high performer (and still have a normal life)


By Anna Jester 

There’s an awful lot of noise out there these days about how to be better – more successful, more efficient, more influential, etc. Whether it’s daily hacks of the world’s leading CEOs or five things the most successful entrepreneurs in the world do (most of which are before 5.30am), the pursuit of ‘better’ is never more than a click (or page turn) away. 

The thing is, I don’t really want to be one of the world’s leading CEOs (or live by some of their weird daily hacks to be honest) and I’m fairly sure I’ll never be one of the most successful entrepreneurs in the world (as nice as it would be). However, what I am really interested in is how to be the best version of good ole me. 

Advice from high performers 

High Performers in Normal Life | The Culture Builders | Articles

I’ve been really privileged to work with some insanely brilliant people in my career so far – from fighter pilots, to CEOs and I’ve picked up some amazing stuff along the way. But you know, some of the best advice in my career has come from everyday people, going about their work but nailing the art that is loving what they do (most of the time), doing it brilliantly (therefore being super successful), and being happy at the same time (this is the holy grail isn’t it?). 

Top tips on how to be a high performer 

So, if you’re like me and world domination isn’t the goal but a fulfilled, successful, happy life is – here’s my top ten tips to be a high performer (and still live a normal life):

1. Don’t scrimp on sleep

In our demand rich, time poor life, this is often the first thing to go but it’s the thing our body needs the most. Get enough sleep and everything will happen faster, better, easier tomorrow. We all love box sets but getting eight hours rather than catching up on the latest Peaky Blinders, is always the right choice. 

2. Move!

You don’t have to get to the gym four times a week to get exercise into your life (to be frank, this is often unrealistic for so many of us). Walk to the station instead of driving, take the stairs instead of the lift, have a five minute stroll at lunchtime, have a walking meeting with your colleagues. 20 minutes exercise a day? Sorted – and you’ll feel it. 

3. Put down your phone

Look at it when you need to use it, as opposed to 200 times a day (this is now the average). Plan when you’re going to catch up on messages and emails rather than being distracted and responding to every ‘ping’ as it comes in. Go offline to focus on stuff – just let people know if you need to. Talk to people more. This one is life changing. 

4. Feed your soul

When we don’t do enough of the things we love, we are no good to anyone (well, nowhere near as good as we could be!). Whether it’s what you do for a living, a hobby that you love, a mate you crave to beat at squash or a talent you’ve always wanted to pursue – whatever it is that makes your heart sing, if it’s not in your life, it’s holding you back.

5. Breathe

Don’t worry, I’m not going to go all Namaste on you (although yoga is great). I’m just talking about taking deeper breaths, more often. If stress is building, stop and take three deep breaths. It’s amazing what happens after that. Having a meeting – get all attendees to do the same before it starts – centred, focused, ready to rock. 

6. Drink water

When we’re thirsty, our mental capacity (and therefore) productivity drops by up to 40 per cent. Need I say more? Turn ‘drink while you think’ on its head and notice how much more switched on you feel when the water is flowing. It’s addictive! 

7. Break the routine

It’s amazing how much of our lives are spent on autopilot. Sit in a different chair, invite different people to a meeting, walk a new route home – a fresh perspective can solve even the greatest of conundrums. 

8. Eat an elephant

One bite at a time. The sense that something is too large is the biggest reason we fail to do it. To finish, you have to get started and to get started, all you need is a first step. Become a master of the first step (for yourself and those around you).

9. Be with and be present

Mindfulness is a continued challenge for me and something I find very hard. But when I flip it and focus on truly being present for the people I am with (be it my children or my colleagues), I seem to be more successful. And they feel great.  

10. Be human

The modern world seems to continue to overshadow the very essence of human nature. Ask how people are (and actually be interested in the answer), say thank you (in a meaningful way) and smile at people more (even if you don’t know them). It feels amazing and open up doors you never imagined. Human first, everything else second. 

If you’re interested in finding out more about our suite of interventions that drive both performance and wellbeing click here or get in touch to find out more.

By Anna Jester

Years ago, I was working for a communication consultancy in London and I visited a big construction project that one of our clients was leading. I was there to spend some time with the CEO, working on thought leadership and messaging. He was there for a variety of reasons that day, including the half an hour with me at the end of it all.

I remember the day so well because it was one of the first times I had been truly wowed by the power of great communication. Whether it was chatting with the site workers in the mess room, motivating the senior management team at what was a very difficult time for the project or simply listening to the concerns of the project manager – this guy was like a communication chameleon. He found a way to communicate exactly what the person or people in front of him needed – in the way they needed it. And the effect was palpable.

When it finally came to my 30 minutes with the CEO at the end of the day, I had to ask him how he did it and I’ll never forget what he said to me. He said “with immense difficulty.”

The secret to communicating with impact

Jane Sparrow | The Culture Builders | Purpose & Values

Many of us will look at brilliant communicators and feel in awe at their ease of delivery, natural style and instinctive nouse for a great opportunity to land their message. Often we think something along the lines of, “I’d love to be a natural communicator like that.”  

The thing is – 99 per cent of the time, the reality is that there’s not a fat lot that’s natural about it and it’s actually down to years of practise, rigorous self awareness and meticulous planning. That whole thing of winging it? I’m afraid it’s a myth (in the main). If you want to communicate with impact, you’ve got to put in the graft.

As my CEO proved on that site visit, great communication is so much more than landing a presentation once a month – it’s about continuous exchange, moments of connection, mastering nuance, the said and the unsaid. It’s about the first word you say when you walk into your place of work in the morning to the way you sign off at the end of the day. And everything in between. In other words, brilliant communicators are what we like to call ‘always on’.

Top tips for communicating with impact

So what’s the key to ‘always on’ communication? Here’s my top ten tips to get you started.

  1. A man/ woman with a plan
    Don’t leave communication to chance. Who’s on your hit-list to influence? Who might you see today? Be ready with a communication intervention that’s right.
  2. Consider every communication opportunity
    The water cooler, before and after meetings (whether face to face or virtual), the mess room, the canteen – look up from your emails and work on your small talk (it can lead to some pretty big talk).
  3. Get off autopilot
    How are you doing? I’m fine thanks, you? Yeah all good thanks. Sound familiar? Get off the autopilot and say something interesting. I’m actually great because…you’ll be amazed where it leads.
  4. Great communication goes beyond the verbal
    Make an impact across every communication platform – that includes email, text and more. Remember that 93% of the impression we make is based on the non-verbal too.
  5. Think sideways
    There are so many other ways to deliver content and messages than PowerPoint. Enough said.
  6. Watch and learn
    Deliberately spend time around those who inspire you from a communication point of view. Watch what they do, the impact it has, how they engage. Capture it too.
  7. Fail to prepare
    That CEO I told you about? He mastered his stakeholders, actively trained to listen and never, never delivered content without practising it. Fail to prepare…you know the rest.
  8. Brevity is king
    The ‘simpler, clearer, shorter’ litmus test. If a ten year old child couldn’t understand it, you’re on the wrong track. Less is more – but it takes more time. The really smart stuff? It’s short.
  9. Put yourself out there
    The more you do it, the more you learn – about you, about audiences and about flexing (think chameleon). Lean in when it comes to comms opportunities – and always be brave and ask for feedback.
  10. Connection over communication
    Plenty of people ask for more communication, no-one ever asks for more emails. Remember that great communication is first and foremost about connection. Create connections (think stories, human approach, empathy, face to face) and you’re onto a winner.

Being a brilliant communicator is never about not being you. It’s about being your very best you, and always being self aware. A little bit like what they say about running a marathon, anyone can become a brilliant communicator – by working at it, working at it, and working at it a little more. And when you do become a brilliant communicator, it will undoubtedly change your career – but it will also change your life.

If you’d like to explore communication development and leadership development for your team, get in touch.

By Anna Jester

My late uncle was a police officer in Canada. One of his favourite tricks was for him and his partner to screech to a halt in a squad car in front of a crowd of people, hop out and look up into the sky pointing and talking to each other animatedly. They’d then drive away and quickly circle around the block and back past the crowd. There they would all be, looking into the sky, pointing for themselves (hey, crime is low in Canada, they had to stay busy).

As a species, we love to follow each other. It’s an instinct that’s there to teach us the ways of life, to keep us safe and make sure we all stay in sync. However, it’s also an overdone strength, and one that can be easily tricked. Let me give you a scenario. 

You are walking along the street and a man stops and says to you ‘hey, there’s an alien ship in the sky’. He points up, and you glance up yourself. Clear blue nothing. You walk on. Was there a ship? No.

But, ten more people stop you and tell you the same thing, and by the time you get home you are also telling people you walk past about the ‘alien ship’. 

And so it is with toilet paper. The story started in Hong Kong – there was a rumour that the island was running low, so people started panic buying. Then someone robbed a warehouse and stole a ton of the stuff, and the country went crazy. One of our good friends returned home from a holiday in Thailand with her case full of double-ply.

It’s a challenge we face in business cultures all the time. Rumour becomes fact and fact becomes a behaviour driver. Unpicking the truth takes far longer than the time the false information needed to spread across the organisation (halfway around the world, if I remember the phrase). Particularly when the falsehood is so much more exciting.

There’s a great (true) story that really shows how good we are at lining up behind a story. In the 1950s, in a small town in America – Bellingham – people started to notice small holes and pits appearing on the windshields of their cars. Everyone was baffled, and the reasons why got more and more fanciful – cosmic rays, H-bomb tests, sand fleas, aliens. And the problem spread – soon, all across America holes were appearing on cars, even ones parked on sales lots.

Such was the problem that the authorities commissioned a study to identify the cause. Dutiful research was undertaken and the reports published to an eager, worried populace. Nothing had caused the holes, other than the usual wear and tear of driving around and being parked on busy streets – only five percent of holes and pits were caused by ‘delinquents’ who had jumped on the bandwagon as the story took hold. Everyone had become caught up in the idea and the ‘truth’ of the rumour and never stopped to ask ‘what is true’.

So that’s why we’ve all bought tons of toilet paper. Not because we need it, or because it’s running out, but because everyone else is, so we should too. Too few people have stopped and asked ‘what is true?’.

Find out more about how we work with organisations on culture here or get in touch to discuss your challenge.

By Anna Jester

In the wake of the global Coronavirus pandemic, many organisations are experiencing an almost entirely remote workforce. Jane Sparrow, founder of The Culture Builders and remote working expert, explains why teams have to create a third culture for effective virtual collaboration.  

For those of us who work remotely on a regular basis, we know that it’s not as easy as it may seem. The distractions are a plenty, it can be harder to feel motivated, human connection is dramatically reduced – and all of this has an impact on how effective we can be. 

So as we picture the reality and new norm of millions and millions of UK employees working from home, full time and for an extended period – it begs the question, what is this going to do to both people’s wellbeing and UK productivity? 

Just like when it snows, the first day or two of homeworking can feel quite fun – it’s different, you don’t have to get up as early, there’s no morning commute – but then the reality sets in and it can become a real challenge for people – especially with our children joining the working from home movement! 

We’ve long worked with clients to embed virtual working as a cultural norm but as the COVID-19 crisis deepens, cracking the remote working code is something businesses are prioritising. 

Creating a third culture

From the work that we do, we know that remote working can happen most effectively when people are really intentional about how they work in the virtual space – and clearly recognise that the space, albeit virtual, is shared. This means organisations and teams creating what we call a ‘third culture’ where they meet virtually to collectively work in a human, focused and productive way. 

Those of you who have worked with us before will be familiar with our three pillars of culture™  – what we believe, how we behave and the tools we use. The third culture is no different. It’s vital that teams spend time discussing firstly, what they believe to be important to make remote working successful and secondly contracting with each other on how we are going to work in line with those beliefs and principles – it’s only then that teams can make informed decisions about what virtual working tools will support them most effectively.

The remote working ecosystem 

Within this third culture, there are four key elements, all of which are complex and need thinking through. The four elements are 1) human needs (first and foremost), 2) team connection, 3) working structures and 4) focus and environment. And within each of those are an array of factors to consider. Every organisation and team is different so what is essential is that all of the ingredients for a high performing remote working culture are considered and the right mix is created. 

There’s hundreds of ideas and ways to support the remote working ecosystem but let me pull out one per element in a practical way.

Human needs – there is a human being behind every laptop at home and at the heart of being human is needing to feel valued. When we work remotely the opportunities for ‘thank yous’, ‘great jobs!’ and ‘high fives’ dramatically decrease so making sure managers dial up the appreciation is key.  A text, a quick video message or even a posted card to say ‘thanks because’ is gold to keep the workforce motivated. 

Team connection – when we’re working remotely, we lose the majority of our social connection with everyone from the security guard we say hello to in the morning to our team members and colleagues. Recreate this with daily virtual team huddles for 10 minutes in the morning – no set agenda, just a check in say hi, see how people are and what help they may need that day. 

Working structures – what works in the office may not work remotely. Instead of lengthy meetings, have short virtual huddles with a strong chair so people don’t get lost because they’re not physically visible. Adopting an approach where you go round and get a contribution from each person can also work well. Apply this thinking to team resourcing, scheduling and action planning. 

Focus and environment – for many people they will find themselves working in an environment that is very different and that potentially they are not used to. The trick is supporting people to use that to support their performance instead of hinder it. Personal rewards (e.g. a cup of tea and a healthy snack at 11am) are a great way to help people resist distraction and stay focused.  

The remote working trap

As all of you reading this will know, there are so many benefits of remote working, for both people and business spanning wellbeing, productivity and the environment. A possible upside of the COVD-19 situation is that it may prove the case for more flexible working within companies who have been slow to adopt it. 

However, many leaders, teams and companies come at remote working assuming that people will just do it well or adapt easily to it, if it’s new for them. The other thing we see a lot is businesses putting in a new or enhanced virtual working tool – and just expecting that to be the answer to success.   

We need to remember that we’re all human – and so dropping people into a totally different way of working with just a new video communication platform – it doesn’t work. We have to think about how we keep people feeling connected, that they’re still part of a team and that there’s still a strong support network in place.

Support at three levels 

For remote working to be effective, the third culture needs to be supported at three levels – leadership, team and individual. Leaders must be role modelling all of the right behaviours, teams must be working together to agree what success looks like for them and us, and as individuals, we have to create our own new working patterns and disciplines to protect both our productivity and more importantly, our wellbeing. 

A great example of this three tiered approach is China and Hong Kong based, global luxury fashion, beauty and lifestyle retailer, Lane Crawford, who we’ve been supporting through the eye of the Coronavirus storm.

Andrew Keith, the company’s president, says: “We’ve been developing people managers on how to support their remote teams, providing daily top tips and inspiration to keep people motivated and working intensively with the top team on role modelling essential behaviours for effective virtual working. I started a VLOG a number of months ago to have an emotional and direct connection with every one of my people, during such a difficult time, which has had a huge positive impact.”

There’s no doubt that there are more unprecedented challenges ahead. For many of you reading this, the eyes may well be on you to advise, plan and deliver an effective remote working support plan – my best advice is to be strategic, multi layered but most of all, human. 

For more tips and advice on remote working, you can listen to Jane’s podcast here or get in touch.