Development VS High performance management

Through coaching field hockey and getting to know a number of National Team coaches from all over the world, I learned that in coaching teams, development and high performance are considered two fields which require an entirely different approach. I found this significant, as before this experience, I was wrong in putting high performance coaching at a higher level of importance in comparison to development coaching. Through the years, I realized that the distinction between development and high performance is directly related to business performance. What follows in this article, is a selection of arguments and criteria to favor a culture of development prior to or in parallel with a culture of high performance for any business.

image borrowed from Investec hockey academy:

In coaching team sports, development involves the building of the necessary foundations on top of which the players can be asked to perform. Development of a sports team means developing the physical and social skills of individual players in such a way that they can understand what is needed of them and execute a plan of action with determination, collaboration and self discipline. Development also involves the introduction of individual players to a code of conduct and a mentality of team effort.

When there is underperformance in a development environment, managers or coaches will often tend to the needs of individual players by reaching far down into the roots of a problem and guide players through tough times or give advice about personal matters. In this environment, managers and leaders will dig down and pick up players and teams from any level and make them better than before. Developing a team, honestly sees failure as a lesson for the future. Successful development is always positive and understanding. It is accommodating. It provides players and teams with an environment in which they can grow and improve.

High performance however, sees individual physical and social skills as a prerequisite in order to compete with fellow team mates and earn an active place in every team effort. Underperformance in a high performance environment means underuse for a player that fails to deliver consistent results. A player is often, directly or indirectly punished for poor performance and if they do not soon make their effort evident during practice they may be expelled. High performance teams rely on the ability of management to keep all players at peak performance and for this purpose, they are known to utilize a number of tools to monitor and tweak the team from game to game and season to season.

You see, high performance cannot be attained without development, without the foundations on which to build. On the other hand, top results cannot be achieved without the high performance of the people involved. Then why is it wrong to place development and high performance in a hierarchy of importance? Because high performance leadership, would be irrelevant in a development environment. This is because players and teams are asked to deliver results that they are not qualified to deliver yet. They still lack necessary building blocks and mature foundations.

If you haven’t yet realized where this is going then please read on.

I have worked with many business owners, executives and managers. In most cases, leaders are very ambitious and determined to achieve high goals as it is their role to deliver the necessary results for a business to grow, compete and succeed. However, in most cases I have come across, leaders tend to drive businesses to failure because their demands are disproportionate to the performance level of their teams. High performance companies such as Google, Microsoft, Nike etc. make enormous investments in recruiting high performance professionals and high performance managers and leaders and rightfully so, as they compete at the highest level and the cost of failure is high.


But most businesses are not Google, Microsoft and Nike. Most businesses are small to medium sized businesses that build products and services that they constantly improve. Most businesses invest in teams that they can afford and make do with the people they have. In such environments, high performance leaders are irrelevant because the teams available have not reached a level of proficiency and consistency that can deliver the requested results.

In non high performance environments, a culture of development is necessary to inspire and guide teams to improve. Time and time again, businesses fail because they are unable to develop their people. Managers and leaders may be cute in meetings when they smile and convey smart one-liners about the value of mistakes and the friendly atmosphere but in the face of disappointment, they either swallow it and underperform themselves OR quickly blame, punish and humiliate their employees to their face or behind their backs, in private or in public. This is how employees lose interest, tensions brew and performance is lost. 

This does not mean that team members are never to blame, that they should never be evaluated and replaced or that managers should always treat their employees as toddlers. It means that companies should have mechanisms to balance their demands according to the performance of their team. It means that companies should not only invest money in their teams but also support and guidance, often individually.

The honest truth is that in most cases, companies don’t have the luxury of an HR department or set criteria about the way their managers should approach the matter of leadership. In most cases it comes down to the behavior of the owner/boss trying to bridge their ambitions with the results they pay other people to deliver. A culture of development can easily be scaled up. It should coincide with growth. Such a culture will strengthen team loyalty and determination. It will empower individuals to do their best every day and help small and medium sized businesses compete because business is about people and people are not machines (yet).

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