Have you got true grit? What really determines employee performance?

Let me ask you a question. Just how productive have you really been today?

Have you finished writing that report? Made those important phone calls? Ticked off all the urgent jobs on your list? Or are you feeling like the day has nearly gone and you haven’t really achieved much?

According to a recent article in the US-based ‘99% Newsletter’, if your performance has been a bit lack-lustre today it could simply be that you don’t have enough ‘grit’.

Writer Jocelyn Glei points out that when we talk about how productive employees have been, what we are really looking at is their level of self control. She argues that in today’s world of work, we have more freedom and flexibility than ever before. We can set our own goals, plan our own workloads and often choose when and from where we work.

This more fluid and less rigid way of working does, however, put our capacity for self control well and truly under the spotlight.

Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and a constant stream of emails and text messages are all there waiting to distract us from the task in hand. They stimulate the ‘seeking’ circuitry of our brain, fuelling our desire to search for even more interesting titbits of new information instead of concentrating on the job we set out to do.

Sound familiar? Of course the answer could be to switch off your phone, disable those email alerts or walk away from the computer until you’ve dealt with what’s important. But the article goes on to argue that a high level of self control is not the only predictor of outstanding achievement at work.

Harvard researcher Angela Duckworth studied 300 recognised geniuses to try and pin down the qualities behind their success. According to the report in ‘99%’, two key characteristics emerged:

“1. The tendency not to abandon tasks from mere changeability (i.e. not seeking something because of novelty) and
2. The tendency not to abandon tasks in the face of obstacles (perserverance, tenacity, doggedness).”

Duckworth put these two characteristics together to make a quality she describes as ‘grit’ – and then devised a test to try and measure it. It’s very simple on the surface – just a set of 12 questions that takes about three minutes to complete and requires you to rate yourself against statements such as “I finish whatever I begin” or “I often set a goal but later choose to pursue a different one”.

It has, however, proved to be an outstanding predictor of success when tested on people ranging from students to military recruits. Try it for yourself – or see how your team stack up. I’m not going to tell you where I came out – although the fact that I’ve just eaten all of the sweets left over from Halloween may give you an indication of where I sit on the self control scale…

Of course the interesting question that researchers are now pursuing is whether this ‘grit’ is an inbuilt ability or a quality that can be cultivated. If it’s the latter, the implications could be far-reaching, not just in the workplace but across all walks of life.

So what do you think? Is a lack of true grit holding us back or are there other ways we could be improving employee productivity?

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