STRONG SUIT: Some thoughts about performance
Free association is a technique that I frequently use when teaching about communications. In an exercise, I ask members of a diverse group to write down, without censorship, everything that comes to mind when they see or hear a particular word. Today, that word is performance.
My immediate associations brought forth images of athletes, dancers, singers, musicians, and actors doing their thing before audiences. With this came episodes of being in audiences and experiencing the effects of the performers’ efforts; particularly those that exhibited great skill, innovation and collaboration.
I also thought of observing enormous crowds of people at events such as the Olympics, large concerts and seeing their anticipation, interaction with each other and the performers and then, tumultuous responses.
These images and recollections caused me to think of the preparation, practice and perseverance needed to perform at a high level. Even those who performed as part of a team or ensemble were required to develop their skills on their own before being considered for membership in the performing group. This is often augmented by formative coaching that becomes a fixture throughout their performing lives. The dedication, discipline and sense of purpose had to be measurably evident.
My own efforts in certain of these endeavours fell well short of what was required at an elite level but paid dividends when applied to areas where I can excel. Foremost among those lessons is the need for practice that is disciplined, focused on improvement and applied to a standard.
Then came the rehearsals, with the score, script and other definitions of what we were trying to achieve. There were directors, choreographers, and other leaders whose job was to shape nuance, signal emphasis, provide corrective feedback and harmonise the parts into something inspiring for performers and audiences alike.
Functioning organisations, whether businesses, government, not-for-profit, NGOs, agencies, etcetera, have requirements for performance. Just as in an orchestra, a theatrical production or a team sport, the need for defined direction (musical score, script, game plan), an interpretive leadership and rehearsal must be present for inspirational outcomes.
Barbados and the region have a reputation for poor implementation. Implementation is in the purest sense, performance. Consider the initial performer groups that came to mind and ask: what is an acceptable margin for error for those who can attract large audiences, vast sums of money, and our trust?
In competitive sports, who would expect a cricket batsman to score runs on every ball, or the bowler to take a wicket on every ball? In a collaborative group like a band, choir, theatrical cast, the margin for error will be lower than the former group. However, for surgeons, airline pilots, architects and captains at sea; we expect near perfection since so many lives are at stake. Each of these groups is subjected to continuous external scrutiny with testing at regular intervals.
When assessing the performance of government and its agencies, what would we allocate as an appropriate margin of error? Where are the key performance factors identified in the performances that inspire us?
Are we simply spectators and commentators in the arena of political theatrics? The current retrenchment exercise has a widely publicized timetable and performance targets. How many of us believe this will actually occur as planned? How many believe we will experience a performance that is inspiring?