There is a striking ‘work list’ that went viral a couple of years ago. Under the heading “10 Things That Require Zero Talent”, the creator wrote of actions we can all take to improve our work performance immediately and without any financial cost or training.

Nothing included on the list is revolutionary – Being on Time, Work Ethic, Effort, Body Language, Energy, Attitude, Passion, Being Coachable, Doing Extra, and Being Prepared. All very sensible, and all traits and characteristics that employers, managers, and executive recruiters love to recognise… and very often reward!

Talent or consistency

That list came to mind again when Justin Roethlingshoefer joined us for a brilliant episode of the 1% podcast in April 2022. A performance coach to elite athletes and executives, a bestselling author, and respected entrepreneur, Justin was a Performance Director at the National (Ice) Hockey League (NHL) in the US for over ten years – an experience that shaped his current areas of research and focus in ways that he didn’t quite expect.

Early on in the episode, Justin says the following: “Talent will get you noticed, consistency gets you paid.” Simple, and yet quite profound – especially in today’s world where talent seems, on the surface at least, to be what secures the high-end roles and accompanying salary and benefits package.

Justin explained that the comment was made to him as a young boy when he returned home after a performance that was not up to his usual standards in a hockey match. His father’s advice struck him deeply and led the aspiring athlete down a path of seeking to understand as much as possible about everything within his own control and what actually and practically impacted his capabilities on the ice each and every game.

Heart rate variability

Unfortunately for us all, there is no magic solution to consistent performance – be it on the sporting field, in the workplace, or elsewhere. Everyone’s capabilities are unique, but Justin has identified Heart Rate Variability (HRV) and how it changes as a person responds to stresses around them as an effective indicator of improvement potential.

Working with his research team, he has gone on to develop a framework of eight ‘controllables’ that help to positively affect a person’s HRV and, in turn, deliver more consistent performance. You can read more about Justin’s thinking and how HRV can be monitored here.

No ‘controllable’ on this list will be brand new to regular readers of our 1% Extra articles. However, their effectiveness lies in the consistent implementation of small, yet sustainable changes under each of the headings. What’s the one thing you can do to improve your nutrition this week? It can be as easy as preparing your breakfast or lunch the night before when you’ve more time to consider what is suitable rather than what is convenient, and then making that part of your weekly habits.  

Simple processes and being persistent in following them as part of an established and regular routine will benefit your performance in the longer term. And we already know some of this to be true in our own lives – we feel better when we eat well, a regular sleep routine is encouraged for adults as well as children, and we’ve often heard about the importance of drinking water as well as regular exercise and movement in our life.

Think of it within a work context. The processes and checks we put in place within project management methodologies are there to ensure that outcomes and quality standards are achieved regularly in work. Getting relevant structures in place, having robust review processes, and a mechanism to respond to blockers are several of the key components in any good project, and have a direct and telling impact on the final outputs and outcomes.

Incremental improvements

All eight “controllables” listed are considerations that we have the ability to change and improve at our own pace. And that’s the central argument of Justin and his team of researchers: attaining consistent performance and improving our individual capabilities generally is much more about focusing on ourselves and making incremental improvements rather than trying to influence broader factors outside of our sphere of control.

To make changes, awareness or a deep understanding of our strengths and capabilities is essential, but so, too, is not trying to transform your entire work life in one sweeping overhaul. People who are perceived as ‘greats’ – be it in sport, business, leadership – tend to have an innate awareness of their ability, a motivation to forge ahead into new territory, while also being curious and eternal students. These traits, though, are frequently matched by discipline, consistency, and adaptability.

None of our elite athletes or respected business leaders are slouches that fell into their career path by accident – they’ve found an effective balance between capacity and the capability to deliver time and again. As Justin remarks on the 1% podcast, “the world of average is full of talent”. What separates average performers from those recognised as amongst the “greats” though is consistency as well as the ability to “level up” or push themselves forwards to achieve even more. As employers and recruiters, it’s also our responsibility to ensure we reward those that deliver consistently!