All of us have personal or organizational challenges that we can’t resolve. After trying different solutions, we may see temporary improvements only to have the old problems resurface or worsen. This book by Steve Zaffron & Dave Logan presents Three Laws of Performance to help you address the root of the problems to remove them once and for all. These are derived from a range of scientific and research foundations, including the authors’ experiences with the Barbados Group, Landmark Education, the Vanto Group, USC, and CultureSync. In this free version of The Three Laws of Performance summary, we’ll outline the key highlights from the book.
The Three Laws of Performance: An Overview
We tend to solve problems by breaking them down, prioritizing the issues and tackling them one by one. Such piecemeal fixes only address the symptoms but not the underlying causes that perpetuate the problem. In fact, the solution for 1 problem often creates other problems. For example, to improve our financial performance, we cut budgets. People start to feel frustrated and demoralized; productivity drops and performance worsens. The way to break free from this vicious cycle is to adopt a system-wide perspective and change the context in which your actions are being taken.
Every person/organization has a “default future”. This is what we believe deep in our bones will happen, even if we can’t articulate it. Our past experiences shape our assumptions, hopes, fears, and beliefs. These determine how we interpret situations, events and people, which then affects how we respond to them. In the process, we unconsciously create our default future. Until we can see and change this default future, none of our fixes or solutions will work.
The Three Laws of Performance help us to recognize and rewrite our default future, thereby addressing all problems concurrently and transforming our results.
We’ll now explain what these Three Laws are, and briefly outline the implications for organizations and individuals. Do get the complete version of The Three Laws of Performance summary, where we’ve detailed how to apply these insights.
What are the Three Laws of Performance?
These laws are universal principles that affect all human beings. Like gravity, they govern our behaviors regardless of whether we’re aware of them or not. By understanding and applying these laws, you can dramatically elevate your personal/organizational performance. Here are the Three Laws of Performance in a nutshell:
1. Our Perceptions shape our Performance
The First Law states: “How people perform correlates to how situations occur to them”. In other words, your actions will perfectly match the way you see a situation. The facts don’t matter as much as our subjective interpretation of those facts.
This law explains why people behave the way they do, and sets the foundation for the other 2 laws. How a situation “occurs” to you depends on 2 key factors:
(i) How you interpret the past, or why you believe things are the way they are now; and
(ii) What you expect in the future, or the outcomes you expect from your current actions.
Most change initiatives backfire because they don’t address people’s perceptions. In fact, what you resist will persist. The harder you fight a problem, the more you amplify it. For example, employees in Company X are unhappy because they think the company is too profit-driven and treat people as money-making tools. Unless that perception is altered, any attempts at training or restructuring will fail since the employees will resist them as attempts at manipulation.
So, the first step toward transformation is to acknowledge your reality illusion, i.e. realize that you’re not seeing things as they are, but simply as they appear to you.
2. Our Language shapes our Perception
The Second Law states: “How a situation occurs, arises in language.” Most people don’t realize the profound impact of our language on our thoughts, feelings and behaviors. Language is much more than our spoken/written words. It also includes our body language, tone of voice, facial expressions, and other forms of self-expression (e.g. our clothes, pictures, drawings, music, and symbolic actions). Our language forms the basis upon which we experience our world, e.g. how we think of our dreams, goals, plans, past experiences, and our future.
What’s “unsaid but communicated” tends to have a much bigger impact on our performance than our spoken words. Our unspoken assumptions, fears, doubts, hopes, expectations, regrets, etc. affect what we consider to be possible, important, relevant, or appropriate.
To change your future, you must first change your language. In our complete version of The Three Laws of Performance summary , we’ll explain the 4 elements of rackets (the destructive patterns that we unknowingly repeat), how they hinder great relationships and results, and how to overcome them.
3. You can Shift Perceptions using Generative Language
The Third Law states: “Future-based language transforms how situations occur to people.”
There’s a difference between descriptive vs generative language. Descriptive language describes past events, issues, data etc. It’s useful for looking backward to spot trends or to analyze what happened. Future-based language (or generative language) can be used to craft a totally new vision that replaces the default future. When Benjamin Franklin invented the word “America”, he projected a new reality where 13 warring colonies were united as a single nation. Martin Luther King Jr. used his speech “I have a dream” to paint a compelling picture of a future without racial segregation.
You can’t paint a new future if your canvas is already full. You need to create space and ideally start on a blank page. In our full 16-page summary, we (i) elaborate on the 3 parts required to create space, followed by (ii) a case study of the Polus Group to illustrate all 3 Laws at work.
Applying the Three Laws of Performance
The rest of the book addresses how to apply the 3 laws at an organizational level and a personal level. Here’s a quick overview–do get the detailed break down in our full version of The Three Laws of Performance summary.
Rewrite your Organization’s Future with 3 Leadership Corollaries
Leaders can rewrite their organizations’ future using 3 corollaries that correspond with the Three Laws.
- The 1st corollary says: “Leaders have a say, and give others a say, in how situations occur.” In other words, perceptions affect performance, and great leaders shape perceptions to improve performance.
- The 2nd corollary says: “Leaders master the conversational environment.” Great leaders see and manage the network of conversations in their organization.
- The 3rd corollary says: “Leaders listen for the future of their organization.” They create the space and processes so everyone can explore, debate and co-author the future.
Mastering the Game of Personal Performance
You can also use the Three Laws to rewrite your personal future. As you make your personal transformations, you’ll also create ripple effects on others around you. This involves 3 parts:
- Exercise self-leadership to truly take charge of all aspects of your life, from your life direction to your relationships. In our complete summary, we’ll explain how past events shaped your current persona and how you can break free from that.
- Aim to master the Three Laws. As you do so, you’ll go through 4 milestones–more details in the full version of The Three Laws of Performance summary, including tips for managing the process.
- Break the performance barrier with 7 commitments.
Getting the Most from The Three Laws of Performance
In this article, we’ve briefly outlined some of the key insights and strategies you can use to achieve desired change. For more examples, details, and actionable tips to apply these strategies, do get our complete book summary bundle which includes an infographic, 16-page text summary, and a 28-minute audio summary.
The Three Laws are relatively abstract, and the authors originally presented the ideas in 8 chapters over 3 parts in the book. We’ve re-organized the overlapping concepts into the 2 main sections above. The book also includes several other examples—such as Lonmin, BHP New Zealand Steel, Petrobras, and Northrop Grumman—to show how leaders, organizations and communities applied the Three Laws to change their language and rewrite their default futures. Do get a copy of the book for the full works, or check out more details at threelawsofperformance.com.
About the Authors of The Three Laws of Performance
The Three Laws of Performance: Rewriting the Future of Your Organization and Your Life is written by Steve Zaffron & Dave Logan.
Steve Zaffron is founder of Vanto Group, an organizational performance consulting firm. He’s a graduate of the University of Chicago and Cornell University, and has consulted with hundreds of organizations in 20 countries. He is also an executive and board member of Landmark Worldwide.
Dave Logan is co-founder and senior partner emeritus at CultureSync, a management consulting firm. He’s also a member of the USC Marshall School of Business faculty. He has authored or coauthored 5 five books, and has a Ph.D. in Organizational Communication from the Annenberg School at USC.
The Three Laws of Performance Quotes
“Rewrite the future, and old problems disappear.”
“You live into your default future, unaware that by doing so you are making it come about.”
“Our actions relate to how the world occurs to us, not to the way it actually is.”
“Whatever you resist, persists.”
“When we give something up, forgive, are forgiven, a new space opens up.”
“Someday never comes. There is only now.”
“Once we learn language, we can never again see the world without its influence.”