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Cultivating a Culture of Curiosity—The First Phase of Performance

Jason Diamond Arnold

February 19, 2019

Spend any time with a child under 7 years of age and you are certain to experience the wonders and newness of life. The one fundamental truth about children, and all human beings who seek new challenges is that we are naturally curious about the world and the activities we engage in.

As children, we’re curious–it’s how we grow and learn–but as we “mature” that sense of wonder starts to escape us. Through years of formal education, we are taught to test, rather than inspired to learn--and learning is rooted in curiosity. Albert Einstein urged us to “never lose a holy curiosity,”

By the time we get to the workplace, we seem to have unlearned our nature to be curious and this is can have a negative impact on how we perform as individuals and organizations.

Engaging our natural sense of curiosity is fundamental to how we initiate our passion to pursue our objectives and perform at a high level. A sense of curiosity is linked to higher levels of innovation, engagement, and productivity.

Simply determining the time needed to accomplish a #goal can be tedious, but this is a necessary step in #planning for any sized goal. Learn more about using your available resources during this process from @InspireSoftware:Tweet This!

Today’s leadership challenge is to cultivate a culture of curiosity when we as individuals, leaders, and teams pursue business initiatives and objectives that will improve products or services. Engaging curiosity is a fundamental first step in the process of pursuing goals and effective leaders know how to draw this natural instinct out of the employees and projects they are attempting to influence.

5 Phases of Performance

The authors of Leadership Genius, a comprehensive, researched-based leadership curriculum, have identified 5 Phases of Performance every employee, team, or organization goes through in the pursuit of a goal or business strategy. There are two key indicators of an employee, team, or organization’s Phase of Performance toward an objective--their Ability to achieve the goal and the Energy they are experiencing toward the pursuit of the goal. Depending on how high or low their Ability or Energy will then determine the phase of performance they are experiencing.

The first phase an employee, team, or organization will experience in the pursuit of a goal is the Curious Phase of Performance. Our natural instinct as individuals or teams is to ask questions and gain clarity about the objective we are setting out to achieve. How, what, when, or why are we pursuing this goal?

Low Ability

Even if an individual or team has achieved similar goals in the past, the dynamics of pursuing a new goal can offer new challenges to their knowledge and skills.

“Individuals typically begin with lower levels of ability to achieve a new goal, even if their transferable skills and knowledge will help them in the pursuit of the goal,” says Dr. Drea Zigarmi, co-author of Achieve Leadership Genius. “It’s important for individuals and leaders to recognize the newness of the goal.” Acknowledging low ability toward achieving a goal is not a bad thing. In fact, acknowledging your ability toward an objective is low allow for the opportunity to engage your curiosity about the objective pursuing. Curiosity about the objective helps to build further skills and knowledge and allows you to gain greater insights while increasing your odds of effectively advancing to the achievement of the goal.

High Energy

The very nature of pursuing something new elicits high levels of energy and willingness to perform at a high level. Whether it is enthusiasm or anxiety toward the uncertainty of what you’re about to engage in, it’s important to continually assess your energy toward a goal.

“Individuals and teams typically begin pursuing a goal with high levels of energy and excitement induced by the curiosity and uncertainty of what’s ahead,” says Zigarmi. “It’s important to recognize the type of energy you’re experiencing toward a goal, no matter what phase you're in, but it’s particularly important to understand your motivation to pursue a goal in the beginning.”

When launching a new goal with an employee or team, leaders should consider the following:

How can I assist the team or individual in determining the time and effort needed to accomplish this goal?

Simply determining the time needed to accomplish a goal can be tedious, but this is a necessary step in planning for any sized goal. Be sure to use all available resources during this phase of a goal. The team will likely be enthusiastic and want to dive right into making the goal a reality, but don’t allow yourself to speed through the Curious Phase which can be incredibly productive and exciting. The more you cultivate and encourage curiosity in this stage, the better foundation the team and individuals will have moving forward toward a common objective.

As for effort needed, be realistic with yourselves. Every project will face setbacks and roadblocks. Embrace this fact from the start. Celebrate the learning you will experience for any future setbacks and inspire the team to stretch themselves in pursuit of the goal you’re setting out to achieve together. This practice early on in a goal can have a deep and lasting effect on a team’s sustained motivation and performance to complete a goal. Prepare for these moments and discuss an action plan with the team, so when they do occur, you aren’t caught off guard.

How can I minimize the stress of the team at this time?

After considering the time and effort needed to accomplish the goal individuals or the team may feel overwhelmed and stressed. Break up a larger goal into mini or agile goals to help your team see a clear path of how the large goal can be accomplished over time. Each time an agile goal is achieved it should be celebrated and recognized as a contribution to the larger goal you are pursuing.

Another way to reduce stress in the Curious Phase is not rushing through it. Allow the team to bounce ideas off one another. Create a space that cultivates creativity and collaboration by supporting all contributions regardless of how realistic they might be. Not all contributions will have an effect on the final product, but what is created in these sessions will be worth the time.

The Curious Phase of #Performance is a time full of excitement and promise. @InspireSoftware shows you how to move through this phase in the most efficient way possible:Tweet this!

How can I focus the team’s enthusiasm and stretch it into the future?

The enthusiasm experienced in the Curious Phase is encouraging, but unfocused enthusiasm can be fleeting. Leaders should attempt to focus and extend these feelings to other phases of performance by continually monitoring progress and celebrating even the smallest of accomplishments. Recognizing outstanding team members for their commitment is another way to keep employees engaged and focused on the business objective you’re trying to collectively achieve.


How can I prepare the team for the next phase, the Confronting Phase?

The Curious Phase can often be brief. Don’t get taken by surprise when your team begins to show signs of moving into the next phase of performance, the Confronting Phase. Prepare yourself and your team by pacing your energy and anticipating competing priorities and unexpected challenges as a natural part of the process of pursuing any goal.

Cultivate Curiosity

As the world continues to transition from the industrial age into the knowledge age, curiosity is and will continue to be fundamental to engaging our psychological needs as humans and inspire our ability to consistently perform at a high level. The Curiosity Phase is a time full of excitement and promise. Understanding your responsibilities as a leader will set your team up for success in achieving a goal efficiently. Today’s leaders need to cultivate a culture of curiosity by inspiring their employees, teams, and organizations to explore the possibilities and excitement of pursuing their goals.

Learn more about how to effectively achieve your goals with the 5 Practices of Leadership Whitepaper.

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