Author Marc Effron on why it’s OK to embrace ‘faking it’ in the office

Did this headline make you think, “Whoa, whoa, whoa, since when is ‘faking it’ ever a good idea at work?” Hold on, before you brush off this idea, it’s worth recognizing that there’s a lot more to it than meets the eye – and it could even be one of the keys to thriving in your own career.

Marc Effron, President and Co-Founder of The Talent Strategy Group, explains why the best employees are comfortable embracing “faking it” — over authenticity — in his new book, 8 Steps to High Performance: Focus On What You Can Change (Ignore the Rest), available on August 7.

Effron gave Ladders a snapshot into the world of the highest performing employees, including the role personalities play into how we fare at work, how to forge better relationships with colleagues, and how sometimes, we obstruct our own success.

Effron on what people should take away from the 8 steps necessary for high performance

The great news in 8 Steps is that anyone can be a high performer if they follow what’s scientifically proven to improve performance. I think most people want to be high performers but there’s so much confusing and poor-quality advice on the topic that most people have no idea where to start.

Readers should take from the book both inspiration that the high-performance journey is possible and specific advice about how to make it happen.

On how “the Fixed 50%” and “the Flexible 50%” influence us

Many of us don’t understand the large impact our Fixed 50 (personality, intelligence, etc.) has on our performance or how to use the Flexible 50 (goals, behaviors, development, etc.) to better control their performance. One common example is when a leader claims that they can’t change their behavior – they say “That’s just who I am.” They’re right that our personality sets a baseline for how we behave (the Fixed 50%), each of us still has 100% control over our behaviors (the Flexible 50%).

In that situation, the leader can use the Fixed and Flexible 50 together to better understand and change those behaviors. For example, they may discover that they have a personality that makes them naturally introverted. That’s Fixed 50% and they can’t change that. This means that they’ll need to consciously try to connect with others and get comfortable ‘faking’ more extroverted behaviors. Those are Flexible 50% actions and they completely control them. It will take practice for them to become better at those behaviors and they may never feel “natural,” but a high performer recognizes that it’s this type of hard work that differentiates the best.

On the importance of “faking it” at work

While popular management fads say that you should ‘focus on your strengths’ and be an authentic leader, high performers chart a different path. They know that success means that different strengths will be needed as they grow their careers and that the ‘authentic’ them might not always be the most effective ‘them’ to show! You’ll need to ‘fake’ the behavior that doesn’t come naturally to you.

There are two phases in your career where you may need to fake different behaviors to succeed. When you’re emerging as a leader, it’s important to call attention to your work so that people know who you are and where you excel. Once you’re established as a leader, you need to subjugate your ego to these needs of others so that you can get work done through and with them. These two states can’t simultaneously be strengths and neither state might be the authentic you.

High performers recognize that it’s far more important to fake the behaviors that drive high performance than to show everyone the ‘authentic’ them.

On the biggest thing people get wrong about high performance

The largest misconception about high performance is that we’re measured against an absolute, not a relative, standard. A high performer is someone who consistently delivers better results and behaviors, on an absolute and relative basis, than 75% of their peers.

“Consistently” means that you regularly do those things. “Relative” means that your performance must be better than others’, not just better than the goal. If you exceed your goal and all your peers far exceed the same goal, that’s great. But, you’re still underperforming compared to others.

We all like to think we’re high performers because we do a good job at work. That means that ‘doing a good job’ is average performance, not high performance.”

On “getting out of your own way”

We undermine our effort at high performance when we demonstrate some very typical biases. This isn’t about others getting in the way of our performance, but about us getting in our own way. To get out of our way we need to recognize and avoid those biases. They include:

  • We externalize failure: We’re prone to give ourselves credit for our successes and blame others for our failures. This self-serving bias makes it difficult for us to honestly assess our performance and behaviors.
  • We mistakenly assign intent to others’ actions: “Mary did that to make me look bad in the meeting!” is an example of how we assign a purpose to others’ actions, even though Mary likely didn’t think about you at all when she said it. It’s called fundamental attribution error; it can damage relationships and erode the interpersonal trust that supports our performance.
  • We ignore information that can help us perform: Our brain works against us because it seeks out information that reinforces our self-image and ignores information that doesn’t. That’s called confirmation bias; it can give us a very inaccurate view of how we behave and perform and how others perceive us.

On being “a transformational leader:”

You can be a transformational leader and not being transforming anything! Transformation leadership a way of leading that includes:

  • Connecting: Show genuine concern for employees; they’re able to personally connect with them even if they don’t directly manage them.
  • Innovating: Push their team to create novel solutions and take risks.
  • Inspiring: Offer a compelling vision and encourage employees to perform at higher levels.
  • Modeling: Act consistently with their vision and the goals they’ve set for others.

While none of those actions is difficult, doing all of them well is no small challenge. And, doing them well is proven to increase your team’s engagement and performance.

On how we can connect better with coworkers and elsewhere in our industries

The first step is to recognize that connecting better is a proven way to increase your performance at work. That means that you should build strong relationships within and outside your company. Many people are afraid to do this and a recent research article explains why. It said that many “people struggle first and foremost with the idea of networking as futile, threatening or morally questionable.”

The science says that it’s incredibly effective, not futile; you can decide for yourself if it’s morally questionable. Start by mapping the relationships you have with your boss, your key peers and high performers in your group. The strength of these relationships, especially with your manager, will influence if you’re considered a high performer. On a 1-5 scale, rate your relationship strength with each and create a plan for improving any relationship you rate at 3 or below. Start by grabbing a coffee with that person and getting to know them better personally.

Outside the office, you’ll want to connect with the most influential leaders in your field. When influential leaders know you and like you, they’ll connect you with others in their field. That widening network will come in handy when you need insights, research or connections to help deliver a big project or are looking for your next opportunity.

Use trade magazines or blogs to identify those leaders. Write them a note asking them to coffee (if they’re local) or a quick call if they’re not. Let them know that you’re not looking for a job, just for them to share their experience on a key industry question.