Three Lessons Pop Culture Can Teach Us About Management

Lessons from Bastille’s Reorchestrated

We’re a music family and happen to love the music of Bastille, a band out of the UK that defies traditional genres. We’ve seen them twice on tour (sigh…remember the pre-COVID concert days…) and can sing along to almost all of their songs. So when they released a documentary following their journey to date and capturing the strangeness of the music industry during the pandemic, I was all in. Thank you, Amazon Prime, for a great Friday evening experience.


As I watched, however, a seemingly insignificant part completely stopped me in my tracks.  


Keyboardist Kyle Simmons begins to share how as the band’s fame (and abilities) rose over time, he found himself in a tricky situation. A situation many of us can relate to. His current skills were not cutting it for the band’s needed talent.  


Lead singer and music visionary, Dan Smith, is heard sharing his vision for more; to push harder, further, to not become complacent. When it would have been easier to just crank out more pop (or indie??) hits and keep raking in the money, Smith shows his true creative self by not settling (or selling out) and decides to bring in an orchestra and choir ensemble to transform some of their popular hits. Suddenly the members of Bastille were surrounded by impeccably trained musicians who all but came out of the womb playing Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony.


I’d be intimidated too.  


The rawness, and authenticity, of Simmons’ interview is captivating. He admits, openly and honestly, that his current skill and talent is not enough and it was holding back the band and this new, innovative, and visionary approach.


And what happens next are leadership and management lessons I hope every organization everywhere gets one day. It’s our mission at Performance Culture – to help build better teams for better results. While this sounds awesome, far too few know how to accomplish this.


Here are three lessons pop culture can teach us about management. 


Lesson #1: Coach Before Replacing


Above-average does not yield truly great. The best musicians, actors, CEOs, and athletes are all extraordinary and produce extraordinary results.  Similar to professional athletes, if musicians are not cutting it in bands, they are simply replaced.  


Simmons acknowledges this in his confession and then reveals Management Lesson #1 – Lead singer Smith coaches him instead of replacing him.


The documentary gives us a glimpse into the coaching conversation between Smith and Simmons and we watch how Smith encourages, but pushes, Simmons in musical excellence. “No, no, you can do it. Just take it back and… You can do this.”  


Smith doesn’t give up on Simmons and believes in him FOR him. Sometimes we need someone to believe in us when we don’t. When your employee is missing the mark, do the hard work to investigate why. Observe your employee, bring your experience and skills to the table and identify what the employee is missing, what extra training he or she needs, and sometimes, what faith and encouragement he or she needs in order to keep going.


But let me clear – this is not a call to excuse continued underperformance. We observe this all too often in the field as well, and it is just as damaging to organizations and their teams. The Performance-Values Matrix provides clarity in these situations that can aid managers with identifying when to slow down and provide extra training, and when to examine if the employee truly has the acumen to do the job.

Performance-Values Matrix circling potential quadrant


In Bastille’s case, Simmons, once a star when the band was starting out, found himself later in the “potential” (low performance, high values) quadrant. This leads us to the second Pop Culture Management Lesson.


Lesson #2: Coach Up, or Out.


This is an interesting concept we explored in our webinar “Data Driven Decisions: Making Performance Management More Than Just Another To-Do”. People readily understand our argument that the High Performance, Low Values Match (aka, Brilliant Jerk) is toxic and dangerous for your culture, but we also tolerate Low Performance, High Values Match longer than we should.  


And we often do this when there has been a history of tenure where employees have been with us, sometimes from the early days, and helped us get to where we are. Certainly loyalty matters, and should weigh more heavily if you desire your organization to plateau and stop growing (and eventually decline or outright be eliminated since market pressures will always exist).  


For employees who are in effect picking up the slack of the underperformer, disengagement threatens their willingness to continue performing themselves. The incentive for doing so is lost because of the unspoken, but very loud message that loyalty or tenure trumps performance.


Compare the two matrices below. The one on the left represents the early days of an organization. If the right fundamentals were practiced, the team (represented by the scatterplot) should have trended up and to the right, High-High match. Congratulations, you have created a performance culture.


Which means your “pie slice” of market share got bigger. You’re producing more output, growing your share price, attracting more fans to your shows. Your “Y-axis” has grown.  


Enter the matrix on the right. Your “X-axis” stays the same because it is your culture, represented by the repeated behaviors in your organization (which translates into your true core values). Your X-axis (culture) is your foundation, which underpins your organization’s performance.


The stakes are now higher. Performance must rise to new levels in order to maintain and continue growing at this new level. There are perks to this rise, of course.  It is not merely more (or smarter) work. Opportunities now exist for everyone associated with the organization that did not exist before.  


So to maintain and capitalize on these new opportunities, employees must also rise with the rising Y-axis. Their talents, competencies, knowledge, and skills must grow and deliver better results over time.  


If they cannot keep up with the rising tide, they risk falling from stardom and eventually being replaced with someone who can keep up.


Side by side growing Performance Values Matrix


So now we have a potential conundrum: finding the balance between coaching before replacing and holding employees accountable to continued high performance. Enter Pop Culture Management lesson #3.


Lesson #3:  Create a Culture of Accountability


Getting back to the more interesting music documentary, we find Simmons at a pivotal point – he can either let the weight of the talent around him crush him, or he can put in the extra work in order to keep up. Which is what he does. Because lesson #1 was not lost on him, (lead singer Smith’s willingness to coach him and believe in him), Simmons is inspired to work harder, coming in early to rehearsals and staying later in order to keep refining his skills and growing in order to be a beneficial member of the band.  


Oh but if all team members were like this… I know, I can hear you now. But there is a way to create more scenarios like this. And it starts with leadership, top-down.  


If you’ve followed Performance Culture for any length of time, you’ve probably heard us recite the three tenants of an effective leader:


  1. Earn the will of the team (by leading by example)
  2. Communicate clearly and wisely
  3. Hold self and others accountable.


This is why we built the Performance Culture Software. Leaders and managers need a tool to create a baseline of behaviors and a way to track performance over time. And they need a way to clearly communicate with their employees and maintain a “sacred” time of coaching throughout the year.  We built our Check-ins specifically for this.


When clear expectations have been defined, and they are updated over time as the stakes get higher, chances increase that employees understand what is expected of them and managers have a clear measuring stick with which to guide them.  


And managers should be empowered. They should be trained, but not micromanaged in their leadership skills. Provide them tools such as the Performance Culture System with automatic reminders and places for coaching notes and behavioral and communication assessments. Inspect their rating methodology and train them on how to calibrate and reduce rater bias (see our webinar on how to effectively do this). Give them a PROPER span of control so they can actually manage and not merely “administrate.” And give them an example. We cannot expect managers to lead others effectively if no one is leading them well.


Bastille’s documentary gave us a brilliant display of team chemistry and the excellence that can abound when coaching and a culture of accountability exist. Music has inspired and moved us from the dawn of time. It can also inspire how we lead our organizations to greatness, fulfilling the mission and vision set before us.

Are you interested in providing your team with effective performance management tools that will set them up for success? Request your free demo of the Performance Culture people management software and get started today.

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