For any organisation, a culture of high-performance is driven by human nature – that is, the beliefs, behaviours and personalities of managers and their people. Teams are made up of a diverse range of individuals, each with his or her own distinct needs and motivations. These factors largely determine an employee’s level of engagement and performance at work.
The best managers have the capacity to tap into an individual’s potential and foster an engaged workforce. It’s our responsibility to scout for talent and assign people with the roles and responsibilities best suited to their skillset. On the flip side, when an individual is underperforming, it’s also up to us to take action, starting with the confronting question: Who’s failing who?
All too often, when staff issues arise, managers either overreact or underreact. We assume that the problem is a single individual’s fault and penalise that person, or we sweep the problem under the rug, in the hope that it goes away.
To be an effective leader, we know we need to take action, but are we taking the right action?
Before we jump to the conclusion that the problem is an individual’s fault, we need to challenge ourselves to make sure we're not failing our employees.
For the most part, people want to do the right thing, deliver value and contribute positively to the workplace. However, employees sometimes find themselves in a difficult situation which fails both them and the company.
Before taking action and reprimanding the individual, ask yourself the following questions:
Am I making my expectations clear?
The best managers provide their people with clear and concise expectations, so that individuals know exactly what is expected of them. This helps to avoid miscommunication and disappointment when goals are not reached.
Am I providing the necessary support and guidance?
To help people excel in their roles, it’s crucial to provide ongoing support and guidance. Be present, accessible and understanding of the needs of others.
Am I providing the individual with the tools to succeed?
Problems arise when managers fail to provide the necessary level of support for individuals. A holistic support structure equips people with the training, tools and attention they need to succeed.
Am I providing regular, clear and precise feedback?
Often we fail to provide the necessary feedback to allow individuals to know how they're performing against expectations and what they can do to improve.
Have I placed this individual in the right role?
To capitalise on an individual’s strengths, capabilities and interests, finding the right role is fundamental. Often we push individuals into the wrong roles and then reprimand them for not meeting our expectations.
A common example of misaligned expectations is when managers promote people with the most technical experience into leadership positions. We don't stop to ask ourselves if they're the best person for these roles, whether they actually want them, and whether they truly understand the expectations of the position we assign them. This makes it difficult to effectively guide and support these individuals as they transition into their new roles.
Only once we have challenged ourselves with difficult questions and can confidently answer each one in the affirmative should we question the performance of the individual. At the same time, we need to maximise our own skillsets and behaviours to build healthier, happier workplaces for our people and lessen the risk of underperformance.
Checklist for thought leaders
Motivate others to take action
The best leaders motivate and inspire employees to take action and maximise their potential. Aim to engage your people with an exciting mission, vision and sense of purpose in their individual roles. Ensure employees are aligned with the goals of the organisation.
Be confident and assertive
Be present for your people. Show them empathy and understanding, while also demonstrating that you are a confident and assertive leader. If you are sure of yourself and take initiative, your people will feel reassured that you are looking after them, and place their trust in you.
Be accountable for yourself and others
As a leader, you are accountable not only to yourself, but to your team and the overall organisation. Build a workplace culture grounded in trust, open dialogue and transparency. When you make decisions, ensure that they are in the best interests of everyone and based on productivity, not politics.