An overview of performance leadership
Performance leadership, for the most part, is an active process. There is evidence that the most successful leaders of high performance individuals and teams spend a large part of their time in brief informal meetings. By doing this, they can gather information, facilitate action when something is wrong, let everyone know that they’re aware of what’s happening and that they care and will help make sure things go well. Although formal meetings and reviews are a necessity in the workplace, effective leadership doesn’t depend on them. Effective leadership takes place between these formal sessions and consists of informal and supportive gatherings in which performance is openly discussed, positive reinforcement is given, and problems are discussed and addressed. Here are some guidelines.
1. Keep in touch with reality
This may mean walking around, or it may mean arranging brief one-to-one or team meetings from time to time. In any case, when people work for you it’s your job to be aware of what they’re doing, how they’re doing it and what you can do to help.
2. Explore situations and only state the facts
This is about using your observation and listening skills to best effect. When exploring issues of performance, in the first instance adopt an accurate descriptive stance rather than an evaluative one.
3. State the variance. Compare progress against objectives
Regularly remind yourself and your team of what your objectives are. State them as clearly and precisely as possible using numerical measures when you can. This helps you determine whether you have a problem and, if you have, how big it is. It also lets you see when the work is going well.
4. Encourage input
Make sure you listen carefully to your team members’ interpretations of what’s happening and what the causes are. You may have your own opinions, but they shouldn’t diminish your ability to hear others. Above all, don’t take a stance before you’ve heard all sides.
5. Provide ongoing support
In many cases there won’t be any problems but you still have a job to do here, i.e. to give an honest pat on the back when it’s warranted. Thereafter, see what you can do to ensure continued success. You may also want to look toward the future and plan for coming changes. If problems do exist, your support is needed.
6. If there is a problem, encourage ownership
Most people are reluctant to see themselves as a cause of poor performance. The problem always lies with someone else, some flaw in the system, or an unlucky break. Fortunately, however, people do usually play an important role in causing their own troubles. This is fortunate because it’s easier to correct our own behaviour than that of outsiders. Therefore, you need to encourage team members to see their own contributions to presenting problems and so create the conditions in which they may develop a strong motivation for self-correction. Of course when circumstances outside of the team contribute to causes these should also be recognised and dealt with.
7. Give corrective feedback
It’s invariably helpful for team members to hear a dispassionate and external view of performance. Unfortunately, it’s usually harder to give feedback about problem situations than to praise what’s going well. As leaders, you’ll have an easier time if you make your feedback:
Behavioural – Remember that your aim is to make sure the work is done well. Therefore, keep the focus on the work behaviour, not on what you imagine are the underlying personality characteristics. For example, if James is arriving late to work, you should say, ‘James, you’re twenty minutes late.’ Don’t say, ‘James, you’re clearly not committed to your job.’
- Specific – The more specifically you can talk about behaviour, the more helpful it is. For example, it’s only partially helpful to say, ‘James, you’ve been coming in late for the last few weeks.’ It’s more helpful to say, ‘James, you were twenty minutes late to work last Tuesday, and fifteen minutes late on Thursday and Friday. Today you’re twenty minutes late.’
- Recent – It’s of little help to recount behaviour that happened long ago. The team member has probably forgotten all about it and, in any case, can’t do anything about it. Focus on what’s happened recently. Don’t say, ‘James, I’ve been meaning to tell you that I didn’t like you coming in late to work during January.’ (It’s now April.) Do say, ‘James, you’re twenty minutes late this morning.’
- Feasible – There’s no point in berating a team member about something they have no control over. Don’t say, ‘James, you were late again today!’ if you know that there was an unexpected and massive traffic jam on the road that James travels to work.
8. Brainstorm and negotiate solutions
Once you’ve come to a consensus on the nature of a performance problem, brainstorm together with the team member for possible solutions. By giving the team member a share in the responsibility for coming up with solutions you encourage ownership. Negotiate something that makes sense to both of you.
9. Clarify responsibilities
Once you’ve decided on a course of action, clarify your responsibilities. Make sure that the team member has as much responsibility as is reasonable given his or her ability and experience. Remember that you also have a role in the solution. It may be nothing more than monitoring to see that the situation is corrected. Or, it may involve more substantial activity that only you have the authority or expertise to carry out.
Finish the session by summarising what the problem was, what solution was chosen, and who is responsible for each part of its implementation. Stress the positive outcomes you want, not the situation you want to avoid.
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