One of the biggest challenges facing leaders/managers is striking a balance between the need to focus on generating sustainable business outcomes and the needs of the people that you require to make it all happen. This group of contributors that you manage are capable of delivering so much more collectively if you can just find the way to harness all of their individual strengths.
In my career, while the great managers I worked with stand out and are memorable, they are vastly out-numbered by the group that didn’t “get” their people. The latter group often gave no indication that they cared about the people they managed. We were numbers on a grid and each of us was responsible for creating some output that would ultimately drive revenue. Their unwavering focus on the results we all generated left us wondering how it all mattered in the big scheme. The joie de vivre that drives most teams to high performance was missing completely.
Authors Daniel Pink, Buckingham and Coffman, Charan, Drotter and Noel, have all suggested that to get the most out of the talent we have on our teams, leaders/managers need to develop their own skills at managing performance. The leadership pipelines in many organizations have become clogged by the ineffective group I referred to earlier. Performance management is so much more than an annual (or semi-annual) review system. Done correctly you not only get the results that you need to fulfill your corporate objectives you aid in the development of everyone on your team and impact succession planning within the organization.
When was the last time you had a meaningful conversation with each member of your team about something other than the results this week, this month or this quarter? Have you talked about their personal development and what they have done to move that plan forward in the past 3 months? How about the last time you delivered feedback to a member of your team that let them know how much you personally appreciated their efforts not only in hitting targets but in taking the time and making the effort to create purpose in what you do?
Most of us love constructive feedback. Every one of us loves praise as long as it is delivered in a way that fits with our behavioural makeup and yet as leaders we neglect to tend to the specific needs of the individual contributors that make or break us. By that I mean don’t publicly praise a private person, make sure that you offer up some concrete and specific details to the person on your team that is a more formal, “by the book” individual. Know the people on your team that are turned on by contributing to the good of the team. This isn’t a one size fits all solution and what works for you might not work for everyone else on your team. That is unless you’ve done the unthinkable and hired an entire team of people just like you.
The biggest source of misalignment within organizations is created by the disconnect that exists between the individual contributors that create results and the group that manages their performance. All too often their manager feels the need to restrict autonomy by determining what the right steps are to success for the members of his or her team. When the focus shifts to tracking each step that you prescribed to success it becomes next to impossible for the member of your team to celebrate their own individual successes.
Your role as the leader of a team of individual contributors is not an easy one to be sure. For the organization to be successful your single greatest objective has to be in aligning the output of the individual members of your team with the strategic vision created by the senior leadership team. As the former leader of Netscape, Jim Barksdale used to say, “The main thing is to keep your main thing the main thing”. If I went to any member of your current team and asked them to talk to me about the strategic vision that your organization has would they be able to articulate it for me? Creating that sense of purpose that Pink refers to in his book Drive occurs when you tie individual results back to the overriding reason your organization is in business. You are the conduit between the senior leadership team and the feet in the street. It’s the weekly conversations that you have with your direct reports that form the intelligence that senior leadership needs to ensure that their vision is being received and understood and acted upon.
For you to be successful in your role it is important that your tactical efforts go beyond the routine of tracking progress to the objectives you’ve established with your direct reports. This myopic view of the world does nothing to engender Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose as Daniel Pink describes in Drive nor does it lead to the successful outcomes that Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman outlined in First Break All The Rules. Your focus has to be on how you can leverage the individual strengths of every member of your team to advance “The Main Thing” for your organization. The best way that you can do that is to incorporate “The Main Thing” into the conversations that you have with the people that are part of your team. Tell them what they’ve done for you lately and how much you appreciate the fact that their efforts tie so nicely back to the reason for being that is your organization.
Your role, should you choose to accept it, is to tie the tactical, day to day business outcomes you manage back to the strategic vision for your organization. George Labovitz, the author of The Power of Alignment, will tell you that “organizations that are aligned outperform organizations that are misaligned by every metric measured”.