The following is a guest piece by Larry Sternberg.
Fuelling top performance is the goal for most leaders and managers. The best managers know their people are the key to achieving top performance on every metric of success they track. As a leader or manager, how can you make the biggest difference through leveraging the talents and efforts of the people on your team? This handful of specific strategies can help.
1. Accept People As They Are
Your job as a manager is not to change people. Your job is to optimize people’s performance. Start by accepting people as they are. The old adage applies here: Marry as is, and consider any change a bonus.
Select people for your team who have the right mix of strengths, knowledge and potential. Focus on what’s right with people instead of what’s wrong with them. Optimize the alignment between what people bring to the table and what you need your team to achieve. And, be prepared to tolerate some undesirable behaviors — because they are part of the package.
2. Emphasize the Why
Consider the story of three people laying bricks. When asked, “What are you doing?” One person replies, “I’m laying bricks.” The second person says, “I’m part of a team building a really big brick wall.” The third person replies, “I’m just one of many people working together here to build a cathedral where people will get married, christen their babies and lay their loved ones to rest.” Which of these people do you think is most motivated to do great work?
Help people advance from what to why so they see their work as the third person in the story does. When people understand why their work matters and how it contributes to some greater good, they will be more motivated, more likely to go above and beyond to achieve the goals of the team and the organization as a whole. In addition, because they grasp the meaning in their work, they will feel better about themselves and their organization.
3. Resist the Temptation to Seize Control
When mistakes happen, is your instinct to exert greater control? Resist it! Micromanagement never leads to top performance. Adding control mechanisms almost always drives up cost and slows things down.
Leaders and managers who drive top performance empower the people closest to the action to make decisions and initiate improvement. They don’t ignore mistakes. But when mistakes happen, they resist the temptation to seize control. Instead, they ask good questions and empower their people to identify and implement the right solutions for the future.
4. Be Unreasonably Optimistic
SMART goals are overrated. How excited do you get about “reasonable” goals? How much more excited are you about dreaming big? How much more motivating are BHAGs (Big Hairy Audacious Goals)?
Fuel top performance by setting seriously challenging (but not totally unrealistic) goals. They are likely to push performance further faster than SMART goals will. And, if you set audacious goals, you will need to inspire high (possibly unreasonable) levels of optimism among the members of your team. Optimism is contagious. And so is lack of optimism. What are your people catching from you?
5. Shape a Culture of Recognition and Appreciation
People are less likely to express gratitude at work than almost anywhere else. Only 10 percent of people express appreciation to their coworkers on a daily basis, and 60 percent never say thank you at work, or do it only once or twice a year. At the same time, 81 percent say they would work harder for a more grateful manager.
If you want to optimize performance, stop focusing on what people are doing wrong and start focusing on what they’re doing right. Ask people to tell you about a success they’ve had lately. Catch people doing things right, and praise both their efforts and their results. Cultivate a culture of appreciation. Find a way to express gratitude to someone on your team every single day. Say thank you. Write a note. Compliment someone’s work in public. Create opportunities for people to thank each other, too.
6. Spend More Time on the 20
The Pareto Principle, better known as the 80/20 rule, can help you spend your time where it will make the biggest difference. Twenty percent of your efforts will produce 80 percent of your results. Know where your 20 is, and spend more time there.
Also, apply the 80/20 rule to your people. Your top 20 percent of performers are driving 80 percent of your team’s results. Spend more of your time investing in those people, learning about what they’re doing to be so successful and recognizing them for the results they’re achieving.
7. Fire People When You Should
If you want to build a top performing team, it will not be for everyone. Sometimes letting someone go is the caring thing to do, both for that individual and for the team as a whole. When an employee is not succeeding, he or she knows it long before you do. When someone on your team is unsuccessful and underperforming, by all means, teach, coach and provide opportunities to improve. But when you know in your heart of hearts additional effort will not help, do the compassionate thing and fire that person.
The other people you manage are watching. Underperformance is hurting them, and they expect you to take care of it. They will appreciate that you made efforts to help the person succeed, and they will see firing that person as the right outcome for both that individual and the team as a whole.
8. Cultivate a Great Relationship with Your Boss
Start by recognizing the difference between kissing up and managing up. Fawning over your boss and agreeing with everything he or she says are not the right ways to cultivate a great relationship.
Instead, genuinely care about your boss as a person and accept her as she is. Make your boss’s goals and priorities your own. Demonstrate fierce loyalty and unmitigated trust. Share information. Ask for advice. And show appreciation.
When you have a stronger relationship with your boss, you have a better handle on how to help her reach her goals. That translates to performance results better aligned with the big picture growth goals of the organization. Everybody wins.
9. Hire Some People Who Can Replace You
Your efforts to drive top performance are likely to accelerate your career growth. It’s easier for senior leaders to help you take the next step in your career when they know you have someone on your team who can smoothly transition into your role. And, it’s easier for you to let go of a high performing team and move on to the next challenge in your own career when you know you have a highly talented person ready to keep driving the successes you’ve worked so hard to create. Hire people who can replace you, and intentionally invest in coaching and mentoring those people.
Larry Sternberg is the co-author to Kim Turnage of the new book “Managing To Make A Difference: How To Engage, Retain & Develop Talent For Maximum Performance”. Sternberg is a senior executive at management consulting firm Talent Plus. To learn more about Larry’s work, visit his website: www.ManageToMakeADifference.com.
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