Improve Performance with Meaningful Direction

February 6, 2012

How are most organizations doing when it comes to managing the performance of people in their companies? Not very well, according to Dr. Vicki Halsey of The Ken Blanchard Companies. In talking with managers and direct reports over the past year, Halsey has heard a lot of frustration with the process of leading others.

As she explains, “Managers are upset because their people aren’t doing what they think they should do. Direct reports are upset because they are not getting the direction that they need.”

Part of the problem comes from confusing competence with commitment, according to Halsey.

“When I ask managers what they most want from their people, I hear things like, ‘I want them to have a positive attitude. I want them to communicate better. I want them to be more of a team player.’

“So, managers are thinking about the traits that they would like their employees to exhibit, instead of the actions they would like them to be taking.”

That’s a challenge, according to Halsey, who points out that managing performance means identifying the goals that you are looking for from that teamwork, from that better attitude, etc. In Halsey’s experience, managers are not being clear enough with their direct reports about what they are supposed to do in terms of the specific tasks and goals. Managers may have a gut instinct about what they want their people doing, but they are not communicating it clearly to their people.

Without a clear sense of what to do and how to rank and accomplish their most important tasks, employees are left on their own to prioritize their work. But if people aren’t clear on what they are supposed to be doing, they won’t be as successful as they could be. They will be involved in a lot of activity, but the activity will not necessarily be in line with the organization’s overall goals.

That’s when morale problems arise. To feel important and valued, people have to see the alignment between their day-to-day work and what the organization is looking to achieve.

Managers are mistaking an employee’s need for direction and support as a lack of engagement. That incorrect diagnosis is leading managers to the mistaken belief that if they get their direct reports more fired up, they’ll get the work done. The real problem is that people want to know what their role is and how they are supposed to do it.

This leads to a “where do you start” situation with people wanting more communication and clarity about how their work aligns with overall organizational goals while managers are expecting people to know what to do and believing that if they can just encourage folks to be more positive and have a better attitude, they will figure out the rest on their own.

How Did We Get into This Situation?

According to Halsey, some of the problem stems from the fact that managers are busier than ever today. As she explains, “Most managers have their own task-related goals in addition to their people-management duties. When you are trying to juggle both, it’s easy to fall back into a mentality of, ‘I hired you to do this job and I expect you to get it done.’ And what I’m hearing from people is that managers are doing a great job of telling people what to do, but rarely are they doing a great job of telling people how to do it.”

To illustrate her point, Halsey describes a recent classroom situation where she asked participants to identify a “best boss” they had worked for and list the leadership behaviors of that person. One participant related his story about an early sales position he had with an organization and how the sales leader went on calls with him. As the participant described, “Each time we went out, he added something new that I had to do. He would show me what it was and then he modeled it for me with the next client we talked to. After that, with the next client, I would have to do it, and he would give me feedback. He took the time to develop me by not only telling me what I needed to do, but helping accelerate my development by showing me how to do it.”

A second factor is that today, more than ever, managers want to be perceived as supportive. In teaching Situational Leadership® II skills to hundreds of thousands of managers over the past 30 years, Halsey explains that the facilitators at The Ken Blanchard Companies have known for a long time that of the four leadership style possibilities—Directing, Coaching, Supporting, or Delegating, the dominant natural style of most managers is Supporting, which features a lot of supportive behaviors but little direction.

Supporting is not a “bad” style, but it can lead to frustration among people who are not getting the specifics they need about how to be successful. This can be confusing for managers, especially when employees complain that their manager is not communicating.

As Halsey asks managers who are faced with this situation, “Yes, you are communicating, but are you communicating about the right things, to the right people, at the right time?” She explains, “It is so exciting when you see a leader with a good plan for developing someone through all of the phases of development that employees go through. Most managers are pretty good at assigning the task and then celebrating success, but sometimes they don’t have everything in between figured out.”

So, What Can Managers Do?

Managing performance is challenging these days with all of the different things people need to do and with working managers pressed for time. But, savvy managers can improve the situation by focusing on three areas:

Clarify roles and goals. Create alignment between individual tasks and the organization’s initiatives. Use impact mapping to connect the dots.

Identify individual development levels and needed leader behaviors for each employee’s key tasks. What is the employee’s experience with this task? What does he or she need from a manager in terms of direction and support?

Schedule weekly one-on-ones. Don’t let time pressures get in the way of a weekly check-in with direct reports to see how they are doing. A short, weekly meeting where the agenda is driven by the direct report can work wonders in providing the appropriate combination of direction and support people need to be productive.

Get Clear on What’s Important

With time and resources at a premium, leaders need to focus their people on the critical tasks to be accomplished. Begin by identifying the goals and strategic imperatives of the organization. Next, clarify what each team and department needs to be doing to help the organization achieve its goals. Finally, break it down to individual tasks and goals to achieve the desired results.

People will get up to speed faster and produce the results your organization is looking for. In addition to increased productivity, your organization will also see an improvement in morale and engagement. As Halsey explains, “There’s a greater sense of pride in your work and everyone feels better when you’ve worked together to achieve a common goal.”

Categories: Accountability, Alignment, Communication, Leadership, Leadership development, Performance Management.

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How to be a Leader at any Level

February 6, 2012

By John Baldoni

When purpose is clear, it provides something upon which to build for the future. Such a future depends on harnessing the talents of employees and developing them to lead into the future. In too many organizations, front-line managers are viewed as doers not deciders, implementers not contributors, and compliers not creators. If these precepts seem arcane, more in keeping with nineteenth-century management principles than twenty-first-century ways of managing, it is because they are, according to a recent study by McKinsey & Company. Unfortunately, this study found that these ideas are still au courant in today’s world of front-line management, particularly in distributed management locations – for example, retail, transportation, and real estate. McKinsey concludes that such practices are making organizations “less productive, less agile, and less profitable.”

Most corporations operate on principles of hierarchy. That is good for ensuring the development and execution of strategy, but it falls flat, as the McKinsey study and others like it have found, when it comes to being responsive to change and responsible for people. One highlight of the study noted that managers were spending more time on transaction than transformation-that is, more on administration than people. In contrast, “at best-practice companies, front-line managers allocated 60 to 70 per cent of their time to the floor, much of it in high-quality individual coaching.” Additionally, such managers had more opportunities to make decisions and “act on opportunities.” If I were a manager, I would use this information as my entree to advocate for more autonomy, or what we might call “leading from the middle.” Here are some ways to put your ideas into action:

Read on…

Categories: Accountability, Alignment, Communication, High performance team, Leadership, Peformance management.

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Curious Insight into Employee Motivation and the Pygmalion Effect

February 6, 2012

Great Performance Starts with Great Expectations No, by “great expectations,” I’m not referring to the Dickens book. Presumably when you hire or promote someone, you expect great things from them. You don’t think, “Yes, this warm body will be adequate enough, I suppose.” If so, then you’re probably not reading this article. Studies based on the … Read More

Categories: Accountability, Attitude, Change management, Culture, Employee engagement, Employee satisfaction, Leadership.

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