Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Creating the climate for performance

Professional Services strategy meeting over coffee by VocusUK
Professional Services strategy meeting over coffee,
a photo by 
VocusUK on Flickr.
Not everyone in your company is likely to be a star performer - and even your top folks (and you!) are likely to slip from time to time.  We're all human, after all.

Some leaders, knowing this, sit back and wait until somebody messes up and then bring them into the boss's office for a "conversation" or "coaching session" about what happened.  This management by exception might seem like a time-saver, but it is a form of crisis management that creates some unintended consequences:

  • Some employees may genuinely not understand what their manager expects from them.
  • Certain employees may hobble through the day without adequate training in their job role, and the savviest of them manage to fly under the radar without making errors large enough to be noticed by the big guy (or gal).
  • Employees see that certain of their colleagues aren't doing what they need to do, but they aren't going to tell the boss - unless the colleague's errors affect their own performance.
  • Certain individuals may have habitual behaviors that could be considered demonstrations of "attitude," and if they aren't dramatic enough for the boss to notice, they start to be interpreted as acceptable.  
This can lead to resentment among employees, a negative or contentious work climate that is observable by clients, and a situation where a manager suddenly finds himself or herself needing to handle a serious disciplinary situation, feeling like drastic action might be necessary.

Core values - a key preventative tool
When you take time to establish and document core values for your company or your department, you create rules of engagement.  These are best developed by including the team that will be expected to carry them out, because their buy-in and full understanding of what the values are intended to mean and do from the outset will be a big factor in their willingness and ability to conform to them.

Defining the short list of non-negotiable values is only the first step.  The next is for the group to identify specific behaviors that demonstrate the values.  If the company cites "Power through collaboration" as one of its values, what does that mean?  Does it mean that whenever a problem arises a team is formed to handle it?  Does it mean that staffers are supposed to work together with vendors rather than squeeze every ounce of profit out of them?

Reinforcing the values is important.  A leader can do so by:

  1. Repeating them in meetings.
  2. Sharing war stories that catch employees doing something right that exemplifies the values.
  3. Posting them.
  4. Giving recognition, rewards or awards to people who go above and beyond according to the stated core values
You should only commit to the core values that you are willing to stand behind, otherwise they (and you) will lose credibility with employees.  If you follow through to support them you will
  • Help employees rise to the "big reasons" why they do what they do every day, and
  • Lay the foundation - up front - for solid performance under a shared definition of excellence.


dandrowe said...

Thank you for sharing. Business performance management is the set of analysis and management processes designed to achieve and maintain high performance business operations. It may not be just the employees that slip up from time to time.

Julie Poland, certified business coach said...

Dandrowe -

There's no question about it - there are far more factors than just the employees involved in achieving the desired company results. It's been proven over and over that a bad process can defeat good people.

The leader has to be taking strategy, people, and process into account to make sure that they are truly working with all of the necessary ingredients for success.