Leadership that Excelerates Performance
LEADERSHIP THAT EXCELERATES PERFORMANCE focuses on the critical relationship between leadership, employee engagement and delivering an exceptional customer experience as a competitive advantage.
Bill is recognized as the Performance Excelerator™ because of
his uncanny ability to create profound change and deliver extraordinary results
with the most demanding organizations.
As a senior executive with over 25 years experience, he works with senior leaders to navigate change and influence and inspire higher performing, customer-focused cultures that create long-term, profitable relationships with your customers and excelerate performance and productivity with leaders and employees.
This is the third article in our series of articles that looks at Building a High Performance Work Environment. The full series will be available for download as a white paper once it is completed.
In our last article, we discussed three ways to support people in high performance environments. But first you need to find the right people that will excel in your company’s work environment.
As previously discussed in the context of establishing a culture of leadership in the article 5 Steps to create a culture of leadership, your organization is only as good as the talent you recruit. No matter how well defined your vision may be or how well the vision is communicated internally, you still need to have the right people in roles that are suited for their personality, skills, and abilities.
Finding the right people to work in your company starts with well-defined recruitment expectations and the right process to back them up. You can’t hire the right people if you don’t understand the type of people that are a good fit for your culture.
Here are three critical elements that leaders need to ensure are built into the recruitment process:
1. The right character
Good character and the right attitude is the first priority in your hiring quest, but something too often overlooked. Too much emphasis is placed on matching skills to the position that needs to be filled. To find the right person that will fit within your organizational culture you need to put character before competence — or attitude before aptitude.
In most cases, people are hired for competence, but fired for character. It doesn’t matter how skilled a certain individual is if they do not exhibit the right character. A poor attitude and the wrong fit within the culture of your organization will have a negative impact on the performance of that person and poison others as well.
This is why it is so important to find the culture fit first and then focus on qualifications. A person that is the right cultural fit and has the right mindset can often be taught missing skills through training after they are hired.
2. The right behaviours
A willingness to learn, go above and beyond, make the right decisions, and do what is in the company’s best interests are all desired behaviours that companies need to look for when hiring.
People that exhibit the right behaviours have a positive impact on high performance work environments. As part of the recruitment process leaders need to look for people that have the character to go above and beyond what is expected — and past behaviour is always the best indicator of future behaviour.
Remember, that as a leader, it is your job to influence behaviour by inspiring your team. Inspired individuals will be more dedicated to achieving your vision and meeting expectations. People that display the right behaviours will also help to improve overall morale and collaboration within their department and throughout the organization.
3.The right skills
Seeking out the right skill set should come after you have identified candidates with the right character and behaviour. Missing skills can be taught. Of course, there is a certain level of knowledge, capacity and skills that a candidate must possess based on the job function, but training can be used to make up for gaps if the character is right.
Placing too much emphasis on finding a person with the right skills before you assess their fit in terms of character and behaviour often leads to a poor fit culturally — and eventually cost more in the long term through poor performance, lost opportunity, negative impact on the balance of the team and having to start the hiring process over again when that person doesn’t work out.
Revisit your current hiring practice and review the criteria that you use. Always hire for character, and then check for competence. If your company experiences a high turnover rate, then this may be a good indication that you are not placing enough emphasis on finding people that exhibit the right cultural fit.
When the people with the right character, behaviour and skills are hired, your team will achieve a common vision more effectively. An efficient and cohesive team will always deliver a better result than a collection of people who may have better individual skills.
Without trust in your organization, what do you have?
Trust is perhaps the most important element that needs to be present within the culture of your organization. Knowing that you can trust and rely on others on your team significantly changes how a person operates either as the leader of the team or as a team member.
Knowing that you can trust your team to get the job done, and on the other side of the coin, knowing that the leaders in your organization will go to bat for you and follow through on what they promise plays a large role in shaping an organizational culture that will thrive.
Organizational trust starts with leadership and cascades down
Trust starts with the leadership in your organization. This is why it is so important for leaders to establish an organization culture that is based on trust and collaboration both on paper — and in practice.
Real trust exists when your team believes you are going to do what you say you will do. Leaders cannot just provide lip service and make false promises in an attempt to motivate and boost performance.
If you don’t follow through, your team will lose faith in your word, but also your leadership and the values, vision, and mission of the organization. This will lead to lower levels of engagement.
Why would they commit and engage if they don’t trust that you will follow through yourself? Failure to follow through on your word and losing the trust of your team creates a downward spiral effect.
How to measure the level of trust in your company
There are three ways to measure the level of trust that exist in the culture of your organization:
- Level of customer focus: Your team needs to buy into the fact that your company is not just about making money. They need to trust that among your goals and objectives that you truly want to help customers solve a problem when they purchase the products/services you offer.
- Level of transparency: You cannot keep things from your team if you want to earn their trust. They also need to feel confident that they can tell you anything. If they feel the need to keep secrets then transparency and trust are broken. This hurts your ability to collaborate effectively.
- Level of collaboration: Effective collaboration can only take place when trust is established. If you find that collaboration is difficult and you find that details are getting left out of conversations, this may be a sign that trust is not as strong as it needs to be.
Developing a strategy that builds trust
Trust is not built overnight. It takes time — yet can be broken in an instant as a result of a single bad decision. This is why it is important for leaders to develop a strategy to earn the trust of their team and their customers.
The strategy needs to be focused on:
- Build trust into your values and beliefs: Embedding the message that truth is important in all communication, hiring, and training will help to define trust as an important component of your organizational culture.
- Open and honest communication: You need to provide your team with honest feedback, encourage collaboration, and openly share information.
- Keep your word: People need to have faith in the words that you speak. You need to keep your word and follow through when it comes to agreements, formal contracts and expectations. Actions speak louder than words!
- Demonstrate trust in your team: As a leader it is important to demonstrate that you trust your team’s skills and abilities. Trust their decision making and input. Micro managing everything they do will inhibit your ability to build a culture of trust and collaboration.
Building an organization culture that is based on trust and collaboration starts with leadership. You need to follow through with what you say and be accountable for your actions — or your team will lose faith in your word and ability to be an effective leader.
This is the second article in our series of articles that looks at Building a High Performance Work Environment. The full series will be available for download as a white paper once it is completed.
In our last article, we discussed four leadership behaviors that build a high performance work environment. Now let’s discuss some of the key ways to maintain a high level of performance and support for the team.
Consistently challenging your team and setting the bar high is only effective if you have the proper support in place. Failure to have a level of support that matches your expectations will not only make it difficult for individuals to meet their targets, it will also create an unnecessary source of stress internally.
Three key ways to support performance
People thrive when they have the resources to do their job. There are three key areas of support all individuals require to perform consistently at a high level:
1. The right information
You need to provide your team with the right information to meet the expectations set for them. This starts with providing a clear and consistent message about the vision and setting expectations that each individual is required to accomplish to contribute to the vision — then providing any information useful in executing their role. Openness and transparency are key.
2. The right tools and training
Once clear expectations are set and communicated internally, you must provide the tools to execute. The tools will vary from department to department and from team to team, but it is important to make sure everyone receives the tools they need when they need them.
Required tools might include:
- The right technology and supplies
- Effective internal processes
- Guidance and coaching
- Access to internal and external resources
- An effective channel for performance reviews/feedback/recognition
3. The right inspiration
A significant element of your role as a leader is to inspire your team. It’s no secret that highly engaged individuals will produce better results and better contribute to the company.
How you engage and inspire individuals will depend on the culture of your organization and your understanding of what incentives will produce the best results for each individual. While many companies still use money as a motivator, it is only a temporary fix and not a long term solution to keep your team engaged. Other more emotional founded activities are more effective to inspire your team.
Some examples include:
- Building strong relationships with individuals
- Modelling behaviours that re-enforce your personal dedication and alignment with the company’s vision and values
- Regularly communicating how every person in the company has an important role in achieving the companies vision
- Providing opportunities for career development and growth internally
- Giving people the chance to have their concerns heard
- Recognizing exceptional performance
For a more detailed discussion of effective motivational tactics, please see 8 Ways to Inspire Employee Behaviour That You Can Implement Today
Searching for gold
The necessary information, tools, and inspiration are important no matter what type of company you are leading. These points hold true regardless of the situation.
Let’s say that you are leading an expedition to find gold. If you want to be successful then you need to provide your team with:
- The right information: You need to outline what you want to achieve (vision) and explain how you are going to find the gold and extract if from the ground.
- The right tools and training: You need to train your team how to mine for gold and then provide maps, transportation and other mining equipment/tools to get the job done most effectively. You wouldn’t expect someone to find gold without a map and without the tools to extract the gold.
- The right inspiration: You would seek to inspire your team by reinforcing how finding gold will impact their lives and regularly communicating progress will help keep them focused on the goal. You can’t expect your team to go above and beyond and work long hours if you cannot find the right source of inspiration.
High performance work environments are established only if you communicate a clear vision, set high expectations and provide support in the form of the right information, tools, and inspiration.
A critical element of initiating a successful change initiative is communicating that change is a normal and positive function of doing business — it is a key factor in a company’s ability to remain relevant and differentiate from competitors and grow year over year.
People are intuitively resistant to change — even helpful change — so it is a leader’s ability to frame organizational change in a positive way that will lead to its successful adaption internally. Yet, one of the major issues that organizations face regularly is how they approach implementing new processes and managing change — and not communicating consistently and effectively.
Change is a Process
Change is a process — and a leader’s ability to manage this process effectively makes change possible.
There are three main phases when implementing change in an organization:
- The Current State: This is the normal routine that people are used to. It is within this state that leaders begin to frame the change that is to come in a way that their team will understand and accept.
- The Transition State: This is the point where people within the organization being to break away from the everyday processes they are used to and begin to implement new processes and a new way of doing things. This is where things get messy and hard, because there is a natural inclination to revert back to the known versus the new and different.
- The Future State: This is the state when the desired change is the new normal and people have consistently altered their behavior to reflect the change. Getting to this state is largely based on how change is introduced and interpreted by people within the company.
How you frame change makes a significant difference
The manner in which impending change is framed has a significant impact on how your team will react.
Most people view change of any kind as a threat. When change is announced, people automatically feel defensive and immediately become concerned about their role within the company, or whether they may lose their job. And, this is particularly understandable considering how many companies have been forced to right size in the past few years.
Ideally, you want your team to be in a frame of mind where they are asking “How can change help us get stronger, more competitive?” and not “How will change impact my position?”
Framing change so it is accepted in your organization
How do you get to the point where change is accepted and internal employee behaviour shifts to achieve new goals and objectives?
- Sell the opportunity: It is important to paint a picture of the future state so people can see the benefits of change, not just the stresses. Leaders need to answer the question everyone is silently asking, “What’s in it for me”. The clearer the picture you paint of the results of the change, the greater likelihood that your team will be receptive.
- Acknowledge the threat, but focus on the positive: Acknowledging that change is hard is important. Failing to do so will only suggest to your team that you don’t “get it” and will put them on edge and have them concerned about their well-being. When people feel threatened, it tends to decrease the amount of involvement and participation, which could lead to increased internal resistance.
- Accept that resistance is a necessary part of change: Change and resistance go hand in hand. Even if you frame change in a positive light, you will have some people that will be resistant to it. This resistance shouldn’t always be viewed as or treated like a negative response — but a natural human reaction to being asked to move out of our comfort zone. Some of your earliest critics will become your greatest supporters once they understand the future vision and how it benefits the organization — and them.
- Plan for Resistance: You need a plan for how you will handle this resistance when it does arise. Think about how you will address resistance and how you will deal with each instance of it. It is important leaders anticipate this resistance, re-enforce why change is occurring, have regular conversations with their team about how change impacts them, and communicate what they need to do to ensure the transition is successful.
- Create an open dialogue: People will be more accepting of change if it is a conversation rather than a directive. Open the lines of communication and gather input from people on all levels within the organization. Consider holding regular open forums to allow people to ask questions and get more clarification about specific aspects of the new direction the company is taking. No company has ever been accused of communicating too much.
- Involve people: The more people who are involved, the higher level of acceptance you will see. When people feel they have some influence on the outcomes, they are more easily engaged to get behind a change that benefits the organization. If they are watching from a distance, they are often ill-informed and create worst case scenarios in their mind that they share with others as “fact”. When people are involved they also have a greater grasp of the big picture versus evaluating things in a vacuum.
Change is only as successful as your ability to frame it in a way that will be accepted. Focus on framing change as a new opportunity and not as a potential threat to your employee’s current status with your organization.
Focusing on the small fixes will not put out the fire. Instead, this approach only takes up your time and leads to your company losing sight of larger, more important issues.
Successful companies understand that achieving success is about addressing larger culture issues within the organization. Getting your organizational culture right is what leads to building a high performance work environment. This starts with leadership.
A high performance work environment starts with leadership
The most important component of a high performance work environment is people. Engaged and motivated people, when supported by appropriate tools, resources, and leadership will help your company achieve the desired results.
The reality is the drive and motivation you expect from your employees is not always there. Without the proper guidance, support, and a clear vision of what is expected of them, employees are not going to create the results you want. And, how can you expect them to? They are often unclear on where you want to go. They are looking for leaders to guide them. This is why high performance work environments start with leadership.
Your primary role as a leader is to create an environment where your employees can be successful. If you want them to thrive in their role, not only do you need to understand what they require to be successful; you need to give it to them.
To set the example there are four vital leadership behaviours that communicate performance expectation.
Leadership behaviours that create a high performance environment
As a leader it is your role to shape organizational culture and create a high performance environment. This is accomplished through four vital behaviours:
Develop a clear inspiring vision: The first step in any journey is deciding where you want to go. Without the end in mind, you are just wandering around and could end up anywhere. Having clarity in your own mind of where you want to end up is essential to developing a plan to achieve your goal.
Your vision should be something you have a personal passion for achieving. After all, it will be hard work and not easily achieved — so if you are not inspired you will soon lose your motivation and those around you will quickly lose theirs as well.
Communicate an inspiring vision: Communicating an inspiring vision is more than simply talking about it or putting up posters on the walls. It is living the vision. As a leader you need to model the attitudes and behaviours you expect from your team. Importantly, you need to make the vision part of the everyday conversation, so it isn’t simply words on a wall — but an attitude that supports a clear picture of where you want the organization to go.
If you cannot clearly communicate your vision, your employees will lack direction and will adopt their own version of what they “think” your vision might be.
An inspiring vision needs to be articulated clearly and with passion if you want your employees to connect, adopt, and accept it. Your employees must understand two things about your vision for the company:
- How their role in the company contributes to your vision
- What is expected of them in their role within the company
If these points are not clear, their level of engagement and motivation will suffer. You as a leader need to take specific and intentional action to ensure employees understand their role in order to increase their level of engagement and strengthen their commitment to the company.
Continuously challenging people to remain focused on the vision: Keeping your employees focused and engaged is challenging. It is critical they place the company vision and goals above their own personal motivations.
Don’t be afraid to hold your employees to a high standard. Make it clear that you expect quality results and challenge them to exceed expectations. Employees with easily achieved performance expectations can get lazy and lose their momentum and that leads to a dip in performance.
You need to set expectations that are aspirational but achievable, and then provide the support they need to achieve your vision and maintain a high level of performance. Offer coaching, training and challenge employees by offering performance incentives.
Provide support to achieve your vision: Without proper support your vision will fall flat and your company’s performance will suffer as a result. Your company vision is not a “create it and forget it” exercise. It is something that strengthens over time as your company evolves.
Support comes from coaching and providing feedback to help employees do their job at a high level and to ensure their actions are aligned with the company’s vision. And, achievements that further the company vision need to be recognized to maintain employee engagement into the future.
While many companies are effective at creating a clear vision and communicating it to their employees, it is the support function that often gets overlooked. Revisit how you provide support to the employees in your organization.