I held a people management workshop yesterday, and got some exciting emails from people this morning as a result. It’s great when people see the potential for improvement in themselves and others and I am reminded how unnecessary it is for people to struggle with people issues for so long – all the while hardwiring negative behaviours into the business.
At the workshop, managers had these sorts of questions:
• How do I get staff to self start and take initiative?
• What is a list of DO’s and not DON’Ts so that I get the best out of the team?
• How do I deal with negative messages and/or situations?
• How do I get everyone to focus on what’s important (and have the same priorities as I do)?
• How do I stretch staff (so that they don’t remain in a comfort zone.)
• How do I step back so that they will step up?
One of the common mistakes that managers make is to “molly-coddle” staff who become increasingly disengaged over time. The way to gain control over results is to give it away with the necessary systems in place so that people can “take the reins” in a context of continuous improvement and increased contribution. Without this constant value-add, a business can barely keep its head above water in turbulent times. With it, it cannot help but thrive. Such is human brilliance, charged with a seemingly impossible mission.
A book written by Po Brosnan and Ashley Merryman – NutureShock – has something to say to business managers, not just teachers and parents! The central premise of this book is that many of modern society’s strategies for nurturing children are in fact backfiring. The main message is that when you constantly tell kids how great and smart they are, they develop this sense of entitlement so that when they don’t do well (or don’t score results consistent with their over-the-top self image) this not only causes a huge amount of stress but leads to a range of other unhealthy behaviours. For Ashley, it was that she never did anything that she wasn’t REALLY good at. As a result, she believes she has really missed out in her development.
On the People Management course, we do an exercise that shows managers clearly that staff need performance information, not effusive positive feedback – yet every management book you pick up and read says: constantly praise your staff! “Catch them doing something right.” In fact, you are told that if you have something negative to say, sandwich it between two positive statements. If anything is going to result in schizoid staff behaviour, that is!
This is not to say criticise people. There is no such thing as constructive criticism – don’t kid yourself. Any criticism sends everyone into a stress response. Very unhealthy and very unnecessary. Instead, create a context of high performance, real-time performance information, healthy self-comparison with the performance information, self-scrutiny and self-improvement.
Staff can criticise themselves – that’s okay and can be healthy! To a certain extent, colleagues can, without it having a negative outcome. Just don’t YOU do it, as the boss, in a position that is seen by them to be powerful. That never has a positive effect on performance. Nine times out of 10, it only results in defensiveness, anger and even sabotage; not in improved performance, which is presumably the reason to give the feedback in the first place. (Or was it to release the manager’s frustration – in which case, who really has the performance problem?)
While no one works well in an environment of stress, negativity or poorly-concealed annoyance on the part of the boss, neither do they work at their best in a soft, protective, molly-coddled play pen.
The high-performance alternative is what makes people, whether elite athletes, sports teams or businesses, achieve their full revenue and margin potential, on an ongoing basis.
And it is up to the leader to set the performance tone.