Managers want their employees to be successful. It’s easy to recognize that if your employees are performing at a high level, your own results should be improving as well. Maximizing employee performance can be a complicated process that involves many steps. However, if you start with three simple things, increasing performance becomes much easier.
Define Your Expectations
At some point in our careers, we learned the importance of setting expectations or having them set for us. When you understand what you want to achieve, you will be able to recognize when you are making progress towards it.
In sports, the expectation is clear: WIN! The scoreboard tells us at a glance whether we are winning or losing, so we always know where we stand. In business, winning can be defined as increased sales, increased margin, reducing employee turnover and improving customer satisfaction. These goals are scored and can be easily recognized and communicated. But, what about expectations like maintain a clean and professional work environment, communicate effectively with coworkers and work safely on a daily basis? While each one of these items conveys an expectation, many employees don’t have a good understanding of what they need to do to meet those expectations. How clean is “clean and professional?” What defines “effective communication?” With this in mind, you can see why it is critical that you define exactly what you want your employees to achieve, why it is important and what they need to do to achieve it.
Parents may quickly recognize the similarities in how the definition of a “clean room” can be as complicated as expecting a “clean workplace.” The expectation of clean to a parent is often far different than the definition of clean to a teenager. It’s not uncommon for a teenager to clean their room, only for the parent to walk in and get upset at the results.
Why do parents have that conflict? Because most parents assume kids have the same definition of clean, and they never take the time to explain what a clean room should look like. Perhaps you have had similar experiences with employees? As a supervisor, it’s easy to point out the defects and what is wrong — but have you taken the time to explain what your expectations really are? What does a clean workspace look like? What defines good communication? Regardless of the method, you need to explain in great detail what you expect them to achieve. Additionally, you can take that conversation one step further by talking with the employee about why a clean workspace is important (customer impressions, safety, etc.) and why it might be important to them (efficiency, less time to maintain, etc.).
The key here is to be explicit about what you expect your people to achieve, why it is important, and specifically what they can do to meet your expectations. Without it, you are making a dangerous assumption that your definition of success is the same, when it’s likely different.
Show Them The Boundaries
Good managers understand they are responsible for their results. A good manager won’t let an employee’s performance ruin his or her results. They will either be down in the details making sure employees are performing, doing it themselves or disciplining and holding poor performers accountable for poor performance.
If you surveyed your employees about what they seek in a manager, odds are they will all say they want a manager that lets them get their stuff done without looking over their shoulder. What they don’t want, is a supervisor that they would refer to as a “micro-manager.” They want FREEDOM! Popular management gurus refer to this freedom as autonomy.
Autonomy is the freedom to have a say over what tasks I perform, what team I perform them on and how I spend my time completing the tasks. Regardless of what you may think, this is what most engaged employees want. Autonomy, however, is not something that should be given freely. That is called apathy. Saying something like: “I don’t care what you do, just get the job done!” is rarely a true statement. Of course we care what they do! We care that things are done in a certain way because they are time-tested. We care that they do things in such a way so as to avoid breaking a law or regulation. We care about how they treat other people. We do care!
The key to enabling the freedom they seek, while still maintaining oversight, is setting boundaries. Let them have freedom within a framework. Discuss things they can do and those things that they should not do — realizing that anything not on the list is fair game.
The key is to keep the boundaries a fluid process. Remember to revise the list when you see them doing something you don’t like; and encourage them when they are doing something well. Be careful that you are not establishing norms for the sake of having norms. Test every boundary by asking yourself these questions: If they do something I’ve asked them not to do, will it have a negative impact? Similarly, if they don’t do something on the list, will it have a negative impact? If there is no negative impact, it should be removed as a boundary.
Communication. Every manager demands it, but many of us don’t do it very well. The challenge is that managers typically don’t expect, require, hope for, nor improve, communication. They DEMAND communication. In order to demand something, you must know exactly what you want and you must make it a top priority to get those results. In order to get that accomplished, you need to have a mechanism set in place to demand communication.
Managers don’t like surprises when it comes to business. You want to know the bad news before it becomes bad and you want to know that good news is just around the corner. We take the “no news is good news” approach off the table and talk explicitly about what is going on in the business with great frequency. There is no doubt that most managers do this all ready. You probably talk to people throughout the day and ask them how things are going. Unfortunately, 90% of the time they respond to you with the F-word: Fine. Fine is a great word that conveys absolutely nothing, yet most of us are satisfied with the response.
There are 1,327 follow-up questions to “how’s it going?” that will yield a real answer. How is Jim getting along today after coming back from surgery? How did the inspection go yesterday? Any repairs need to be made? Hopefully you get the picture.
When you think about the demand of communication, think of it as developing a stronger relationship. It will take time to demand communication, but the payback will be tremendous. Instead of solving problems, you’ll be preventing them. Instead of responding to crises, you’ll be avoiding them.
Many of us don’t like formality, but with no routine, no discipline, no habit or no ritual, we run the risk of the day-to-day nonsense preventing us from getting important things done. Meaningful communication is important to your employees and it’s important to you. It’s okay to demand communication provided that you set a formal habit around when and how it happens. I promise there will always be something for you to talk about.
These three things will have an enormously positive impact on your employees’ success and ultimately your business. Just remember to establish the expectations and boundaries as early as you can, and lead by example when you demand communication.