One of the most critical contributions that a leader must make to the team members is to provide feedback. The environment in the team exudes positivism when the feedback is received with openness and is worked upon by the team members.
Most organizations and their senior leaders like to take pride in the fact that their organization promotes a culture of performance and meritocracy. However, this intent does not get translated into action because they do not invest adequate energies in building an environment where employees feel safe to voice their opinions and speak up when they face discomfort or a challenge. Employees must feel adequately empowered to perform their duties and trust their leaders for their judgement on a day to day business. Further, they need to believe in the strategic vision of the organization for its long-term survival.
Set the goals right!
Given this background, goals or targets are the starting point of a performance-based culture. Leaders must define broad contours of the goal setting process and live it in a transparent manner. The organization needs to see that goals are being set fairly and there is a room for discussion on the goals. Leaders must take care to explain the rationale of the goals, induce confidence in their folks about achieving them and invite them to discover their strengths which can be leveraged to fulfil the goals.
Organizations build systems and processes that reward and recognize performance against the targets. Hence, goals become a critical variable in the equation and determine the bonus or the variable pay. While some leaders like to set audacious goals, their team members might feel scared of these and resign to their fates. In this unfortunate scenario, the leader fails in the critical duty of listening to the employees, addressing their concerns and giving them feedback about the possibilities. Goals need to be set in a collaborative manner; employees must discover their potential and feel empowered to achieve them rather than feeling the pressure of big targets.
Discuss performance every now and then!
Annual performance feedback is passé now. It has outlived its utility. Given the times that we live in and the nature of the workforce, the supervisor must not wait for the performance review event to appear on the calendar or the HR department to remind him about it. Rather, it needs to happen as often as required. One should sit down with the team members for a one-on-one discussion to review the efforts put in and the results achieved, as often as required.
Most often, leaders think that fun activities, birthday celebrations, family days and so on engage employees well and productivity improves as a result of these. Another common misconception would be that if an employee shows up each day and seems to work 9am to 5pm at her desk, she is focused and dedicated. However, the fact is that the fun activities are mere hygiene factors and do not guarantee a positive impact on the productivity.
An employee who doesn’t seem distracted at work is someone who cares for the pay-check and not necessarily, someone who is committed to the cause of the organization. She may not walk the extra mile without being pushed by the manager to keep customers happy. Leaders must be clear about this and act accordingly. The employee who walks the extra mile must be provided with clear feedback that she is valued the most. Leaders must invest their best efforts in developing this exceptional talent so that the organization grows stronger over a period of time.
Employees who generally meet their goals and care about the purpose of the organization are very valuable for the company. However, they might not have hitched their hearts and minds to the leadership and its vision; they may be at the stage of evaluating various aspects of the company’s environment and how well they fit into it. And similarly, the leader might be in the phase of observing and evaluating the commitment levels of the employee. This is a transition phase for both the employee and the organisation; the leaders should be smart enough to understand this phase of engagement and provide the necessary support to make the desired change. In either case, the employee must receive the feedback about his/her performance and feel cared for.
Similarly, there are employees who achieve results but do not demonstrate the behaviours that the organization desires. This is a tough situation for the manager to offer feedback and make early corrections. Most often, managers fail to demonstrate the leadership character in such cases and let the person get away with the excesses. Again here, the feedback has to be clear that the person has to shape up fast or leave at the earliest. Tough but one has to bite the bullet!
There are employees who miss their targets often. Leaders need to evaluate if their efforts and the behaviours are in alignment with what the organization expects. If the results, as well as the behaviours, do not meet these standards, it is easy to move on. It is tough when the person shows all the right behaviours and puts in the efforts, but the results continue to be elusive. The actions of the manager are observed by one and all. People might feel that a long rope is being provided unfairly and hence, the leader has to be transparent and open about it so that the most people understand the reason.
Don’t rub it in!
Some managers take the advice of offering immediate feedback too seriously. There are bad days; things do not go right. It is obvious when one makes silly mistakes and loses. The manager need not be obsessed with the urge of offering a feedback. This is like rubbing salt on the wound and accentuating the pain further. One must judge the right time and offer feedback in such a manner that it is received and acted upon.
Offering feedback is one of the most challenging tasks a manager could face. There is no silver bullet that can be panacea for any leadership challenge. One has to gather experience by handling multiple situations, introspecting and learning from mentors and seniors.