Do things right or do the right things?
What are the five silent killers that prevent you from building a high-performance culture? MARIE-CLAIRE ROSS reports.
Thanks to our biological programming, our brains like certainty and feeling safe. At work, we love to feel appreciated and valued by others; we want to be part of a group that can achieve more than what we can alone.
These feel-good factors enable our brain to kick into a more resourceful level. We express our opinions and share ideas. We become accountable and excited about the future.
On the other hand, when things change and we become unsure, we operate from our survival brain, which acts subconsciously based on patterns, habits and biases. The result is we make decisions based on fear and a limited perspective on what’s available to us.
In a workplace environment, when people operate from the survival brain, people pay lip service to new initiatives, become uncooperative, distrustful and waste time working on the wrong tasks and priorities.
Unfortunately, as leaders, we often inadvertently send employees into the part of their brains that generate suboptimal performance. Here are five common challenges that silently degrade trust and performance in teams and across the organisation.
1. FOGGY FOCUS
“The key is not how to do things right, but to do the right things.” Peter Drucker
In a fast-moving environment, leaders often confuse ‘being busy on busy stuff’ as a sign of success and a hallmark of leadership. Unfortunately, we aren’t effective when we are busy.
Leaders who lurch from one crisis to another are at risk of spreading themselves too thinly. They perform tasks at an average level or make ineffectual strategy decisions.
The danger is that employees feel neglected and provide filtered information for fear of overwhelming their boss.
One of the distinguishing features of successful leaders is that they focus on working on their strategy and empowering those around them. They do this by being completely present at meetings and asking questions that enhance their employees’ abilities to do and think more. They delegate low-value tasks and ensure they work on the highest priority.
2. LACK OF CLARITY IN THOUGHT AND COMMUNICATION
Communication is really all about reducing anxiety and ambiguity. When communication is vague and assumes that people are mindreaders, employees go into fear. Leaders need to be clear in their:
Thinking – Leaders are better at communicating when they spend a lot of time reflecting on what they believe is truly important for their organisation. They spend hours thinking, writing and planning internal communication. This makes them experts at articulating the vision, mission and values to improve employee alignment.
Instructions – Communication often gets misunderstood because of too many assumptions (e.g. what people know, their abilities, how work needs to be done or the presumption of a non-existent discussion). Explicit requests and expectations must be given to direct reports, so they know what is required and stay in a positive and resourceful brain state.
Intentions – One of the most powerful human drivers is to live in alignment with whom we believe we are and whom we want to be. When our words and actions don’t match, it creates an integrity gap. People need to be able to read what the leader
is thinking and see consistency in their behaviours to feel comfortable.
3. LACK OF ACCOUNTABILITY IN TEAMS AND WITH INDIVIDUALS
The essence of trust in a workplace environment is that everyone is able to rely on each other to make good on their promises. Leaders can depend upon their subordinates, marketing can rely on manufacturing and so on. Research by the Harvard Business Review reported that only nine percent of managers feel that they can rely on cross-functional colleagues all of the time, and only 50 percent say they can rely on them most of the time.
To engender a culture of accountability, leaders need to role model accountability by honouring all requests and promises. This can be difficult because it takes time, commitment and discipline. More importantly, leaders (and organisations) must demand accountability by putting in appropriate processes where poor performance is no longer tolerated. This includes:
- evaluating every project (what was good/bad, what can be improved)
- providing each individual with clear goals with clear rewards/consequences
- tracking results/deadlines/accountabilities weekly, and
- articulating clear action steps at the end of meetings.
4. DISCONNECTION FROM OTHERS
With technology changes and disruption, there has been a revolution in how we interact. Leaders who can build rapport and influence not only bring their best self to work, but also multiply the talents of their team members. They elevate them into a smart brain state.
Yet how we currently engage in relationships is still quite unevolved. When we get insanely busy, we tend to lock ourselves away or we see our colleagues as rivals. Many of us still default into an ‘I’m right, you’re wrong’ mentality or constantly compare ourselves to others, creating distrust and disrespect. It’s time for us to shift how we relate to each other and how we work together.
Managing our careers is really about managing a series of relationships. When a leader puts the interests and well-being of their employees above their own, they become a trusted leader – followed during bad and good times.
Each individual differs in their propensity to trust others. Sophisticated managers understand not everyone is the same. They take the time to understand how to build trust with each individual. This ensures they respect and empower each employee, thereby reducing challenging behaviours and low engagement.
Cultivating the skills to ascertain how to build trust improves a leader’s ability to build influence and rely on others, which improves their ability to get work done at a faster rate. It also means leaders are better at judging the best people for the job and making better decisions overall.
5. GENERATING LACKLUSTRE OR INCONSISTENT RESULTS
It’s not uncommon to find teams or departments that have been performing below standard for years. Yet other departments work hard to pick up the slack and begrudgingly come to terms with not expecting too much. Generally, if the leader or other team members are poor performers, it gives licence to others to perform below standard.
If there is one thing that causes distrust in an organisation, it’s when employees are allowed to continue working, even though their performance is dragging everyone down around them. Often, the leader and company become the scapegoats because they haven’t done anything to remove the offender.
To improve performance, leaders need to increase certainty by focusing team members on the outcomes they want to produce. This moves everyone into a more resourceful and positive brain state. As results start to be achieved, they become more confident in their abilities and the team. It triggers the reward centre of the brain, where people become more eager to achieve and can start to see a more positive future.
This involves nurturing a learning environment – one in which regular feedback, tracking of results, problem solving and
the ability to make mistakes is rewarded. It provides the safe space people need to become performance junkies.
CREATING A HIGH PERFORMANCE CULTURE
Engendering a high-trust culture boils down to every employee knowing they can rely on every person around them. It means everyone is committed to performing at a high level and helping their peers achieve as well.
It requires leaders who lead with trust and who follow through on promises and hold others to account. They communicate honestly and frequently. They help employees see the meaning behind their work and that they matter. They create a safe environment for people to speak up and be themselves.
We can quite easily adjust the business levers of process and profit, but it really is optimising the people lever that is much harder. The upside is that it provides the most beneficial results in the long term. Without improving people performance, mediocrity is inevitable.
The more leaders use tools to improve focus, accountability, clarity and influence, the easier it is to create the right environment that helps teams, and even leaders themselves, operate from a more positive and purposeful brain state. ●
Marie-Claire Ross is the founder and chief trustologist at Trustologie. She helps leaders put the right processes in place to accelerate trust during change and growth. If you want to find out how you rate for trust as a leader, download the free self-assessment at http://bit.ly/trust_leader.
This article also appears in the October/November issue of Facility Management magazine.
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