If you create a sound strategy and execute against it but don’t create an environment where people can do their best work, the likelihood of the strategy failing is high.
The leader’s actions and behaviour significantly impact the environment and therefore the performance of the team.
So, leaders must focus on their behaviours that underpin and support the high-performance environment – the environment that supports effective execution.
Here I focus on the leadership behaviours that destroy or PREVENT high-performance.
- A short-term focus on profitability and financial metrics
The single biggest impediment to high-performance is short-term thinking. To meet quarterly financial goals, businesses try to do more with less, overwork their people, and cut muscle along with the fat. Regrettably, they often sacrifice long-term profitability and growth for short term results.
Of course, it is important to focus on profitability and financial metrics.
However, as leaders, we must realise that an emphasis on measures that aim at monthly or quarterly financial performance can easily distract the business from the important tasks of identifying strategies that can help them remain relevant in the future.
- Failure to create a cohesive leadership team
Many businesses are run by well-intentioned leadership teams who have a good understanding of the details of their business. But they don’t spend a lot of time thinking or talking about why their organisation exists or what values should drive their behaviours.
And though they talk about being strategic, they can’t articulate a clear simple strategy, and they don’t have a consistent method for evaluating their decisions. The leadership team is constantly managing against a long list of broad-ranging goals, some of which may not be compatible and most of which relate to only a few members of the team. Often, most team members have somewhat limited knowledge about and interest in the specific responsibilities of their peers.
In a cohesive leadership team, the members share a common passion for what they are committed to abiding by the same set of values. They have a clear plan for success and know exactly how they differ from the competition. At any given moment, they can articulate their top, collective priority, and they understand how every member of the team contributes to achieving that priority.
Also, it is important to recognise that high performance starts at the top. A company can’t be higher performing than the team that runs it. If the leadership team does not emulate the ideal high-performance environment that environment will not trickle down through the company.
- Spending too much time working in the business and not enough on it
Typically, as leaders, we spend too much time working in the business, dealing with the detail of keeping the business going. We do not spend enough time on the business: designing, planning, and mapping out the future.
And when we do try to start working on the business, we usually start in the wrong place, simply reacting to the latest crisis – be it people, customers, growth, or cash.
Working in the weeds or minutiae is the breeding ground for stress and overwhelm.
Stepping back from the business makes us realise that we can be busy fools, madly chasing our tails but not sure if we are being busy at what is important. Not sure if we even know what is important.
- Confusing performance with productivity
There was a time when productivity equalled performance. In an industrial economy, it is straightforward to measure productivity by measuring output – for example, the number of cars coming off an assembly line – against the number of hours worked to produce those cars. Today, where the services and technology sectors employ around 80% of the private workforce, productivity is more difficult to measure.
Productivity growth is sustainable when driven by creativity, risk-taking, innovation and new technology. It is short-lived when driven by downsizing and longer hours. Managers who solely emphasize productivity tend to drive out the capacity in their workers to engage in innovation and creativity.
Leaders today must optimise performance, not just optimise productivity. The modern worker cannot provide full value to their organisation through productivity increases. They must extend the horizons of their work and understanding as well.
And, because complex decisions require the thinking of many people, companies must focus on managing their teams and organisations to optimise performance. It is highly unlikely that single individuals will be able to develop the innovations required in the future.
- Displaying leadership behaviours that destroy trust
No matter where in the world, no matter what industry, no matter the size of the company – trust is the foundation for creating a great workplace culture.
But it doesn’t come easily to many, particularly those more used to a hierarchical structure. For some in the baby boomer generation knowledge is power. They operate on a need-to-know basis and ‘I’ll tell you what you need to know”.
Millennials are known to be more purpose-driven, so companies both internally and externally always need to be communicating what their values are and trying to be true to those things.
Leaders who withhold important information, micromanage, blame others for mistakes, pursue personal agendas, undervalue learning & eliminate training are demonstrating behaviours that destroy trust.
To think clearly, workers must see congruity between the leader’s words and their actions, and between the values that are preached and the values that are lived. They need to believe that the company does not withhold important information necessary to their jobs.
- Not creating permission to tell bad news
Plans are one thing, but in the real-world problems may arise. External influences occur. People make mistakes. Assumptions can be flawed. Things just happen.
These problems can impact costs, time & energy, cause stress in processes and people, and a need for change in priorities.
Early warning indicators provide choice. They improve our chances of hearing when things are off track earlier.
We can change priorities, allocate additional resources, move milestones or deadlines, apply organizational brainpower to problem-solving or fixing things. There are all sorts of things that we can do.
There is a natural tendency of people to not want to “bother the boss”, “fix it myself”, “not think it is a big deal”
Whether it’s fear, or it’s my job or pride, or I don’t want to let them down, or I can do it
Regardless of these, as leaders, we need to hear it earlier so that we have choices as to how to fix it.
We have to create an organization where people are encouraged to share issues and bad news early.
Click here to learn more: High-Performance Leadership: Creating Permission to Tell Bad News.
- Not driving the right culture
Culture is the “way we do things around here” and it’s established by the leaders of a business and lived by all.
It’s true that enthusiastic and energetic employees feel better about their work and workplace. But a performance culture is not about superficial artefacts like funky office furniture, yoga classes and ‘bring your dog to work’ days.
And it is not determined by an abstract feeling. Measuring workers’ contentment or happiness levels, as well as catering to their wants, often fails to achieve the underlying goal of a performance culture which is improved business outcomes.
And it requires more than completing an annual employee engagement survey and then leaving managers on their own, hoping they will learn something from the survey results that will change the way they manage.
Businesses improve performance when they treat employees as stakeholders of their own future and the company’s future. This means focusing on concrete performance development activities, such as clarifying work expectations, getting people what they need to do their work, providing development opportunities and promoting positive co-worker relationships.