As a former CEO of multiple businesses and now a Business Coach, I’ve learned from experience that there are fundamentally three key drivers of a high-performance environment in a ness.
- Strategy – clear customer strategy development and definition
- Execution – there are consistent processes for strategy execution that align individual contributions to the overall strategy
- Behaviours – the underpinning behaviours of the leaders and the culture of the workgroup or organization is a massive driver.
In terms of strategy execution, high-performing teams:
- Have a plan, measure the plan against goals & stick to their plans.
However, these disciplines are also found in non-high-performing teams.
The key differentiator in a high-performing team is that every individual knows how their contribution fits with the goals of the team or group.
So high-performing teams use aligned business planning processes to an individual contributions level to bring their strategy to life!
But, as we know, plans are one thing, but in real-world problems may arise. External influences occur. People make mistakes. Assumptions can be flawed. Things just happen.
They can impact costs, time & energy, cause stress in processes and people, and a need for change in priorities.
As leaders, 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, and apply organizational brainpower to problem-solving or fixing things. There are all sorts of things that we can do.
So how do we create an organization where people are encouraged to share issues and bad news early?
None of us likes admitting it when things go wrong. Think of the last time when you tried to solve something yourself rather than tell your boss.
The leader’s role is to ensure problems are solved, unblock obstacles and resolve issues that are an impediment to our progress.
Therefore, it is critical that the leader creates permission to give bad news through the use of these as early warning indicators.
How do you create an environment which tells “bad news?”
Firstly, we use status parameters.
Status parameters encourage the right behaviour.
The purpose of status parameters is to be able to “hear” if something is not happening or something has changed.
Status parameters create a reason for an individual to be able to speak to the boss if something is off track.
Most managers typically just use time-bound aspects. For example, updates via a weekly report or during the monthly 1-1.
But there are other areas that are more “bad news” oriented and important information you need earlier than later.
- Inaccurate assumptions
- Performance deviations on an individual or overall objective
- Strategic impacts – competitive reaction or market change
- Milestone delays – a key milestone date will be delayed beyond a defined parameter
These wouldn’t normally be a natural part of a conversation, so it is important that these are used as a mental checklist when the task is delegated and agreed.
Secondly, through leadership behaviours, creating the right environment to allow the information to flow to you.
Here’s what some of those behaviours look like.
Actions and words match (intension vs impact)
The leader has to lead by example; their actions and words match. To think critically, people have to get their emotions out of the way. They have to see congruity between the leader’s actions and 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.
Workplace relationships can be fertile ground for conflict. Conflicts often arise when there isn’t a shared understanding and agreement of the facts. And what causes a lack of shared understanding? Assumptions and expectations.
Assumptions cause us to think we have a full understanding of the situation. While many assumptions are necessary to get by every day, when we make assumptions about others’ words, actions and motivations, we run a high risk of being wrong. This can lead to significant problems in workplace relationships.
We are all susceptible to unconscious assumptions about the world around us. The trick is to remember to check yourself.
Speak the Unspeakable
In every company, certain subjects are only discussed behind closed doors. The problem is that often these “unspeakable” statements are the most important ones for leaders to hear and for the workgroup to tackle. They need to be said out loud, not at the “meeting after the meeting.” The subjects people are most afraid to talk about are those that leaders most need to address.
Some typical examples of unspeakable subjects in a company; are the leaders don’t tell the truth, no one cares how hard we work, our pay is not competitive, the managers don’t do a good job at communicating with us, and people care too much about impressing bosses rather than doing what’s right.
Before your company can improve its performance, it needs to bring taboo subjects into the light.
There are steps companies can take to encourage workers to speak the unspeakable.
“Have the ‘meeting after the meeting’ in the meeting.”
If the values and behavioural expectations are not clear in the team, it leads to an incohesive team which often manifests as holding back during difficult conversations or the real meeting occurs in the hallway after the meeting where people express how they really feel about an idea or issue.
How do you find out if there is a meeting after the meeting?
Assume there is a meeting after the meeting. Find someone who will tell you. Do it three times in a row, and these issues will be brought to the meeting.
Remember, it’s not personal – people just don’t trust leaders.
Surface/manage resistance to change
Resistance to change is natural and inevitable. It will either be expressed verbally or behaviourally: sabotaging work, sick days, grievances, passive resistance — saying “yes” but not following through
These behaviours can compromise not only the success of a change program but also the success of the company.
Resistance to change needs to be openly addressed and managed. The result may be a hostile or heated debate, but if managed properly, negative behaviours can be channelled in a manner that allows real change to happen. Before being asked to make a change, employees need to be given the opportunity to “vent” and feel that their opinions have been heard.
So, to summarise.
How do you improve your chances of hearing when things are off track earlier?
First, by ensuring you set expectations on when you need status updates upfront AND following up as needed.
Second, by creating the right environment to allow the information to flow to you.
There is a natural tendency of people not to want to “bother the boss”, “fix it myself”, or “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.