Demand excellence and you can get it. However, stars need the opportunity to shine and demands without rewards amount to tyranny. High-performance organizations know this and always take the time to acknowledge excellence.
Award effort but reward results.
Excellence doesn’t mean effort. As a famous philosopher once said, “do or not, there is no try.” Hard work deserves a thank you. Great results deserve more than that. They deserve recognition.
Make the rewards public.
Recognition by peers is a powerful motivator. Blowing off steam by taking a bow and having a few laughs can re-energize the workforce. Public praise when it is meaningful, specific and personal cement bonds to the company and re-humanizes demanding leaders. It’s also a great way to share tips, insights, and secrets of success.
Share techniques as best practices.
People are copycats. Why not let your workforce copy the best practices of your best performers. Give the “Stars” an award, hand them a microphone and have them take a few seconds and explain what they did to get the results they achieved. Everyone will try to copy that and you will have instantly raised the skill levels of your employees. You will praise the best performers, strengthen your culture and have fun at the same time. Big or small organizations will benefit.
Deciding between short-term gains and long-term goals is a false choice. Running a successful company doesn’t require one or the other. You have to be able to do both achieve success in the short term and position your company for success in the long terms. Shifting markets can put you out of business as easily as running out of cash, It just takes longer to realize you’re screwed.
Short term tactical planning is the normal focus.
Day to day can be in your face and overwhelming. That’s normal. Get it done. It can also blind you to big changes in the competitive landscape, shifts in customer needs, or major changes in underlying fundamentals. That’s a disaster. Getting screwed.
Develop a long-term strategic view to provide direction.
It’s useful to pick your head up from time to time and to check your roadmap. Where are you exactly on your journey and does the end destination still make sense? It’s pretty hard to do this during the daily grind. But hey, that’s what weekends are for. (Your significant other may not agree). Make sure you take a breather and think about where you are headed. Make sure your company is positioned to do that. Formalize this process if you can with an annual Strategic Review of the enterprise. Use it to ask awkward questions and independently reassess your progress. Then get back to the daily grind. But with renewed purpose. Pivot if you must. But do both: short term and long term.
Establish a budget for misses or additional investments.
Don’t assume your plans or pivots will work to perfection. They won’t. So be smart and save for a rainy day by baking some amount of failure into your financial plans. Set aside some room for the costs of time delays, unforeseen expenses, customer loss, investments in new capabilities. Run lean but with a margin of error. Maximize your opportunities.
One-over-one means that the actions you want to take for/against your direct reports must be approved by your boss. You shouldn’t have unilateral authority to reward or punish those under you without first clearing it with someone over you. Don’t be the judge, jury, and executioner of your staff. Separation of powers is a worthy and time-tested concept that has direct application to the business world. With positional power, you can change lives with a stroke of a pen: pay raises, promotions, demotions, dismissals. That kind of power deserves a check and balance. Having to justify your actions to someone above you is not a perfect solution by any means. But at least it presumes the decision making is objective.
Increase transparency to all of your key constituents.
Offering a window to your bosses into your most sensitive of decisions will increase the transparency and therefore trust related to your judgments. It fosters a stronger position of moral authority and not a weaker one. The strength of your image is an important part of the tone you set as a leader.
Support your decisions with objective information.
Facts are your friends when it comes to important judgments. They provide for just outcomes but equally are key lubricants for the change process as they are the foundation for rational communications. People need to understand the reasons behind your demands in order to best comply. It is much easier to explain why when the rationale is fact-based.
Explain the differences to winners and losers.
Your ability to say that the process drove the decision, it was scrutinized and therefore fair, is a powerful way to build credibility. The beneficiaries of the decisions (the winners) will feel like they’ve really earned it. The disadvantaged (losers) will at least feel it was fair. It’s essential for both to have a solid reason to say yes or no and the fact that the decision came under a higher level of scrutiny will increase the credibility of the explanation.
Resources are always limited and in demand. Most employees believe in two universal truths;
1. They are underpaid and 2. They don’t have the resources they need to do the job. So resource allocation decisions can get tricky and cause heartburn.
An alternative to never ending negotiations and conflict is to dig a bit deeper into the resource question by focusing on the unit drivers of work: phone call, customer visit, widget, report, etc. By concentrating on the driver you can use simple arithmetic to build your needed capacity and then allocate resources accordingly.
Determine the root causes of work activities.
Don’t just concentrate on the output. Determine the source of the work itself. What generates the work? The idea here is to focus on the why and not the what. Once you determine the root cause, you can link it directly to other activities that lead to improvements.
Ensure that drivers form the basis for improvement projects.
Don’t waste time on money by working harder, but on the wrong things. If you can simplify your world into a handful of key items that really drive your business results and work activities, you can easily engage your employees to make things better. It is in their interest for thigs to go well so alignment is easy. More, you can improve your competitive advantage, productivity or customer retention rates (to name a few) by focusing your resources on the right things.
Make sure they are easy to explain.
This will take some real work because a natural tendency, when you are really busy (as all entrepreneurs are), is to be superficial and move on to the next thing. Avoid that pitfall by ripping away as many layers as possible until you find the simplest idea. The simpler the better. Simple is easy to communicate and act on. And you will need buy-in from your team to set and achieve your goals.
Keeping track of things is an essential component of performance management. You do need to know if you are on track and Dashboards can be a great tool to clarify direction, set standards and align your team. The simpler the better. Good Dashboards are easy to find, read and understand. Dashboards are like an abbreviated scorecard.
Keep them simple so they can be easily understood.
If it’s longer than 1 page, it isn’t a dashboard. It’s a report. Your goal on a dashboard is to quickly assimilate the status and then proceed to adjust. Clarity is paramount. Allow your staff to quickly spot the good, the maybe and bad by color coding the dashboards with Green, yellow and red ratings. Refresh them often.
Focus on key variables that drive real performance.
Identify the things you are trying to accomplish and avoid the temptation to go number crazy. More isn’t necessarily better. Quite often, long lists of numbers make things more confusing and ineffective. So, you will need a filter to determine what is really important. Measure how you make money, and ensure that your Dashboards track the drivers of your progress. That’s the easiest way to align interests and is a powerful, no-surprises, communication tool.
Be consistent and disciplined about capturing, analyzing and communicating the results.
Routine and repetition can ensure that the learnings are closely adhered to and acted upon. Accuracy is paramount to create a level playing field and the sense of fairness. Dashboards can be a great communication tool, provide a foundation for rewards and celebration and enhance the credibility of your views on performance.
Try your best to avoid employee collisions and conflicts by being clear about who does what and why. People like to know what they are responsible for and the overall leader is in the best position to establish everyone’s lanes.
Match decision making to responsibilities.
Are the roles you’ve put in place really designed to succeed? As an employee, do you have all of the tools you need to accomplish your goals? A lot of time can be spent on discussing fairness. A good way to avoid those conflicts is to take the time to match decision making authorities with the responsibilities you have set for the team members. If there is a mismatch, you will have conflict and underperformance by design. Avoid that by thinking through what you want out of the role.
Seek to increase collaboration while clarifying boundaries.
You need to set boundaries so you don’t allow pushing and shoving over turf. Everyone likes to have a clear definition of their territory but day to day life isn’t so simple. Most business problems require a team effort to resolve. And, you probably can’t afford to give everyone on your team their own complete staff. So, make sure that collaboration is seen as a key aspect of your culture. Everyone must be able to work and play well with others in order to build a successful enterprise. Start setting that expectation from the beginning.
Provide a forum for disagreements.
Collaboration isn’t always easy because people are, well, people. They will disagree and you absolutely want that. But you also want the matters to be resolved in a civil way so that there isn’t any long term aftershock that creates a drag on performance. Incorporate the positive aspects of disagreements into your environment but provide a means of resolving them through stand sessions like meetings. Weekly staff sessions or dedicated forums are equally effective.
People behave to metrics and you can use your production metrics to enhance your profitability. Metrics are best when they are representative, rational and achievable. But you can also use them to create a culture of continual improvement.
Use the group average to set the minimum standards.
Don’t let your lowest producers set the standard for your operations. Allow your best performers to set the standard for everyone.
Leverage the success of top performers.
They are outperforming the rest for good reasons. Let them explain what they are doing to your other team members. Give them a forum to speak at a staff meeting or recognition meeting and allow them to share their expertise. Sharing best practices, experiences, ideas and tactics improves both engagement and productivity. Both will move the needle.
Periodically reset the new minimums.
Capitalize on your teams’ improvements by upping the bar at scheduled intervals. Don’t be overly random or scientific. Just pick the prior period average as the new floor and you will build a ladder of successful productivity. If you use their actual performance averages, you will simultaneously capture the benefits of the leaders and also avoid a protracted discussion about fairness. Hey, it’s the average so that means most people are already making the goals. If someone isn’t, give them a forum (as above) to learn how to improve. But insist on improvement.
The design of your organizational structure can have a big impact on your company’s performance as it will enable or disable communication and action. You should contemplate your personal leadership style and key company challenges when deciding on your design in order to optimize the match of needs and outputs.
Hierarchical designs work best for a directive style.
If you want to control your company from the center, a hierarchical design wherein specific accountabilities and authorities can be clearly articulated is the way to go. It’s clear, easy to communicate and you can decide how much or how little you want to empower others to decide. The downside is that it’s harder to delegate, can be slower to implement changes and your better employees may not like it. But hey, you’re the boss so it’s up to you.
Go with a Flat design if Speed is your goal.
Managerial review cycles take time and with a flat organization, you really don’t have a built-in, 1 over 1 type of process. So you get the speed in decision making but without someone to double check, you may incur a higher risk. Empowerment is easier and employee engagement should also trend up. But coordination can be difficult and you will need to create forums for collaboration to make sure that everyone is pulling in the same direction. In other words, if you go flat, make sure everyone talks to each other.
Loosely defined organizations can enable innovation.
It’s always smart to have your best people work on your biggest problems. If you don’t set clear organizational boundaries, then people will migrate easily and quickly to the problem areas, develop ideas and feel free to quickly implement them. Sounds perfect. There is a drawback to this design, however; and the drawback is especially risky if you are surrounded by a bunch of type “A” players. They will all migrate to the problem and then fight about who’s in charge. There will be blood. If that’s the case, make sure that there is a designated apex predator in the group to keep order.
Company advocates can promote growth and should be developed alongside your brand. A great place to develop advocacy is right in your backyard. Your community is a direct economic beneficiary of your company’s work and can become a strong asset for your business. Through social media and word of mouth, it can reach large and important audiences easily and quickly. Give it the same attention you give your ad campaigns.
Seek testimonials from customers, employees and other stakeholders.
Let your core constituents carry your message to their social networks and friends by creating programs that benefit them. Give them a forum to talk about the great things you are doing and put it on YouTube, Twitter, Snapchat or others. Corporate social responsibility can be a profitable endeavor if you design programs that address the intersection of interests between your staff, employees, and community. Look at the needs of each group (mentoring, financial literacy, health awareness, etc.) and find common touch points that appeal to all. Then, ask your employees to build a program around it within a certain budget. Try it. If promoted correctly, the programs will attract media interest and offset the expense of building your brand.
Leverage media coverage in lieu of spending ad dollars.
Invite the media to the party. Events like education, construction projects, school volunteerism, resource sustainability, healthcare activities (to name a few) can easily fill column inches in newspapers or minutes of programming time on TV that you would otherwise have to pay for. You may get a 10x return on your investment in addition to the satisfaction of doing the right thing.
Improve employee satisfaction by building pride in your company.
Everyone wants to be proud of the company that they work for and CSR programs can be a good source of pride for your employees. This sense of pride can create a level of engagement that can carry through the office into the customer experience and the numbers. Your employees, in turn, will become your strongest of brand advocates and help create a virtuous cycle of growth. Harvest their ideas and commitments by providing forums for volunteerism and you will grow your reputation as well as your revenues.
Define your 10 commandments
Don’t forget to live by them. You are always on stage and always being watched. So be careful of the rules you make and the example you set. Everyone will copy your lead.
Articulate expected behaviors.
Always hold yourself to the highest standards but don’t be afraid to also be human and allow yourself to make mistakes. Just for fun, check your driver’s license and if it doesn’t say you are The All-mighty, you now have a license to make mistakes. In order to mitigate the impacts of those mistakes on your company’s culture, express what you expect from others. They need to do more than just try to be you.
Challenging people can really bring out the best in most so don’t be afraid to ask others to comply with X, Y, Z, professional standards. When you explain your expectations to others you give them a real chance to comply. Staff meetings, one-on-ones and town halls are all good forums to utilize. Just be clear and to the point about what you think is good and bad and why.
Treat the values like the Constitution.
They should be a source of strength and pride for your organization. They should provide for continuity and also adapt to the times, now and again. Revisit your values each year with your team and make sure they remain relevant. If so, carry on and if not, make adjustments. Dedicate a session to just this to ensure there is depth to the discussion and importance to the topic.
Don’t underestimate the importance of creating a coherent company culture. You want people to be at their best, especially when you aren’t around. Fortunately, there are tools like this (link) to help you learn more about this subject.