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Clearview® Performance Systems brings you ... ® ... a Culture of Results & Engagement®

Here's the next in our series of weekly managerial TIPS (Techniques, Insights, and Practical Solutions)
to help you better engage your team in the activities that lead to higher performance.

CORE Bites Issue #90
(September 1, 2020)

Leadership Means Speaking Up (because doing NOTHING will do SOMETHING to performance)

I think it's a fairly universal aspiration for a leader to want to be liked. But when does that aspiration get in the way of being effective? Being respected? Being trusted?

The nature of my consulting work—the majority being with managers and leaders in various capacities—allows me to answer this question in the following way ... we will be less effective (with a predictable loss of trust and respect) when our desire to be liked means that we start accepting mediocrity.

In an interesting paradox, the toughest part of managing isn't dealing with poor performance because poor performance is, in most cases, easily quantified or verified. No, I find the majority of managers have developed a pretty decent set of tools to address poor performance. But where many struggle is when addressing mediocrity—lackluster and less-than-stellar performance—when an employee's work is passably okay ... but nowhere near great.

From a management standpoint, mediocre performance is insidious. It's subtle. And, on the surface, it might even seem harmless; but it's actually very dangerous to any leader attempting to build a high-performing organization. So why is tolerating mediocrity a frequent management shortcoming? I've found three common reasons a manager will default to acquiescing versus taking a stand and speaking up:

  • It's easy (and requires less emotional energy). Water always finds the path of least resistance—so do many managers. It's easy to just look the other way when an employee's work is marginal but not an outright disaster. Mediocre work is a murky gray area that many managers decide they can get by with—which is exactly the problem. Who wants to expend energy on a relatively small battle? We need to pick our battles, right? So many managers just look the other way. And accept mediocrity.
  • It gets in the way of being liked. Think of the multi-rater feedback process (360 degree assessment) or Employee Engagement Survey. These assessments are meant to evaluate many facets of the organization and—in particular—what employees think of you as a manager/leader. While this is clearly designed to help managers with their own professional development, it often turns into a bit of a popularity contest with serious behind-closed-doors and career-altering discussions taking place for those with lower scores, while someone who doesn't confront and accepts mediocrity—but who is well liked—gets all the accolades.
  • It lets us avoid conflict. We're all familiar with the fight or flight phenomenon. The term "Flighters" describes people who view conflict as a threat and who choose to acquiesce as a means to avoid dealing with anything contentious. I find Flighters are frequently those who bury themselves in busywork to avoid having to deal with conflict. But by not addressing mediocre performance, a manager is tacitly accepting it. In our People Management Essentials (PME) management system we use the phrase, "By doing NOTHING, you're doing SOMETHING to performance."

Here's a fact that may surprise you: Top performing employees are powerfully attracted to managers who have high standards and low tolerance for mediocrity—managers who create cultures where people are accountable to high performance standards. These managers engage employees in a way that make them want to bring their "A" game to work every day. Top performers are very comfortable with clear expectations ... and they like accountability.

Ironically, it turns out that the only people who are uncomfortable with high standards—and hypersensitive (often defensive) to any form of feedback to the contrary—are those who are comfortable with mediocrity. It's time to speak up!

High Value Activity (HVA) Action Steps

High performance is a norm that you need to defend consistently and vigilantly. This week (starting today), include these HVAs in your daily approach:

  • It Takes a Spark to Light a Fire: It's not easy for leaders to stand up and speak their mind, especially when the prevailing opinion is the exact opposite. But leaders can be the spark to light the fire of wisdom and direction. And this fire of wisdom and direction can be a significant force of good for the team as well as for the organization. Courageous leaders speak their mind by speaking through their heart. And how leaders speak the truth is just as important as speaking it. Learning how to be tough on the problem doesn't mean you have to be an unrealistic or uncaring manager.
  • Leadership and Being Liked: At first glance, you're probably seeing these two elements as inextricably intertwined. In essence, the implication is to be a strong leader you need to be liked. And this prevailing view results in many managers/leaders striving to be both nice and a great leader. But effective leaders know it's their responsibility to communicate business goals and to challenge employees when they feel those employees are not performing or not going in the right direction. This message may not always be "liked." So there must be a balance. As a suggestion, try replacing being "nice" with being fair, approachable, firm, and empathetic. Ask yourself these questions: "Are the goals being set realistic? Are they clear? Does the employee know what's expected of him/her?" You may not win 1st prize in the popularity contest, but you will win the respect of your team (and your manager).
  • Say What People Need to Hear: I'm continually amazed with how many times managers don't provide feedback because they don't want to hurt people's feelings. The practical reality is if your employees don't know that you're not satisfied with their performance, they won't know that anything needs to be fixed. When you see a behavior that's not acceptable, or is substandard, or that negatively impacts the individual in question, you need to provide feedback. In most cases I find that people want to do a good job and they don't even realize they're doing something they shouldn't, or they don't understand the impact their actions and behaviors may be having on others.
  • Fixing Mistakes: If you jump in and fix things every time your team messes up, you are coddling too much. You may also be disguising the fact that there's a deeper problem. You won't develop mental toughness and skilled workers if you're doing all the problem-solving and the cleanup work. As you've heard me say more than once, "Steal the Struggle ... Deny the Growth!"

I'd love to hear how these HVAs work for you!

Neil Dempster, PhD, MBA
RESULTant™ and Behavioral Engineer

Quote of the Week

"The capacity to learn is a gift; The ability to learn is a skill; The willingness to learn is a choice."

— Brian Herbert —