Wednesday, August 25, 2010

High Performance vs. Business as Usual - The Secret

When I lived in Vero Beach, Florida, a good friend of mine owned one of the best restaurants in town. It had a loyal clientèle and thrived - until Hurricanes Francis and Jeanne struck in 2004, that is. I once asked her what was the hardest part of running a successful restaurant. Her answer surprised me. It wasn't the hurricanes. It was finding reliable employees. I was familiar with some of her waiters. I thought they were excellent. But apparently from time to time they simply wouldn't show up for work.

Of course she needed a lot more from her wait staff than showing up for work. Wealthy patrons can be demanding. They have refined tastes, and they like to be treated a certain way. On a busy night, impressing the diners can be exceedingly difficult.

If all a manager ever wanted was a staff of employees who come to work on time and do what’s specified in their job descriptions, you could just manage them the way you do anything else, such as funds, tools, equipment, supplies, etc. You wouldn’t need people skills.

But my friend was no different from any other manager. What she wanted was for them to bring their best efforts, night after night.

People have talent. They have energy. They have the potential to be creative. They can be optimistic, patient, persistent, and a lot of other things as they work through tough challenges.

But the problem is, even if they’re capable of delivering this kind of effort, they don’t have to. There’s a certain level of performance — and they know what it is — that’s written down somewhere. To keep their jobs, that’s what they have to do. When the boss tells them what's required, that’s what they have to do. This level of effort is what managers recognize as “business as usual.” It’s not the extraordinary performance people are capable of.

What managers want most are things that can’t be specified or measured: confidence, compassion, commitment, composure, optimism, decisiveness, and dozens of other aspects of performance. You can’t demand these things, you can't measure them, and you can’t hold people accountable for them.

To get this kind of high performance, you have to lead people. You have to grow them into the kind of team members who willingly do these things. You have to inspire them to do it. You have to support them and encourage them. Eventually, when they know the leader, like the leader, respect the leader and trust the leader, then they may choose to give that level of effort. And if they do, day in and day out, work will become very satisfying to them. And of course it will be satisfying to the manager.

Have you ever had a boss you admired and trusted so much that you’d do anything for him? Someone who gave you the responsibility, authority, freedom of action, and recognition you felt you deserved? Did you love coming to work every day because you knew your boss believed in you? If so, you wanted to do your best for him, even though you knew you could just get by doing what was required.

Or maybe you had a “problem boss,” someone who wasn't very good with people and who micro-managed. Maybe this manager was self-serving or had questionable ethics. If so, then you know you never felt the desire to contribute what you were capable of.

That’s why learning how to lead effectively is so important. It's one of the secrets of management. The very things you need most from employees are the things you can't make them do. All employees are in on the secret. But in all too many cases, their bosses aren't.

Post by Dennis E. Coates, Ph.D., Copyright 2010. Building Personal Strength .

1 comment:

Sarcastic Bastard said...

I've had both kinds of bosses. I certainly prefer the non-micro managing kind. I would have jumped through hoops for the good bosses I've had.