I once had a friend ask me “what do you get your employees to perform well? I can’t get mine to follow directions consistently.” I answered, “I don’t do anything to do anything to get them to perform, they do that on their own.”
Trying to create excellent employees is a recipe for frustration. In fact, I’d be willing to bet money that if you use a lot of energy trying to change employees, you will only end up disappointed. A lot of managers think that giving directions and asking for compliance with the rules will keep their teams running like well-oiled machines.
If only life was that simple. You can’t make people perform because organizations are not like machines, they are more like organisms. I never had a great way to articulate this until I saw a presentation by Ken Robinson a few years ago where he said:
People talk about their functions in the organization. Human organizations are not at all like mechanisms. I mean they have hierarchies, responsibilities, and different roles – but a human organization is much more like an organism. What I mean is it’s a living thing. If all the people leave the building, there is no organization left in it. The organization is the people, their relationships, their motivations, their energies, their values, their aspirations or lack of them. It’s a living breathing thing. A successful organization is one that reciprocates with its environment and one that helps to enrich the environment upon which it depends. When that relationship is broken, the organism dies.
Have you ever had to take care of a plant or garden? If you have there is one universal truth you learned: you can water a plant, give them light and fertilize them, but you can’t make it grow. Whether or not the plant grows is a function of the conditions.
The same thing goes for the people who work for you. You can compel them to work, and sometimes you have to, but you can’t force excellence. That is a personal choice. All you can do is make sure you have created the conditions in which they can grow and flourish.
This analogy is especially powerful for me as a manager since in growing companies everyone plays a part in creating an environment where employees, co-workers, and clients can flourish. That takes three things:
As a manager, it is easy to give out orders and delegate tasks. The hardest part is developing people. Here are some observations I have made on creating an environment in which employees are more likely to generate significant results:
Give them something to commit to
Giving employees something to commit to it a good first step. Your company is fueled by the vision and direction you set. It’s the goal that employees are supposed to be working toward bit by bit every day. To be most productive employees, need to know and understand the vision.
Become Their Lead Blocker
I learned a long time ago that managers can’t always be the hero. Sometimes their role is to be the mentor or lead blocker. When you are the lead blocker, it’s all about clearing the path so that it’s easier for employees to excel at their job. Doing this coupled with proper coaching builds employee self-confidence, and their ability (and desire) to take initiative and think for themselves. Employees can then determine the best decisions by because they begin to understand concepts like problem solving, communication, conflict resolution and time management.
Treat the company as a whole
Every person that works in your company is the company. When there is lots of division among managers, teams, or divisions the company will struggle to thrive. It might sound cliche, but you cannot divorce yourself from the environment you depend on and expect it to flourish. It simply doesn’t work that way.
There is an old saying that says “Generals do not win battles, their soldiers do.” When you don’t give your team the right tools, it has a demotivating effect that can cause people to leave or worse stay and become disengaged.