Almost every senior leader I talk to now tells me the same thing, “There’s too much going on.” “We don’t know what’s happening.” “It’s chaos.” These comments are in quotation marks for a reason; they’re actual quotes. My response is always the same; I ask a question, “If you’re anxious in this business environment, what must it be like for your people a few levels down?”
Some take the time to find out; most don’t. And because we don’t, we more times than not impose new rules or announce decisions that makes sense at our level and makes our lives easier (we think) without carefully considering the impact for others. That’s not change leadership. That’s emotional reactivity.
In times like these, keeping our workforce engaged and performing is a more difficult task. Indeed, the recent Gallup study on the state of the US workforce finds engagement at a dismal 30%. The news, the pace, the rumors, and the emotional realities of every individual member of our organizations are working against leaders at almost every turn. What’s a leader to do? Stay curious, that’s what.
When things get complex, I like to find a way to make them simple again. If a person or team is not as engaged as we would like or performing at the level we know they could, there is a barrier in the way. We hired these people because of their aptitude. When we hired them they were engaged and performing at a high level. What’s gotten in the way of that? Three questions help us identify the barriers to high engagement and high performance. Three questions give us the information we need to take steps to remove those barriers, increase engagement and raise performance.
1. What does this person or team need clarity about in order to engage and perform at a high level (vision, strategy, game plan, role, responsibility, success measures, accountabilities)?
2. What about the atmosphere (culture) needs to start, stop, or change (structure, systems, resources, communications, trust)?
3. What can we start, stop, change to better develop the talent (aptitude & attitude) of this person or team?
We can’t just ask ourselves these questions. That’s guess work. We need to ask our people and teams. I’m not talking about some formal survey. I’m talking about a conversation. Talk to folks.
As we begin our push for the end of the calendar year, be curious; that’s the starting point for real wisdom and success.
(Photo from “The Artist”, borrowed with gratitude.)