Three Strategies Strong Leaders Use
Managers face a difficult balancing act as they try to simultaneously elevate their team’s performance and engagement while navigating the realities of the “great resignation” and an evolving hybrid workplace. Given these challenges, the question that managers ask us most often is, “Which few things matter most to engage and retain my employees?”
The good news is that there are three actions a manager can take to ensure they have a deep bench of high performing, engaged employees. The bad news is that many companies dramatically over-complicate these three powerful talent-building practices.
Setting great goals, coaching for performance and accurately predicting potential are the trifecta for talent-building leaders. Let’s radically simplify these practices to make it even easier for you to grow more high-performing talent faster.
1. Set Great Goals
The academic research is remarkably clear about the single largest driver of individual high-performance: Set Big Goals. As intuitive as this seems, we find that many managers leave performance on the table by not focusing on what matters most.
To get the true performance-driving power from goal setting, managers need to set only a few goals. Because while our teams have 100 things that need to be delivered this year, it’s likely there are three or four truly big deliverables. These deliverables are the consequential outcomes of those 100 activities. They are the things that the boss’s boss, the shareholders, or your most important customers value the most.
Simply say what you plan to deliver and by when, and how success will be measured (without a long list of bullets beneath each).
Too often we treat goal setting as an exercise in project management or we list everything we want to be recognized for. Setting only a few goals drives a focus on what others care most about.
Remember to stretch every goal! The best science of human performance tells us that more challenging goals drive bigger results. This means that every goal you help set for your team should be at the “maximum reasonable amount” of stretch. Maximum reasonable amount means that you know what each of your team members is capable of, what they can do differently to be an even higher performer, and how you will help them during the year. You help them set goals that are challenging to achieve and very challenging to exceed.
Ensure the cascade. Surprisingly few organizations have an effective goal cascade process, which means team members often work on activities that may be interesting but don’t directly support the strategy. The easiest way to ensure alignment is to have managers lead the goal setting process.
To do this, each manager meets with her or his team and explains what he or she is trying to achieve at the group level. Each of the team members then develops their goals that support the group’s objectives.
The academic research is remarkably clear about the single largest driver of individual high-performance: Set big goals. As intuitive as this seems, we find that many managers leave performance on the table by not focusing on what matters most.
2. Coach for Performance
Just like goals, coaching is scientifically proven to elevate performance. It redirects our efforts and helps us to focus on the actions that matter most.
We find that organizations over-complicate and bureaucratize coaching processes so much that managers have little interest in taking part. We have a radically simple solution that’s now being used by millions of leaders around the world. It’s called 2+2 Coaching and is as simple as meeting each quarter with each of your direct reports. The meeting can last as few as 15 minutes and looks like this:
- You make two observations against their goal progress. This is not two observations against every goal, but two observations that you believe will best support higher performance.
This may sound like: “Rajan, I’ve been hearing great things from our global teams about how inclusive you’re being in the marketing innovation project. You’re listening to ideas up and down the organization and that’s producing innovative ideas from areas we never expected to hear them from.” And, “Rajan, the marketing strategy is about a month behind schedule. I’m not sure what the delay is but I need to see something within two weeks.”
- You then provide two suggestions for what that individual can do more or of less of to be an even higher performer.
This may sound like: “Rajan, this is a very relationship-based organization and you’ve only joined us recently. Try to meet one new leader each week to help build the relationships that will allow you to be even more effective.” You could add, “Rajan, you have a lot of projects coming up and I know that you don’t have a project management background. We offer a great course that I think will help you tremendously.”
Is this brilliant coaching? No. It’s baseline coaching and if every manager in your company has that conversation once a quarter with each team member, I can promise you elevated performance. After you are great at this, you can choose to add in development or other content to the conversation.
3. Accurately Predict Potential
A primary driver of individual engagement is the ability to grow and develop. This is especially important to your highest potential leaders. You want to know who can move farthest, fastest in your organization, to ensure they’re being developed at the maximum possible pace.
Your company may already have a model to predict potential to advance but, if not, the framework below is both simple and backed by strong science. It’s important to remember that performance does not equal potential. Most high performers do not have potential to advance upward.
- Consistently high performer: The individual continually performs at the 75th percentile compared to their other smart peers. Performance is the gateway to potential. After all, it would be unusual for you to say, “Bob is consistently a 50th percentile performer, but I think he can move far and fast in our company!”
- Willing to make sacrifices and trade-offs to advance: People who advance quickly in organizations often spend more time on work related matters than others do. They may find they put in more hours, travel more frequently and are assigned more visible, high-stakes projects. They’re willing to sign up for the trade-off of faster advancement in exchange for more of their valuable time. You might call this drive or ambition. How do you know if your team member is willing to sign up for this? Ask them.
- Consistently succeeds in unfamiliar situations: True high potentials give you confidence that they will figure out what to do when they don’t know what to do. This factor is a combination of strong intellectual horsepower, a successful history of diverse, challenging experiences and the ability to manage others through change.
You should know who on your team fully meets these criteria and ensure you’re matching their development to their potential. The science says that they’ll grow most quickly (and be more engaged) if you put them in big, unfamiliar experiences.
Focus on What Matters
As a manager, it’s easy to feel confused about where to prioritize your time to attract and retain the best talent. Fortunately, you can rely on the strongest science of human performance to guide you. If you increase your ability to set big goals, coach for performance and accurately identify potential, top talent will view you as the manager (and company) where they can achieve their dreams.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Marc Effron is the author, 8 Steps to High Performance. He has more than 25 years of experience in helping large global companies drive high performance. For more information, please email [email protected], visit www.talentstrategygroup.com, and follow him on LinkedIn: in/effron.