Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Pushing and Shoving

Building a team isn't something you do every day. Choosing what kind of leader you want to be absolutely is something you need to do each and every day, many times a day in fact.

As we interact with our people and amongst ourselves we are continually faced the challenge of how hard to push them and how much to compensate for the realities of a market, industry, location, or culture. In the end, I believe that not pushing people to excel is actually hurting them and the organizations we support.

If you allow people to repeatedly come up against the wall and back down, you are depriving them of the opportunity to grow and stretch. To get better, to add more value, to do more than the ordinary. If we aren't setting an expectation that walls are something they go over, that no challenge is insurmountable, then we allow them to fade into mediocrity. It is a slippery slope. One made more I feel by the way in which we evaluate and give feedback.

As a consultant I've been privileged to work inside and alongside employees from literally dozens of corporations. From Fortune 100's with thousand of employees, to small finance companies that made billions of dollars with only a few hundred employees. In every organization I've worked in, for, or alongside of there same basic model was followed. For the most part individual performance is ignored until some arbitrary review cycle in which supposedly all the good and bad was dumped into a morass of feedback that was tied in some convoluted way to compensation or promotion. This process involved everyone dredging up events and commentary from the months prior in a flurry of anxiety trying to capture some meaningful thread to rationalize decisions about who is performing that were mostly already decided. Once the process was complete, everyone tucked the papers in a desk and safely ignored them until the next arbitrary cycle kicked off again to repeat the insanity. Of course, I'm sure in your unique/special organization this is entirely different and everyone just loves and thrives under your evaluation process.

This model of ineffectiveness is perpetuated at least in part because of our inability to provide routine feedback and challenge our people and each other in a more interactive fashion. Why on earth should we be having a conversation about my performance three months ago, if I'm effectively delivering enormously critical objectives right at this moment? If I screwed up yesterday, why on earth are you going to wait multiple months to help coach me on how to be better? It's really quite absurd when you think about it.

As leaders it is our responsibility to ensure all our employees have an opportunity to take on new challenges, knowing full well that the likelihood of missing the mark is ever-present. If we allow our employees to think that not meeting a challenge is a bad thing, we give them permission to rise to each challenge and face them head-on. Don't get me wrong, not delivering on expectations shouldn't be the norm. But neither should we operate out of fear. In the same way, willingness to take on challenges should be the norm, and the ability to exceed them regularly should be especially rewarded. We all need to try, we can't always win. Everyone gets points for trying, everyone should win sometimes. Some should get more points for winning more frequently or overcoming bigger hurdles, but not making a good try should be grounds for dismissal.

Each day you go through as a leader that you aren't giving your people feedback is a day you are letting them down. Don't steal their opportunities to improve. Don't deny the competent ones room to grow because the incompetent ones don't get corrected. One of the hardest parts of leadership isn't just knowing who to push for growth, it's also being willing to give some of them a shove. . .right out the door.

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