Unleash your Employees’ Potential!

Recently, I worked with a client who was frustrated with his employees because the company was not reaching its goals. He said he felt stuck, because when he tried to let go of micro-managing, he was often disappointed by substandard performance and missed deadlines. Before I could even ask him a question, he further told me, “It’s not like I’m not paying them fairly; I am. But still, they come in to work every day to just do their minimum job requirements. I don’t believe anyone is really thinking about innovative solutions to meet and exceed the goals.” This is a common frustration of many business owners and leaders who end up calling me saying, “Come fix my people!” My response to them is always, “If you are part of the equation to growth, would you be willing to look at some things you could do differently as a leader, too?” There has been a lot of misunderstanding when it comes to motivating employees and helping them reach their potential. Many business owners and leaders believe throwing money at employees is the answer. In most cases, that solution couldn’t be farther from the truth. A McKinsey study, as well as other popular performance management authorities, reveal five non-cash motivators to get employees engaged and enthusiastic to meet company, department and individual performance goals. The five best practices to bring out your employees’ potential and create a high-performing team include:
  1. Clear job descriptions.
  2. Employee initiatives that align to the company goals.
  3. One-on-one collaborative coaching conversations to help them overcome perceived and real obstacles.
  4. Specific and immediate feedback and praise for performance achieved.
  5. Quarterly performance reviews to benchmark performance and create new key objectives for the upcoming quarter.
When leaders align an employee’s job description to the goals and collaborate with them to create clear action plans, it becomes easier for the employee to reach the goals. This is because employees no longer have self-doubt about expectations. In addition, collaborative coaching conversations allow employees to have input and buy-in regarding “how” they will achieve the goals. This is in contrast to cultures where employees have not been encouraged to develop their voices. In cultures where leaders either tell employees what to do to reach the goals, or do not have upfront collaborative conversations, employees tend not to speak up. This leads to an environment in which employees either hesitantly say “yes” to direction given by their boss; or tend to quietly feel stuck when they can’t figure out how to overcome an obstacle. Creating a collaborative culture with immediate feedback and praise gives the employee direction and lets the employee know where he or she stands. A performance-based culture such as this encourages two-way communication, eliminates the anxiety from the unknown, builds self-esteem and creates high-performing teams. Employees begin to feel they can achieve goals because expectations are clear, plans of action are outlined, and regular collaborative coaching huddles and meetings keep them on track by helping them overcome obstacles. Interestingly, when this five-step Performance Management Process is done correctly, employees become more motivated than they would if managed with the three highest financial incentives: cash bonuses, increased base pay, stock or stock options. There is a caveat, however, to the performance management research above. According to a Princeton study by Daniel Kahneman and Angus Deaton, non-cash methods of performance management work only when employees are paid fair market value and make a total household income of more than $75,000 per year. This number varies slightly by state and does not take into consideration debt or number of children. If an employee’s cost of living is covered, the person then begins what the authors call “life evaluation,” which is a quest to feel better about one’s life and accomplishments. This brings into focus the need to have clear company and individual goals, so the employee can feel a sense of personal accomplishment. Conversely, when leaders take the time to effectively align employees to the goals upfront, they can let go of micro-managing and trust their unified mindset and map for success will yield expected results. This also increases job satisfaction for leaders who otherwise resent employees for having to “babysit” their performance. Leaders are always amazed at how clarity upfront, along with regular collaborative huddles and meetings, breeds employee confidence and commitment to meet the goals. My dad, who loved carpentry, often told me, “Measure twice and cut once.” This principle applies to business, too: When we work by ready-aim-fire, we effectively align employees to the goals so they can reach their full potential…and so can we!   Susan K. Wehrley is the founder and CEO of BIZremedies.com