Focus on the daily need.
Any operator worth their salt knows that delivering consistently high operational standards requires a relentless focus on getting the basics right. It may not be exciting to talk about this habitual focus on the daily need to ensure the operation is up to standard but I imagine that training to be a world-class athlete requires a similar disciplined focus on the day-to-day essentials.
The operational or brand standard needs to be clearly defined and recorded to prevent people from interpreting their own version of “what good looks like”. In reality, even with standards written down in black and white, there’s still room for people to misunderstand what needs to be done or, at the very least, appreciate why it needs to be done the way it does.
The only sustainable way to ensure clarity of understanding and expectations is to communicate with others clearly and concisely; never forgetting that this is a two-way street. I find too many managers have a definition of listening that fits along the lines of “waiting to speak” rather than “waiting to hear”!
Many of the conversations managers have with their team are necessitated by “set-piece” events such as monthly business reviews, site visits, team meetings and annual appraisals. However, the majority of true performance conversations take place at ad-hoc moments (whether in person or on the telephone) and through informal, unscripted ways.
I would argue that to be effective, managers must master the ability to have both types of conversation and be confident to do so in a proactive way. Too often emphasis is placed only on the more formal conversations, such as a monthly one-to-one, to the detriment of the more frequent, yet less structured conversations.
I summarise two of the common pitfalls that afflict managers as follows:
- Lack of structure and clarity regarding action points. In formal meetings it’s ridiculous that managers and team members leave a meeting together without clear actions formally recorded (for both parties). What needs to be done, by who, when, and with agreement on how success is measured is crucial for follow-up, especially during those unscheduled meetings and conversations. The simple acronym, SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time bound), describes all the elements needed to make a better goal and one that can be reviewed with ease.
- I would suggest that sometimes people find it difficult to identify all the action steps that will be needed to ensure the goal is completed, right at the start of the goal planning process. In these circumstances, effective managers don’t try to force out all the steps, and instead focus on what needs to be done in the next week, fortnight or month – whatever time gap is appropriate – until the next follow-up conversation.
- The second pitfall I often observe is managers assuming that their team member understands what needs to be done and why. This can be highlighted by the manager simply asking their team member at the end of the conversation to summarise what actions each person is going to take and by when, to explain why things need to be done in a specific way. These questions can reveal if the team member has misunderstood what needs to be done or if they’ve forgotten to note down an action they need to take. It takes a few minutes to do this check-in with the team member, yet so many managers either summarise it themselves or don’t bother at all. It’s easier to find out now if they’ve forgotten or misunderstood something, rather than waiting until the next meeting.
Simple questions like these lead us into an exploration of the behaviours required of the effective manager to ensure their performance conversations really add value.