Why getting real with people is the key to performance


Getting real with people is key to performance

Have you ever thought your personal performance objectives are like a set of handcuffs, designed to keep you in check and make sure you never take your eyes off the target? 

Added on 15 June 2015 by Colin Williams

There has been an incessant rise of ‘control’ mechanisms for individual performance over the last twenty years. We are now even seeing the balanced scorecard (a performance measure previously used at organisational level) being applied to individuals to ensure performance in every aspect of their job.

What has driven this trend?  Is it human resource managers trying to prove their world is as technical as those of marketing, engineering and finance? Is it that people are getting lazier and therefore need to be held to account more? Is it that people are less willing to take the initiative and therefore need more guidance and direction, “do this, don’t do that, not now, not like that ….?
I actually believe most of the work done in this field is well intentioned but somewhat deluded.  It assumes that everyone will be motivated by the same things – and that what gets measured gets done. It ignores the reality that how people feel at work is the biggest variable in how they perform. If someone feels valued, trusted, connected to those around them and recognises that there is a purpose to what they are doing they are likely to be committed, motivated and enthusiastic. Many good ideas come from individuals taking initiative in areas outside the scope of their personal objectives. 
The challenge for leaders, in my opinion, is to understand the importance of  relationships and purpose.  This does not mean leaders have to be ‘softies’. Creating strong relationships is as much about ‘getting real’ with people – challenging people playing politics, giving direct feedback and dealing with sensitive issues - as it is about encouraging, supporting and coaching people. I would argue that not connecting with people is the coward’s way out: it is much easier to finally lose your rag with someone once a situation has become unacceptable than it is to invest yourself in frank conversations over a period of time. It is these conversations, however, which are more likely to lead to an improvement in performance and take the heat out of difficult situations.
Creating the space for people to perform and supporting them as they do it is a better approach than trying to control every action they take. In many ways the leadership challenge is to have the confidence not to control people but to enable them to take the initiative.

The Ashridge Real Life Leadership programme helps managers improve their understanding of themselves and their impact on others.