Every business wants and needs top performers, but most entrepreneurs and executives assume that if they hire and train the smartest and most-experienced people, they will get exceptional performance. They forget that top performance is a 2-way street, requiring comparable initiative and responsiveness on the part of the leader, as well as contribution from each team member.
In other words, under-performing employees can be just as much a function of leaders not doing their job as employees not doing their job. In fact, there are initiatives that leaders can and must do to even enable high performance on their team. I saw the key ones outlined well in a recent book, “Creating High Performers,” by William Dann, a leading coach to experienced CEOs.
In my own role as advisor and mentor to many entrepreneurs and startups, I was struck by how relevant and critical these same initiatives are to even the earliest stage businesses. Thus, I have converted here Dann’s seven questions for direct reports, to responsibilities that every aspiring entrepreneur should keep high on their own personal priority list:
1. Constantly communicate what is expected of the team as a whole. Only a few team members will ever be able to figure out what is expected of them on a regular basis. As the team grows — and the business pivots — communication of expectations becomes more and more critical. Your startup’s survival, as well as people performance, is at stake.
2. Set the standards for good performance in each role. New team members in a new startup, coming from different backgrounds, may have quite different benchmarks of excellent performance. Your standards for product quality, sales growth and customer satisfaction must be documented and reviewed prior to results and performance reviews.
3. Provide regular feedback on results seen and measured. Inadequate feedback, good or bad, will result in lowered motivation and a decline in performance, even with the best people. Informal feedback should be provided weekly or daily, with more formal sessions scheduled at least semi-annually. Surprises are expensive for employees and leaders.
4. Top performers need authority to carry out their responsibilities. Team members who lack sufficient authority tend to avoid responsibility rather than rising up to meet it, primarily due to fear of failure. Giving authority also implies patient coaching on early mistakes, letting go of control and positive recognition of team member initiatives.
5. Provide timely decisions in areas where they do not have authority. People measure your responsiveness as a leader, just as you measure theirs. Top performers expect to be surrounded by top leaders, who monitor and supportively respond to situations that go beyond their domain. The goal is to have no employee action impeded by leader inaction.
6. Make sure required data, resources, and tools are provided early. Top performance is more than skills and effort. It requires the right tools and information to get the job done. The leader’s responsibility is to anticipate these requirements, listen carefully to the needs of their team and be responsive in providing these needs.
7. Acknowledge and reward the results that you desire. Showing your appreciation on a person-to-person basis and in front of peer team members is usually more valuable than financial awards. In the long run, you get what you pay for; thus, paying only for sales volume — when you desire high customer satisfaction — is not productive.
It is only when leaders live up to their responsibilities outlined here, that entrepreneurs can separate the “cannot do” from the “will not do” of team member performers. These initiatives on goal setting, coaching, providing resources and supporting good results should eliminate the “cannot do.” The rest have to be dealt with more directly and moved out before they drag down everyone.
Do not assume that traditional techniques for assessing performance — including the annual performance evaluation — will create top performers. They can actually do damage, primarily because they are tied to changes in compensation rather than changes in performance. The major burden of your team’s performance is on you, the leader. Are you being the top performer you expect of everyone else?
Image credit: CC by Ted Eytan