Two preachers and a teacher walk into a performance review.
One preacher says, “I like you!”
The other preacher says “what is the one thing you can do to show me your killin’ it?”
The teacher says, “ I don’t say no or yes, I say “not yet.”
If this sounds like the start of one of your dad’s bad jokes, don’t worry, it isn’t. It is actually pretty serious stuff about getting the best possible performance, engagement, and productivity out of your team. These three “characters” are real-life leaders who have taught me more about performance management in the last few years than I have learned in the 20+ years prior. They taught me that the magic formula is Rapport + Meaningful Clarity + Growth Mindset = World class performance. Techniques like these can be implemented as part of a comprehensive performance management solution.
In his book, Crash the Chatterbox, preacher, and author, Steven Furtick tells the story of a frustrated employee and his incredibly driven leader, who made a regular practice of sending a rapid, unapologetic burst of emails with challenging actions at the employee, until the employee confronted him in frustration. The employee said: “ I don’t feel like I can do anything right man! I don’t feel like you like me. I feel like a failure.”
According to Furtick, the manager then goes on to explain to the employee that they have it all wrong. The employee is told he is misreading the tone in the emails and that he ought to picture the manager smiling as he reads them. This is a good news story to be sure, but not quite the full lesson around rapport. Rapport ought to have been built well before the employee ever had to confront the leader in frustration. Ideally, before the person ever started working for that manager or the company!
Establishing rapport is an essential starting block in having frank and ongoing performance discussions. The trust that comes from establishing and maintaining rapport will enable you to tell people the good, the bad and the ugly surrounding their performance. What can you do to build rapport early in your relationship with an employee?
The second preacher is also a world-renowned leader of people, Andy Stanley. He has a self-named leadership podcast in which I learned all about meaningful clarity.
Let’s start with meaning. In his podcast on the complexity of purpose, Andy explains that people need to understand where they fit in the big picture and how they can be “a means to an end” instead of “just an end”. In other words, Andy conveys that work that is meaningful and a leader that helps people connect their purpose to the mission and vision are essential. “To be empowered by purpose, you must become a means to an end that’s not you. Those who devote themselves to themselves will ultimately have nothing but themselves to show for themselves. But if you devote yourself to more than yourself, you will ultimately have more than yourself to show for yourself.”
In another podcast in the series, he talks about performance standards being boiled down to just one sentence. What is the one sentence that describes the optimal value that employee is bringing to the mission and the team? This is the clarity portion of meaningful clarity. Defining with the employee that one sentence, and then using it as the basis of ongoing discussions can be a powerful technique. I’ve used these elements as a basis in building performance processes and measures and in leading my teams and it is incredibly effective in understanding expectations and improving performance.
In her book, Mindset and in her TED Talk on The power of believing that you can improve, Carol Dweck PhD (professor at Stanford University), the teacher in our scenario, describes the power of “yet.” Professor Dweck teaches us that students who have a growth mindset over a fixed mindset achieve greater results. “If you get a failing grade, you think, I’m nothing, I’m nowhere. But if you get the grade “Not Yet” you understand that you’re on a learning curve. It gives you a path into the future.”
When approaching performance systems, I coach leaders to take on this same approach. Instead of coaching their employees to look at failures or setbacks as a negative, I encourage leaders to find new and innovative ways to model, prompt, reinforce and reward a growth mindset in their employees. Here are three tenants for achieving and teaching a growth mindset from samuelthomasdavies.com:
Step 1. Become mindful of your negative self-talk.
Step 2. Believe you can change. In order to change any belief, you must believe three things:
You must believe a belief can change.
You must believe you can change it.
You must believe you can change it, now. Not tomorrow, next week, next month, or next year, but now.
Step 3. Answer back with positive self-talk.
You can use these techniques, from the two preachers and a teacher to lead your team to improved performance as well. Talk to your HR leader about ways to incorporate these ideas into your performance system or program. If you need help, reach out to a consultant who can help you assess your needs and build you a process that leverages these lessons.
Performance is no joke. Treating people with dignity and respect is no joke either. Putting together a performance plan that tells your employees you care about them, gives them purpose and clarity in their goals and encourages rather than discouraged them will lead you to world-class results.