The headline above is attributed to Steve Jobs. Leaders have to make tough decisions that don’t always please everyone. Jobs had his detractors, but there is no debate on his ability to get things done. Many leaders mistake personal popularity for effectiveness. It’s a leader’s job to hold people accountable for producing results. Effective leaders do two things: they tend to people’s personal needs (good relationships) and to the practical needs of the organization by producing results.
Research shows that people actually want to be held account-able–to be counted upon. A large Gallup study found that over 50 percent of employees feel underutilized.
A few years back, I had 24 hospital managers in a workshop. While discussing how to manage people, one person pointed to a woman in the room, and said, “Michelle runs a tight ship.” In unison, everyone in the class quickly nodded in agreement. When I asked what that meant, they said that she holds people accountable and doesn’t let anyone slide by. When I asked how her employees responded to that, they said they loved working for her. In fact, there was a waiting list to transfer to her department.
After the workshop, I met with Michelle and asked her how she did it. She explained her three-step system for managing human performance:
- Set clear expectations. Be crystal clear on what outcomes you are looking for and how both of you will know when they are reached. Michelle has two types of expectations:
- “What”expectations—the business results to be produced; things like “Produce five reports a month,” or “Process ten patients a day.” “What” expectations can easily be measured.
- “How” expectations—the behaviors to be displayed while accomplishing the “what” expectations. Michelle said this is where many leaders falter. She explained that “how” expectations are things like, “Greet families in a friendly manner,” or “Pay attention to detail,” or “Always display a caring attitude.” Michelle found that “how” expectations are more important than “what” expectations. She said she hires for attitude and then trains for skill.
- Establish performance measures. She said when performance is being measured, people naturally will tap into their sense of competition, and productivity naturally increases. Thinking of it this way, she said, “Imagine you are watching two basketball games. In one game the score is being kept. In the second game, no one is keeping score. The behaviors of the players in each game would be dramatically different. The players in the first game would be more focused, sharper in their game skills, and fixated on winning.”
- Provide feedback. Feedback comes in two flavors: feedback for development and reinforcing feedback (positive feedback). Michelle said that, in her experience, most leaders know they should give feedback, but very few do. That has been may experience, too.
As a leader, it is your ethical imperative to let people know how they are doing. The most common comment I hear about feedback from employees is if they do not hear anything from their manager, it must mean they are doing OK. That is not OK. Imagine throwing a bowling ball down a bowling lane with a sheet draped in front of the pins. You hear a crashing sound but you don’t know how many you hit. How long would you remain interested in the game?
If a team is having performance issues, the first place the leader should look is in the mirror. He should ask himself, have I set expectations? Have I established performance measures? Have I provided adequate feedback? A 25-year study by Gallup found that out of the hundreds of things a leader does, doing these three things contributes the most to creating healthy and productive teams.
Michelle said the irony is that you will be liked and people will want to work for you if you help them be accountable by setting goals and performance measures, and by giving feedback.
“The soft stuff delivers hard results,” she said.