Too often, as leaders we tend to establish momentum — only to feel it slip away. Yes, some employees are consistent high performers, but others — say, 80%? — need constant reminder and reaffirmation.
The result? The people that work for us rarely perform at their best with any degree of consistency.
Let’s be clear, it’s not to say they aren’t competent performers. It simply means it’s your role as a leader to draw out the latent potential of individuals.
In other words, consistent team performance has bigger rewards than merely driving “performance”. It’s not a one-off point in time conversation. I met a senior executive recently who explained his approach was to make things very ‘clear’ at the start of the quarter.
Then would expect them to go and perform. He/she felt they did their job — they have been clear and are not micro-managing. That approach is part of the problem.
It’s tough finding a style, and the time, to motivate teams
As leaders we are under pressure to get results, but there’s a limited number of hours in any given day. We must keep our colleagues performing at their best while also getting around to our own work.
It leaves little room for nurturing the people that work for us, and I’ve often had conversations with fellow leaders who are searching for a process that ensures consistent team motivation.
It’s well known. Your leadership has a direct effect on team performance, but your goal is continuous high-performance — not easy and more so hard at scale. I am no expert but, in my experience, and the conversations I’ve had, I’ve concluded an effective team motivation strategy involves three essential steps.
1: Establish expectations and encourage self-grading
The team working for you will never become high achievers in your eyes and from the perspective of your company’s needs if they don’t know what is expected of them.
However, you can’t simply hand team members a list of expectations and be done with it, nor can you apply a fixed set of expectations to every colleague — everyone has role-related responsibilities, and unique skill sets.
I also think it’s worth setting aside the typical performance review approach: rather than scoring your colleague against a list of requirements, develop a self-scorecard with your team member. This scorecard should include parameters around individual talent, teamwork and the overall attitude towards work.
A team member’s scorecard outlines the key areas in which they contribute to workplace performance in line with their job role, personal skills and the overall goals of the business.
For example, as CMO my “Talent” indicators would include the ability to generate demand and the capacity to create collateral including content and copy. “Attitude” would include a self-graded measure of hard work and the ability to stay energetic and positive. “Team” criteria would include the ability to collaborate and share.
Your team member should then self-reflect and give an honest opinion on how they personally measure up against these criteria. Self-reflection is a key proponent of accountability, self-awareness and mental clarity. If you can encourage and empower your team to embrace self-reflection for performance improvement; you will see a marked shift in their attitude.
Please do discourage team members from giving automatic high scores. Ongoing development to achieve world-class levels of performance requires you to measure your own performance relative to their industry counterparts who are the very best in that role. Often this can mean that, despite significant effort, the just score is only 6 out of 10.
Your communication needs to be clear in that it is not a performance management conversation.
That’s something entirely different, this is about habitual behaviours and outputs that underpin high performance. And you must build trust as leader and employee to work together on driving their self-improvement.
It’s genuine and designed to make them become the best they can be.
2: Consistently work on areas ready for improvement
I said earlier that one of the biggest challenges is maintaining consistency in team performance. The scorecard approach is a good start if it is reflected on regularly — let’s say monthly — and discussed weekly in your 1:1 session.
Problem areas will soon emerge, but I suggest that leaders never take too critical an approach — again, avoiding the pitfalls of a typical performance review which can leave a colleague feeling despondent.
Instead, leaders should consider drawing attention to “focus behaviours”. Scorecard discussions will quickly reveal which areas your colleague is struggling in and on which they should focus. These focus behaviours should be tracked month to month, again by self-scoring rather than scores assigned by a manager.
For example, in your team you may have a marketer who has an expertise in one part of the marketing mix I.e. Writing, Demand Gen, Inside Sales. You know they will naturally gravitate to behaviours in an area they are comfortable, rather than focus behaviours on areas where they do not feel comfortable. It’s your role to agree with your employee the focus and lens where you feel they need to move the needle.
Here’s a practical example for a CMO: if you are not communicating your marketing strategy effectively, you should agree your focus behaviour as a sprint to focus on that deliverable or output rather than outrightly criticising this less than optimal area.
It should be seen more as an opportunity to ensure you’re well rounded in the approach to your role. You are delivering on all fronts.
By taking the self-scoring approach you can help your colleague on the road to improvement via self-reflection, rather than the highly critical and often discouraging top-down approach usually adopted.
It’s also a great way to deal and get ahead with any potential issues that may arise. It keeps the conversation continuous, trusted and in the interests of high-performance/holding to a high bar.
3: Patience and ongoing, encouraging communication
You’ll find that some people respond more readily to this approach than others. In fact, your employee might simply be at a completely different wavelength and you could find you never get through, no matter what approach you take.
But I’d like to think that, if you take the right approach, you’d be able to convince — and motivate — most people. You might need a higher degree of patience with some people, of course.
However, key to succeeding is communication velocity so that you avoid problems growing to the point that they cannot easily be dealt with. You do this by communicating often and in the right way — affirming where possible and limiting direct criticism.
The advice I always provide all my teams and others is if you think you communicate well — look to 10x that process. The more you communicate, the more you are open and the more you appear pro-active.
A magical perception develops of being someone who cares deeply and wants to succeed. If you can develop this perception the faster your career will grow. This premise is powerful to demonstrate as a leader and encourage into your teams.
You want to see the cross-pollination in your team members adopting the same approach with each other. Doing that will ensure a consistency across team communications to build on what is not a top-down hierarchical implementation of a philosophy. This is the outdated models of leadership as we all know.
So, to wrap up, leaders need to make sure their teams know what is expected of them. Motivating teams to meet these expectations is better accomplished via self-reflection, in contrast to criticism. Or even you could say ‘feedback’. Because ‘feedback’ is a scary term that people get very wrong on occasions. I’m an advocate of ‘feedback’ but I believe you can get the same outcome from a different angle.
It’s about open and ongoing dialogue and finding the ability to influence behaviour rather than dictate behaviour. Reminder, you must be clear on it not being an appraisal or performance review!
I truly believe that leaders that can adopt this style alongside the strategy I outlined stand a better chance of consistently motivating teams to maintain high performance levels.