Leading Forward

Are you looking thru the windshield or the rear-view mirror?

The end of the year is that horrid time when you are crunching numbers for the new budget, trying to figure out how you are going get everything accomplished with limited funds, and also working out some weird calculation for “rewarding” your employees for their efforts in the past 12 months.

There are some inherent issues with the customary “annual increase.”  I truly believe that you should pay your people a fair salary for the work they do and the value they bring to the team.  I also believe that looking backward for items that need improvement as a carrot to hang in front of them during the coming year in order to “earn” a raise doesn’t make sense.  Performance discussions should be crafted to help your employee, and therefore your company, grow.  They should NOT be tied solely to salary and only done at the end of the year.  Here are some alternatives for how to lead your team forward in a positive and constructive way.

  1. Incent the behavior you want to see. Salaries are paid so that your team members can pay their bills and do their job without fear of losing their home or putting food on the table.  Bonuses, profit sharing, and project incentives can be a great way to reward your team for achieving goals.  Give them something to shoot for right off the bat rather than making them guess and hoping they did enough at year end.  I prefer team-based targets rather than purely individual targets, especially for companies where teamwork is crucial to overall success.  Company profitability, team performance, division growth – something that must be accomplished by working collectively, not individually.  You will achieve much better outcomes via this route than you will by simply telling them they need to improve in some area or another.
  2. Are your goals their goals?   When I was in a corporate role I always found it interesting that my manager issued goals to me for the coming year.  These “areas of opportunity,” as they were termed, were supposedly skills or characteristics that I needed to improve on – and that I should focus on for the coming year.  That’s great – except that I wasn’t given any input or asked if these were areas that I felt needed to improve.  Often I walked away from this meeting with my manager thinking, “I really don’t care if I’m not good at getting my expense reports in on time or making 100 cold calls every week.  I blew the doors off my quota – does he really want me to stop performing so that I can count my cold calls?”  Does anyone see a problem here?  In my opinion, as a leader your role is to help your people develop themselves – find out what they WANT to do in the coming year – and then support them.
  3. Course correct on the fly. If you see someone behaving badly, not following procedures, or making mistakes, handle these items right away, don’t save them up for year end.  This is the difference between leadership and management.  Leaders tweak as the day goes on so that no one gets off course.  Managers collect data over a period of time to use as ammunition when they choose.  In the end, this doesn’t benefit you or the company because it allows less than ideal behaviors to continue far longer than they should.  If you correct the behavior immediately, you give your employee the chance to learn and grow, and become more confident in their role.
  4. Create the vision. I believe that strong teams understand their impact on the business objectives, and strong individuals will tell you what they need in order to achieve their targets.  If you, as the leader, will establish the finish line you can ask each individual what they can do and what they will need to get there.  Without a target to reach for, even the strongest employees may flounder along the way.
  5. Celebrate the win! This is one area that I believe we all need to work on – celebrating when we get to the finish line.  However, the finish line should not always simply be the year end.  It is tough to keep excitement and ambition flowing for an entire year when there is nothing along the way to check yourself against.  Like I discussed above, create identifiable targets that will be celebrated once reached.  These targets can be weekly sales, project-delivery, quota attainment, quarterly earnings, profitability or any number of objectives.  The key is to recognize a milestone and let your team relish in the accomplishment.   Take time to celebrate with them – as small as ice cream sundaes and as big as monetary rewards.  Whatever it is make sure you name it publicly and give them the recognition they deserve.  Sometimes this is the biggest incentive for employees to keep working hard and pushing themselves forward.

As leaders we have a responsibility to watch over our team.  This means keeping an eye on the peripheral view as well as the rear view.  But I believe we should spend 80% of our time looking in front of us – leading forward.  For more ideas on leading for success, visit us here!

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