What do you think is the number one factor that determines a high-performing workplace? A great coffee machine? High rates of pay? The threat of redundancy hanging over everyone’s heads?
Some recent research by the Australian School of Business, University of New South Wales, found it was simply the quality of the leadership.
Certainly this fits with many people’s experience – that they have been most happy and performed at their best when they have had a great manager. It certainly fits with my experience of high-performing workplaces as well. When I speak to staff from such workplaces, they tend to say to me comments like, “We are so lucky with the manager we have. They are so good to work for …”
But I think the more important question is what are these great leaders doing to create a team of people that are more productive, engaged and innovative? Is it simply they have chosen the right people? Here is what the research found.
- Great leaders spend more time speaking with their people: Put simply, great leaders are ‘good people people’. They find time for their staff, they are approachable, and take a genuine interest in how staff are travelling. They treat staff well on a consistent basis and support team members with challenges they may be having at home or work.
People who work for such leaders often say they feel genuinely cared for. Compare this to managers who hardly leave their offices, are unapproachable, or who seem to have a closed-door policy.
- Great leaders have clear values and practise what they preach: Here there is a match between what leaders say is important and what they actually do. Great leaders set the example for the behaviour they want to see – they find time for people when they say relationships are important, they are creative when they are wanting to encourage innovation, and they model the respectful behaviour they want to see throughout the organisation.
If you are in a leadership role, what are the key values you want to encourage? And would staff say there is a strong match with your own behaviour?
- Great leaders give team members opportunity to lead work assignments and activities: As busy as what team members are, there are many who would like the opportunity to take on more responsibility. Whenever I run team development programs, I often ask those present who, if given the opportunity, would be open to taking on an additional challenge. Typically, at least 60% of people tend to raise their hand. Great leaders find out which team members would like more responsibility, what type of challenge or project they would like to take on, and support them in doing so.
Team members are also encouraged to contribute to decision-making whenever possible. In high-performing workplaces, you often see collaborative decision-making, where many decisions are made by consensus. This is a very powerful way to encourage team members to take greater ownership of change and leadership over solutions.
- Great leaders encourage employee development and learning: One of the great ironies of my work is that it is often the high-performing workplaces who book me to run training for their staff, not those which are struggling. But I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that great leaders are investing in their people.
Such leaders tend to say to me, “Yes, I know we are doing well, but we can always do things better!” They also know that most people want to learn and grow. Supporting staff in developing their skills also sends to them a clear message that they are valued.
- Great leaders welcome criticism and feedback as opportunities to learn: They make it easy for team members to raise concerns, often asking for feedback informally and putting in place processes that make it easy for team members to speak up – regular two-way discussions and staff surveys being two examples. Importantly, great leaders respond in a positive way, often thanking people when they have raised their concerns.
Making it easy for people to raise concerns and give feedback has benefits at a number of levels. Firstly, it helps challenges to be identified so appropriate action can be taken sooner. Feedback also results in issues being addressed before they escalate into major concerns. A team leader’s openness to feedback from their team also makes team members more open to feedback themselves.
- Great leaders give higher levels of recognition and appreciation to employees: Great leaders appreciate the efforts that colleagues put in and make a point of letting them know. Sadly, one study here in Australia says that 62% of people say that their manager is very poor, poor or just satisfactory at delivering specific and timely praise (RedBalloon Employee Recognition Survey, 2009). People in leadership roles should be concerned about this. The absence of sufficient recognition can be tremendously demotivating for people.
Great leaders acknowledge effort and notice how team members best like their recognition. For many, a genuine and simple thanks is well-received. Others feel valued when they get to initiate a particular change. Some liked to be left alone and trusted to do their work.
- Great leaders have a clear vision and goals for the future: People gain a lot of certainty from knowing the overall direction the workplace is heading and specific goals that indicate progress in this direction. Importantly, people are clear as to their part in helping make these goals happen.
One of the interesting things about vision is that team members’ ability to engage with the vision is largely up to their leader’s ability to communicate it well. If the team leader can communicate their vision with clarity and genuine enthusiasm, this certainly becomes more engaging for their team members.
- Great leaders are innovative and encourage team members to think about problems in new ways: Because high-performing teams are always wanting to improve, new ways of thinking and working are actively sought out.
Team members are actively encouraged to contribute, to experiment with new approaches, and failure, when it occurs, is seen as a positive thing – as a sign that innovation is taking place. One of the additional benefits of innovation is that it encourages a culture where people are more receptive to change.
How are the leaders in your workplace going with the above? If you are in a leadership role, rate yourself on how well you are doing with the above on a scale of 0 to 10. Set yourself a goal to lift your performance in one or two areas.
Also, when you are speaking informally with colleagues, explore one or two of these issues and be open to taking action in certain areas. I assure you, your team members will notice the difference.