The key to successful workplace initiatives that create long-term change and impact is providing workers with the knowledge they need to do their best work. This is only possible when you “guide” employees rather than “grade” them.
While leaders—understandably—want high productivity from their teams, constantly checking in and monitoring their performance is not the way to get there. Rather, such a workplace is perceived as one where employees are graded – constantly watched and then judged. That environment offers no chance for building a high-trust culture, where innovation flourishes and everyone feels like they own the process and have a stake in the business.
Instead, the better way is to guide. Gallup research shows that only two in 10 employees strongly agree that their performance is managed in a way that motivates them to do outstanding work.
And it’s not hard to determine if you’re employees feel threatened rather than empowered. Employees behave differently when they’re engaged and motivated. How do you know if you’re providing guidance rather than judging employees? Look for these clues:
Employees understand the context within which they are working and connect their behaviors with team outcomes.
This happens when you clearly communicate how success will be measured and why. Help them understand that measures aren’t there to judge them individually, but to help you identify hiccups in the process, handoffs, and tools that could be tweaked to make the team’s lift lighter.
Employees feel a sense of control over both their daily tasks and their destiny, fostering ongoing collaboration and cooperation.
When you provide a guidepost statement for employees, they lead themselves through daily tasks by taking actions that align with it. This helps them self-direct, so you don’t need to give them orders and look over shoulders to see if work is completed. Instead, you periodically check in, ask if they need assistance, answer their questions, and offer feedback to keep them on track.
Employees feel engaged and consider themselves stakeholders in the business, and customers feel loyal.
When measures are team-related rather than individually focused, employees understand their role in the team’s function and the organization’s goals. They want to help their team succeed, so they take ownership of the tasks that contribute to the greater good. They do more to help the team, even reach across teams to cooperate and improve the process. This in turn makes customers happy, and that kind of trust and satisfaction builds long-term loyalty, in both customers and workers.
Clear expectations are set that are collaborative, not imposed from the top down.
When workers have a say in setting measures, they are less likely to feel they exist in a command-and-control situation. Finding out what information will help workers understand their role and their team’s success helps set measures that are reasonable, justifiable, and insightful. Rather than resent measures, workers use them as inspiration for working better (and smarter).
Conversations are future-focused (after all, none of us can change the past) and growth-oriented.
Measures should not be used to reprimand employees for the things they’ve done wrong. When they are, workers feel demoralized and unmotivated, and a breakdown in team communication and cooperation is inevitable. But when feedback is offered as steps to improve the future process, the team feels energized, excited to see what they are capable of achieving with a few modifications in behavior.
Employees and their managers seek feedback so they can improve their performance as well as the process.
As employees grow accustomed to viewing measures as helpful feedback, they welcome the insights provided as a way to increase their engagement and advance their careers.
Employees are comfortable suggesting changes that can improve team performance and process execution.
When employees have the opportunity to offer feedback on the process, they feel valued and integral to the organization’s goals, which further motivates them to contribute to the team.
Measures succeed in motivating teams when they are used to guide workers rather than grade them. If the “guiding not grading” approach is applied as a guiding principle when setting more meaningful measurements for teams, a transformation in attitude, behavior, and achievement is the most likely outcome.