As we are approaching year-end and go through annual reviews, objectives-setting and various other self-assessment and self-reflection processes, it is important to strike the right balance between appreciating accomplishments and performance while being constructively critical about misses, failures and things which could have gone better. Creating the right balance in fostering a performance culture is one of the biggest challenges for any organization or leader. In thinking about this, I have found the following behaviors and actions to be particularly helpful in creating this balance and culture:
• Performance follows Purpose: Assessing someone's performance without connecting objectives and goals to a higher purpose is futile. I have learned from David Lapin, a leading thinker in the fields of leadership and business transformation, that a leader must first articulate and inspire conviction around a common purpose and support everyone to act in servitude to that purpose. I have seen this in action and if individuals feel the connection their performance will spike, they will show-up energized and their overall engagement level will improve. • Continuous Feedback: Early in my career, I worked in the cruise line industry. My boss was a passionate and proud hotel management expert and continuous feedback was his modus operandi. Positive or critical, his feedback was truly a gift. He was absolutely clear, that above all, he cared about service excellence and customer satisfaction and his feedback was always connected to these priorities. He did not wait for the right moment, he gave his feedback instantly. I have learned from this, that as leaders when we observe something, to give feedback right away. This can foster an authentic, transparent and performance-focused culture.
• Caring Intensity: During one of my first jobs in banking, I worked for a leader who put me through the ringer. He was extremely intense and demanded excellence in everything we did in our department and we all "felt" when we were not delivering up to his expectations. During those challenging years, I have learned a tremendous amount. Those experiences fostered resilience, drove me to focus on excellence and made me stronger in many different aspects of management. I realized that he made it hard on me, because he saw my potential, my willingness to listen and my desire to learn. He cared to make me better in his unique and very challenging way.
• Comfort in Ambiguity: One of the biggest responsibilities for a strong leader is to create an environment that allows everyone to develop a certain level of comfort in dealing with ambiguity and complexity. This is of particular importance in our fast-paced, ever-changing world. Instead of creating an environment where failure is not tolerated, these leaders emphasize exploration and imagination of the unexpected. They allow their teams to dig deeper, continuously challenge the status-quo and give them the courage to revisit their decisions if the context or changing information make it necessary. I have seen teams operate in this frame-of-mind consistently exceeding performance objectives.
• Confidence in Capabilities: Another behavior, which can foster a performance culture, is creating a level of confidence and trust in the capabilities of the team. In my younger years, I played a lot of soccer and I remember one of my coaches always emphasizing that our skills and capabilities were under our control. Like in sports, business leaders who prioritize investment in the development of teams and at the same time empowering them and trusting their capabilities, can create sustainable success.
Whether focusing on purpose, feedback, caring, ambiguity or capabilities, leaders must continuously work on establishing a balanced performance culture. This requires character, ethics and an unwavering focus on integrity. It involves care, respect and a genuine interest to connect with your team. Also, it demands courage, resilience and a will to get it done. In conclusion thinking about performance and achievement, I would like to quote Mark Twain: "The secret to achievement is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and then waste no time starting on the first one."