Are you challenging you people enough – or too much?

I believe that my people are capable of ANYTHING.  No, really, I genuinely  see no limitations to their potential.  It took me years to feel so confident in the team I work with, and I feel proud to be in this head space.  When you believe in your people; you trust them, and their decisions; you support them, even when they make mistakes and you respect them.  In turn, your people – set free from the shackles of bossy, controlling and interfering management – continuously exceed expectations, create a similar environment within their teams and become known for the difference they make.  What could possibly be wrong with this approach?

As I’ve learned over time, having too much belief can at times not deliver the results you hoped for.  If you’re expecting to read an article about how you can catch your team doing sneaky stuff their not supposed to, you’re in the wrong place.  Instead in this article, having taken a critical look at my own approach, here’s a few tips on balancing your belief in your people with a reality check on their capabilities (and perceptions) on what they can deliver.

Not enough belief: If you are the kind of person who likes everything “just so”, you go around the house re-adjusting furniture after your partner has tided up, and you find yourself straightening cutlery when you sit down at a restaurant, you may well be exactly the same as a manager.  No-one likes a micro-manager, because it suppresses creativity, creates a needy culture where people only follow instructions, and ultimately, only the bare minimum gets done.  When you don’t have enough belief in your people, you’ll tell them not only what you want done, but you’ll also tell them how to do it.  You might not even realize you’re doing it, but a reasonable sign of this is lack of dialogue when you make a request to a member of your team.  Do they ask questions, make suggestions on achieving the goal or task?  Or do they simply make notes, then action your request?  This is no way to run a business – you will end up exhausted and your people will becomes quickly demotivated.

Too much belief: I sometimes find myself at the other end of the spectrum.  I have a dream, I imagine a new way of delivering, and I assume that with the briefest of conversations, my team will “get it” and make it happen.  Tell tale signs of this approach include a large amount of questions, conflicting ideas and slower progress toward the goal.  It’s important to quickly respond to these signs by sitting down with the team, finding different ways to explain the goal, and if necessary, breaking it down into more reasonable chunks for delivery.  You can still reach the end goal, in a structured way (checking in as you progress together) that everyone is still on the same page.  It doesn’t mean you need to compromise on your bold ambitions, just be more empathetic with the team and make more effort to help them understand your goal.  You’ll also reduce the stress and confusion felt by your team, making for a happier workforce.

When you have the right amount of belief: My CEO recently presented a strategy update, and advised that every time you get too close to successfully completing a strategy, it’s time to move the goal posts further out, stretch your ambitions further, and focus on delivering the next level.  These wise words also apply to how we challenge and motivate our people.  Too far off, or too much outside their comfort zone, and you’ll merely drown your people or drive them into a tailspin.  Too short term, not sufficiently challenging, or overly prescriptive in how to deliver, and your people will get bored and frustrated.  So how in the world do I find the right balance?  Simple – talk to them!  They may have too much or too little confidence in their own abilities, but by having conversations about the outcomes you want and how they might go about delivering them, you can gauge how much “stretch” to set.  You can and should move the goal posts as they progress.. Openly communicating your intention to do so will ensure no nasty surprises for your people!

So once you are clear on what needs to be achieved, starting talking with your team about the how and when, and help them to achieve more than they thought they could by being there for them along the journey.  Regular feedback, take time to praise successful delivery of milestones, support when things don’t go as expected, and when it’s right, set a further stretch to the goal or target to keep them aiming for the stars!


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