Look around at the businesses within your industry, and you’ll notice something: most aren’t necessarily hitting the targets they’d like, nor are their employees as dialed-in, as committed to fulfilling activities the way required to achieve said goals. This failure isn’t completely on the shoulders of these workers, however.
It is, after all, the job of their managers to keep them on the path to making those metrics and ultimately guide them to success. Feel like you’re not doing as good a job as you could be or would simply like a refresher course on how to address this performance issue? Here are the basics on how to inspire employee commitment to activities.
The Performance Gap Explained
Obviously, a failure of performance is never a positive thing. But before you ever even attempt to address the problem, you need to know its root cause. And hint, hint — it’s not employee laziness or an act of carelessness.
Indeed, your workers actively want to help you on your mission to craft a thriving business. It’s just that, well, they can’t — not without seeing where you’re coming from, without clear intention and direction, and this is something that seems to constantly be a struggle for businesses of all persuasions.
The Harvard Business Review actually pinned the problem down perfectly nearly two decades ago, citing that this unfortunate gap between ambition and performance arises due to a breakdown in not how you formulate strategy but in how that strategy is shared with the workers on the frontlines.
As explained in one of their magazine pieces, “95% of a company’s employees are unaware of, or do not understand, its strategy. If the employees who are closest to customers and who operate processes that create value are unaware of the strategy, they surely cannot help the organization implement it effectively.”
With no communication from the company or concrete plan of action put forward by a manager, workers are essentially flying blind. They’re left to chart the course themselves, and it’s no wonder why this often fails.
Unable to see the numbers or hear the feedback carefully collected for months — even years by dedicated teams — they’re only able to guess what the organization needs to succeed. It’s basically just a game of chance at that point, one in which everyone is set to lose no matter what activities or actions are taken.
Empowerment Isn’t Always the Answer
None of this is particularly encouraging, but it also shouldn’t catch anyone by surprise. Companies have had to face this issue pretty much since businesses have been a thing, miscommunication and a lack of transparency burdens are not at all unique to our current time period or work culture alone. They’ve then had a lot of time on their hands to figure out a solution, but they always seem to come up with the wrong one.
You see, many have historically pushed quick fixes and simple shifts rather than comprehensive changes to how their business operates. Employee empowerment has largely been viewed as a one-stop-shop for achieving their goals, bouncing off the assumption that when employees feel more empowered within their jobs, they’ll display stronger performance and commitment to the organization.
And to be fair, that’s a completely reasonable leap of logic. But let’s be clear: this isn’t nearly as effective as might be assumed.
The ‘why’ behind it has everything to do with the mechanisms used to create that feeling of empowerment. Often opting against a few intelligently-selected incentives or sharing information about how employees’ work has directly influenced the business’ bottom line, most folks in management instead strive to generate empowerment by simply increasing the workload on their subordinates’ shoulders.
Additional responsibilities, increased non-optional authority over others, and more frequent and meaningful decision-making — all are common ways companies attempt to engage and empower the everyday worker and thus inspire further commitment. Yet, they often have the exact opposite effect in many lines of work.
A study included in one of HBR’s recent meta-analyses shows providing employees with additional work responsibilities and challenges just burdens employees and increases job stress, and this sentiment has been found within other research as well. Ultimately, this serves as a good indication that a better way is needed if employee commitment and motivation remains the end goal.
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Generating Commitment the Right Way
However, recognizing that the current manner of going about things doesn’t work and actually knowing what will in its place are two very different things. Don’t know the way forward towards better performance and productivity? Rest assured that others are in the exact same boat.
Although, you can truly choose to leave it whenever you want. The solution is simple, consisting of three primary parts: 1) support employee development, 2) coach employees rather than merely managing them, and 3) communicate goals in a way that allows room for input.
The first of these builds the foundation for everything else, thus you’d do best to focus on this first. Exactly what you’d expect, the main mission here is to create opportunity, in and outside of employees’ current position/work trajectory.This means providing mentorship, chances for personal growth, and making sure a healthy work/life balance is attainable for all employees.
Do be meticulous about gaining worker trust beforehand, though. As William Craig points out in a past article on employee empowerment, workers could view these opportunities with suspicion, wondering about intentions behind their manager’s behavior. If you establish a solid work relationship and avoid creating uncertainty, your actions will be applauded much more, and employee commitment will grow.
Feel like you’ve got this step down pat? That’s when you can finally add in the other parts of the equation, and close the ambition-performance gap once and for all. But we urge you to take your time and focus on ensuring that clear, open channels of communication are open for employees and managers alike.
Because at the end of the day, what you’re trying to coach workers on or the type of goals you’re trying to share, none of it means anything unless you can have effective discussions. There’s also no respect there without this solid communication, too, and that’s an even bigger hurdle that few can overcome when it’s lost.
Business is hard, and it’s even more difficult when you’re not seeing the commitment to various activities that you expect from employees. It’s critical you recognize, however, that you’re ultimately in charge of this. Just by supporting their development, supplying chances for coaching, and keeping communication a two-way street, you can dramatically boost the success of your business and inspire employee commitment that’ll benefit you for years to come.