One of the main functions of an organization leader is to manage the job performance of his or her subordinates. But how does one go about leading to maximize performance? It begins with an understanding of the three pillars of performance: Capability, Motivation, and Barriers.
Capability to Maximize Performance
Capability means employees are able to perform the tasks necessary to maximize their performance. They have the knowledge, skills, abilities, and other human characteristics (KSAOs) needed for the job in question. There are two main ways we assure capability. We can select for it at the time of hire by looking at a person’s background and using various assessments. We can train and develop employees, which is a continual process from the first day on the job. Leaders concerned about maximizing performance should do their best to hire the most capable employees. Once hired, a big part of the leader’s job is to develop employees. This means being aware of each employee’s strengths and weaknesses, and working with each one to build capability. This should be an ongoing discussion, and not something saved for an annual performance review. Paying attention to gaps in capability, and figuring out ways to fill those gaps is important.
Motivation to Maximize Performance
An employee might be highly capable, but being able does not mean being willing to perform. The best selection and employee development systems cannot be effective if leaders ignore the need to motivate. How leaders treat employees can affect motivation in both directions; it can motivate and demotivate. New employees generally start a job with a great deal of enthusiasm. This is a critical time when leaders establish working relationships and trust. Getting off on the wrong foot can be difficult to correct later.
There are two things to keep in mind when it comes to motivation. First, a leader’s performance is determined by the behavior of followers. The leader’s job is to help followers achieve their potential, so a focus on helping employees meet their needs is key. Second, people need to feel rewarded for what they accomplish at work. Rewards do not have to be tangible things like pay and benefits. Most rewards are intangibles like appreciation and praise. Most people have a need to make a positive impact on others and on the world through their work. Expressing appreciation for a job well done sends a clear message that the employee has had a positive impact on at least one person—the leader.
Barriers to Maximizing Performance
Nothing kills performance like organizational barriers. A person with high capability and motivation will not perform if there are things in the workplace that prevent it. For example, suppose you have a traditional assembly line that is machine paced—items come down the conveyor belt at a predetermined rate. Replacing all employees with those who are more capable and motivated will do nothing to increase productivity if the rate of the conveyor belt remains the same. To do that would require removing the barrier of the conveyer belt to allow employees to fully use their capabilities and motivation.
There are two types of barriers.
- Lack of resources. Lack of resources is commonplace when employees are not given the tools to properly do the job. It happens when organizations are understaffed and underfinanced. When inadequate investment is directed toward employees, performance cannot be maximized.
- Constraining practices. Often termed bureaucracy or red tape, organizational policies and rules are implemented to exert management control, but when excessive they become barriers to performance. Although such conditions are often associated with government, the corporate sector is not immune, particularly in large firms.
Leading to maximize performance means helping employees avoid barriers. This can be accomplished by
- Acquiring resources to help employees better do their jobs.
- Coming up with strategies to efficiently follow the rules.
- Serving as a buffer between employees and the bureaucracy.
- Working with employees to figure out work arounds to deal with resource gaps.
Leading For Performance
The three pillars of performance work together in determining how effectively an employee performs in his or her role. The three affect one another, as more capability can enhance motivation, and motivation can lead the employee to build capability. Barriers can destroy motivation as individuals become frustrated over how their organization fails to provide tools or creates policies that seem designed to prevent them from doing the job. Leading to maximize performance means considering how best to manage the three pillars so you have highly capable and motivated employees who are able to perform their jobs with the fewest barriers possible.