We are in a fortunate period of time where businesses and leaders have data at their fingertips. Whether it is big data around huge pools of information about their customers or employees or detailed, infinitesimal data sets that track the small divergences of the way one person accesses a website versus another. One different page viewed can yield entirely different insights.
It is incredibly powerful, but it can be overwhelming. Human resources now exemplifies the data overload problem. Take Matt, a manager for a large SaaS company, who leads a team of implementation specialists for their product. His team is spread throughout the country. They have engineers, marketers, and inside sales people on the team. Matt can keep track of his team’s effectiveness in delivering products, the customer satisfaction scores, and the incremental revenue they produce via upselling. He also is looking at retention rates, promotion rates, job satisfaction, goal achievement, and more.
This is the challenge managers and leaders are facing. We have the data, but how do we sift through to understand what drives the right behaviors that actually achieve higher performance?
It has to start with the way people work. Understanding how leaders lead and employees communicate, team, and work is the foundation. There are a few key characteristics that matter more than others.
Research from Harvard Business Review and The Energy Project found that the three leadership characteristics that had the biggest impact on all performance variables were:
- Treating employees with respect
- Recognizing and appreciating them
- Being positive and optimistic
Respect, recognition of great work, and creating an overall environment built on positivity actually yield high performance. Sounds easy, but it’s incredibly complex in the real world.
Let’s look back at the case of Matt. He’s got more than 15 employees working for him directly and over 100 working under his overall leadership. There are Golden Rule elements of treating employees with respect that build the foundation, but earning and keeping respect for each person is different.
Respect and trust for an employee who is driven by data, for example, means ensuring that the facts are straight and that decisions can be backed up by logic and clear information. Building trust with an employee who thinks relationally or socially occurs differently — that person wants to be included and needs to see how a decision affects not just herself but those around her.
This level of nuance is important in employee recognition as well. Finding the right way to appreciate employees depends on the way employees actually think and behave and what motivates them. Some are motivated by public appreciation ... others would find that terrifying and would simply want a Thank You email.
The big question then is in understanding how managers can best exhibit the leadership behaviors, like respect, recognition, and positive attitude that will drive performance with their teams. Here’s how some of the best organizations do it:
- Equip managers to understand themselves: Self-awareness is Step 1 for any leader or manager to understand others. By knowing who you are as a manager or leader — the way you think, behave, and exhibit your own leadership style — the better you’ll be able to see those qualities in your team members.
- Give managers tools to understand their teams: Again, whether through an assessment or other team development exercises, which can be as simple as team bonding times and as complex as in-depth team development workshops or programs, providing a lens to see each person and the team as a whole will help build a culture of respect.
- Use data for continuous improvement: Organizations who survey employees, both informally in manager 1-on-1s or formally via feedback questionnaires and 360 Feedback tools, can actually sift through the data to see where critical factors are missing.
The mountain of talent development data that organizations have doesn’t have to be overwhelming. In fact, it’s pretty simple. Know who you are as a leader and who your people are. Treat one another with respect, appreciation, and a positive attitude. Let’s get to work.