A critical organisational contribution is the way leaders react to reporting. Very often, it is an ideal opportunity to create or reinforce direction and to motivate staff. The easier situation is good news, which obviously needs to be applauded and recognised. Here, care needs to be taken to ensure that the recipient knows what they are being praised for. As an example, if relationships are paramount to the success of your organisation, praising sales volume without recognising the efforts to sustain a relationship will send the wrong message.
The bigger problem is that good news may be hiding a wealth underperformance, or in some cases, threats to the survival of the organisation. A recent example is the VW diesel emissions scandal, but has been preceded by numerous examples of poor governance and due diligence. Thus, banks are still paying for accepting ‘good news’ about PPI, and fraudsters count on the reluctance of people to question great performance, as Bernie Madoff amply demonstrated.
Even more difficult are situations where people have recognised a difficulty and have put measures in place to rectify the problem. Clearly, performance management principles can be applied, such as the requirement for a business plan or establishment of milestones. However, as the impact of such measures will not be known for a while, it is then harder to influence direction, challenge intentions, or suggest alternatives, without becoming negative.
However, getting to the reality of situations and understanding what’s really going on is a vital leadership task.
A significant skill then becomes finding the right balance between recognising good performance and ensuring that the accolades it brings are deserved and based on the right principles. Of equal, if not greater importance, is testing the efficacy of remediation measures without signalling distrust or demotivating people.
Two areas that are likely to help here are:
- Ensuring people understand your motivations, especially those they can relate to
- Being very good at asking questions that are genuinely open.
Most of us assume people can see our (excellent) motives, and too often we already know the answer to the questions we ask!