It’s the people! Not the numbers – generally those are lagging indicators.
Of course, the numbers are important, but without the people, you have no numbers. Why does this seem so hard to operationalize? Too many businesses put the inanimate before the animate, leading by the numbers, which is about as attractive as painting by the numbers.
The interaction I had with a client recently sums up the place many organizations are, as they come out of the last few years of disruption.
Robert had some intense frustration about how to reconcile the vastly different performance he was seeing between two teams that—before COVID—had very similar performance profiles.
One team is now outperforming it’s pre-COVID performance, and their spirits are high too!
The other team said all the right things in the bi-weekly status meetings. They had all the key metrics front and center for their operational goals. In fact, when performance in the group started to sag, the leader redoubled her efforts, pushing on her group to work longer hours to make up the revenue shortfalls. She even let a few of the lower-performing team members go. This team was doing the top-down thing with a vengeance, and to no avail. The pressure is killing them.
The other team had a “less conventional” leader. Coming out of the COVID restrictions, she continued the extensive, highly-planned team-building activities—like Zoom happy hours and virtual video game tournaments. She also kept open the option to work from home. Team members knew that high-leverage meetings happened on Wednesday, and almost all of them came in for that day—then made the rest of the schedule themselves. This group truly is a team. They like their leader and each other and have real relationships, in and out of the work day.
One leader emphasized the bottom line, and how it must to be reached, or the other shoe would drop. The other emphasized relationship and dignity. You could see that she really cared for her teammates and provided real and ongoing support - emotional and structural. The comradery of this group was obvious and palatable, and their numbers were off the chart!
Of course, it’s easy to look back and cherry pick results to identify winners and losers. But the phenomenon described by Robert is one I hear over and over in my coaching sessions with mid-career executives.
The goal posts have moved.
Objectifying and treating people as units of production was never a great idea, but it worked for a long time through the industrial revolution. These tactics today will eventually sink the boat because employees now have options, and apparently values that are healthier and more whole than ours.
They are apparently demanding dignity, and work that they love.
There are plenty of wonderful leaders who are adapting, and enjoying the results. I know this in part because it describes the leaders with whom I have the honor of serving.
Do you want to be an agent of the grind? Or do you want to learn how to be a leader who is creates of work that people love. If you care about people, your adjustment won’t be hard; it will feel natural. It will not only help you create work people love – it will be work you love too.