There’s a handwritten sign on the door of the fast-food restaurant that shares a message with entering customers: “Short staffed! Please be kind to those who showed up today.”

If you’ve seen that image circulating on social media recently, you already have some understanding of the dilemma many managers are currently facing. The amount of work that needs to get done hasn’t changed, but on some days a manager’s team of 10 may actually be a team of seven, five, or even less. This is something we have seen happen during the last recession.

It’s easy to turn to those who are working and expect them to pick up the slack, but this approach is now more likely to backfire than succeed. The pandemic has led to a new kind of working culture and employee expectations surrounding work performance, compassion, loyalty, and trust in the workplace.  

What changed?
The pandemic created a unique confluence of factors that led many mid-career employees to reevaluate their priorities. Confronted with the feeling that their literal lives were on the line, many people started questioning their loyalty to work. The short, precious nature of humanity decreased their tolerance for burnout, and remote work gave many people a sense of what’s possible with more ownership of their time, like being more present with family or using a side hustle to pad their savings. During this time many new and younger workers sought entrepreneurial opportunities or joined the creator economy, starting their careers by working for themselves and failing to “buy in” to traditional workplace culture.  

This shift is reflected in another social media trend garnering notice in recent weeks: the concept of “quiet quitting.” Except it’s not actually quitting at all, but a term coined to represent employees coasting by on the bare minimum, refusing to put forth any effort beyond what’s absolutely required.  

Now, with employee loyalty and trust deeply eroded and leaders facing unprecedented demand for compassion, managers are stuck in the middle. It falls to you to provide the balance between leaders whose primary motivator is the company’s success (in the eyes of stakeholders like board members and shareholders) and employees whose primary motivator is, increasingly, their own wellbeing.  

How to Improve Work Performance
The good news is that managers can adopt compassionate tactics that rebuild positive relationships with employees while also creating a culture of high work performance. Being compassionate doesn’t mean you can’t hold boundaries; it means there are clear expectations and open conversations that take place within a result-oriented work environment. 

  1. Make learning and demonstrating compassionate tactics a priority.
    Building a compassionate work environment that will improve work performance requires ongoing education and trial and error. “Build in public” and let employees know you’re specifically working on better understanding how to compassionately meet their needs. 
  2. Don’t make assumptions about what matters to your team.
    As a part of that learning, make an effort to have individual conversations and collect assessable data about what actually matters to your team. Don’t just assume you know what compassion means to them, or you could end up making unilateral moves that are a sacrifice on your part and don’t even make your employees feel seen and heard in the right way. 
  3. Collaborate with individuals to create solutions that work for everyone.
    When you have an employee in a difficult situation, the best way to offer a compassionate response that drives their best work performance is to create a solution together. Rather than pushing a basic work performance plan, sit down and really talk to that person. Understand what their needs are, present the needs you have to ask of them, and figure out the way forward together. 
  4. Acknowledge your own humanity, and you will foster honesty and transparency in return.
    If you don’t know the answer, or aren’t sure of the best way to handle a situation, be open about  that rather than pretending or blustering. Revealing your humanity to your employees in appropriate ways builds an environment where they feel like they can be transparent in return. And if an employee tells you something difficult or lets you know about a personal hardship, ensure you offer a compassionate response that makes them feel rewarded for being open with you rather than keeping things secretive.

Becoming a more compassionate leader requires managers to strike a cautious balance between care for the employee as a person and commitment to institutional goals. While driving high work performance may be challenging, it is possible with the right training and approach, and worth it for the rippling benefits it brings to leaders, employees, and companies alike.

How team performance can supercharge your company’s growth.

Have you ever wondered what highly successful teams look like? How do they come together and work in ways that maximize companies’ growth?

Building high performing teams means bringing together individuals with complementary strengths and skills. Such teams are committed to a common purpose and share accountability for a set of objectives. This leads to better problem solving, innovative ideas and increased productivity.

How can you create teams that are greater than the sum of their parts? As a leader, you have to ensure that the right elements are in place to enable team members to reach their full potential.

How to build a high performing team

Align your teams around shared values and purpose
When building high performing teams, align your teams around shared values and purpose. Characteristics of high performing teams include being united by their company values and purpose. Shared values and purpose help teams adapt and thrive in uncertain situations. To create alignment, first identify, define and agree on the core set of values. Then consider how behaviours will follow the values you establish. Continuously recognise and celebrate behaviours and actions that demonstrate the values and bring you closer to fulfilling your purpose, both as a team and organisation.

Set SMART objectives
The most effective teams are able to translate their overall purpose into specific team performance goals. Setting SMART goals – Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-bound – are a great way for teams to achieve both big and small wins that help them pursue their broader purpose. SMART goals help facilitate clear communication, keep track of progress and hold each team member accountable. You can also include some stretch goals that drive teams to accomplish more than they initially set out to achieve, which sets the stage for high performance.

Focus on continuous development
Gallup’s research shows that companies that invest in developing their teams report 11% greater profitability and are twice as likely to retain their employees. One-on-one coaching, which takes a hyper-tailored approach to development, is the most powerful resource that you can provide to your teams. Coaches engage with team members to help them map out their unique strengths and improve their self-awareness. This results in better team collaboration, communication, engagement and performance.

Set up shared leadership
Shared leadership is when every team member is empowered to make decisions and take actions that impact their own work as well as their team’s. Influence and power are distributed across the team. Research has shown that teams where leadership is shared, rather than vested in the hands of a few, have improved performance. There are a few ways you can lay the foundations for shared leadership. One way is to give your team members enough autonomy on how they plan and work on their tasks. Another way is to cultivate a climate where people feel free to take initiatives. Empowering people to take ownership of their work creates a greater sense of commitment and increases performance.

Make open dialogue the norm
In order to perform at the highest level, teams should feel safe to express their ideas and views candidly, and to constructively challenge one another. Cultivating psychological safety is key. Research shows that this promotes creativity and constructive conflict which leads to innovation and better performance. As a team manager, you are responsible for creating a safe space where your team feels comfortable with conflict and debate. You can create a climate that is safe and conducive to high performance by ensuring that every team member has value and a voice, and that differences of opinions are shared respectfully.

Foster personal connections
Fostering personal bonds at work helps team members establish deep connections that make your team more cohesive, engaged and collaborate better. Studies suggest that high performing team members spend time exchanging on personal interests and non-work related matters. There are a few ways to encourage your teams to build authentic connections. Schedule team-wide breaks or lunches during the week to come together. If your team is remote, schedule regular virtual bonding sessions.

Building high performing teams can provide a powerful competitive advantage. You can lay the foundations of building such teams by uniting members through a common purpose and goals, introducing and promoting a culture of healthy dialogue, fostering deep connections as well as committing to continuously developing teams. This inspires high team performance and motivates the team to continuously succeed.

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