What is the difference between a lower-performing and higher-performing employee? It often lies in their manager’s expectations of their performance, which is not the same as the expectations for the role, and certainly has almost nothing to do with the mostly counter-productive exercise of goal-setting. How to inspire your staff to greatness, in this week’s podcast.
I’ve seen it happen repeatedly among many of my clients: A top performer becomes apathetic towards their workplace, then disengaged, and ends up hiring me to help them make a job or even career transition. More often than not, what triggers the cascade of frustration and despair is a change of manager. It’s not so much that there was any sort of out-of-bounds relationship, or even a particular affection between the employee and their direct supervisor, although it usually is inevitable that a great working relationship leads to a trusting friendship. In fact, a great working relationship in which an employee is encouraged and enabled to regularly demonstrate superlative performance above and beyond the call of duty, is fuelled by trust.
Dan Pink’s great model of intrinsic motivation tells us that Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose are the key elements that drive all of us. Autonomy is the freedom, leeway, and space—both physical and mental—to perform our work independently. Mastery is the opportunity to learn and continually improve how we do what we do. And Purpose enables us to find personal meaning and fulfilment in our accomplishments over time. Give an employee Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose and watch her or him soar beyond goals and beyond job expectations.
A great and inspiring manager activates all three of these elements in their employee: They trust their employee to sufficiently understand the intention of both the enterprise as a whole and their particular role contribution. This understanding begins to activate autonomy so that they can determine what is most appropriate to be done to realize those intentions. Their manager helps the employee align their personal higher purpose to that of the organization through those mutual intentions. Then, the manager grants them the space and place—autonomy again—to shine through bringing their ever-increasing mastery to their work.
Indeed, my high-performing clients all had managers whom they loved for their willingness and enthusiasm to enable them to bring their best and continually exceed what they had done before. For various reasons, they ended up working for a new manager. The specific reason doesn’t really matter—whether it was a reorganization, an acquisition, change of company, they find themselves working for a manager whose nature it is to be more directive, more controlling… more oriented towards maintaining “accountability” primarily because the new manager cannot trust the employees to do things the way he would do them. Unfortunately, the manager’s focus on accountability necessarily precludes the three determinants of intrinsic motivation—autonomy, mastery, and purpose—and the employees fall from consistently exceeding expectations to barely meeting them. They disconnect from their work, become apathetic, disengaged, and eventually leave the organization. As for the manager, it’s almost always a case of, “I really can’t understand what their former boss saw in them.”
Employees almost never quit jobs—they quit managers. Conversely, employees with superior, inspiring performance almost always have inspirational managers. The secret to creating superior performance among your employees is to be that manager.