How to Get The Best From Your People This Year

If I were to ask you, “What are five things that bother or frustrate you about your business right now?” chances are one of them would have something to do with one or more of your employees. Right? Absolutely!

Virtually every business owner I’ve ever met has some issue with one or more of his or her direct reports, let alone other people in their organization. The natural follow up question then is, “So, what are you going to do about it?”

Since we’re at the start of a new year, it seems appropriate that we ought to address this issue now so that as you walk through the rest of this year, you’ll experience less and less frustration and observe more and more productivity from them.

In other words, if you want to get better performance from your people while reducing your level of frustration with them, you’ll want to keep reading this week’s post.

The key to turning this issue around is to develop a personal development plan for each of your direct reports (note: getting the best from your people isn’t just about correcting your bad performers, it’s also about increasing the performance of your best performers—i.e. it’s not an either/or but a both/and).

That said, here are four ideas to help you get the best from your people.

I. Select One to Three Areas to Work On Over the Next 12 Months

No one can handle twenty different things to improve in a year. Even though Joe may have a lot to work on, trying to change too many things at once is a futile goal. Plus, you have other people to work with and all the other items on your to do list.

So, what kinds of areas might you want to improve? Well, here are some more common ones.

  • How to handle criticism
  • How to listen more than talk
  • How to create more compelling arguments (i.e. how to think more logically to construct an argument)
  • How to run more effective meetings
  • How to be more confident
  • How to be more gracious
  • How to be a better team player
  • How to manage money better
  • How to be a better leader
  • How to be a better coach/manager
  • How to systematize more of his/her work
  • How to not take things so personally
  • How to speak up more in meetings
  • How to be more creative
  • How to be more productive or how to be a better manager of their time
  • How to be a better problem solver, etc.

You get the idea. There are plenty of areas to work on. The key is to pick just one to three of them.

So, as you look at your direct reports, what are the one to three things you want to work on for each of them?

II. Create a Simple Plan for How You Can Help Them

This isn’t meant to be a long process so don’t pull out Microsoft Project or create a Gantt chart. You just want to think through a handful of ways that YOU might be able to help each person become better at whatever that goal area is.

For example, let’s say one of your direct reports has a problem with spelling and grammar (i.e. they don’t “own” your core value of excellence). What could you do this year to help them become better at that? Here are a few ideas

  • You could buy them (or sign them up for) a course on spelling and/or grammar
  • You could have them send their proposals to you before sending them out and then you could walk them through their mistakes (vs. just sending back a draft of corrections)
  • You could have them practice the “Two Eyeballs Rule” (i.e. no emails, letters, etc. can go out before someone else has read them)
  • You could buy them a book on grammar and meet with them once a month to talk about what they learned that month
  • You could install a grammar app in their email client
  • You could have them bcc you on every email for the next few months
  • You could recommend a couple of grammar blogs for them to read and then report back to you on what they learned, etc.

The key here is to not make the plan too difficult or complex (you have plenty of other things to take care of). However, you also don’t want to just walk into a meeting and say, “Fix this.” And then leave. That would be poor leadership.

So, based on the one to three things you want each of your direct reports to work on this year, what are the next three to five next steps to ensure that this issue will be dealt with for this year?

III. Have a Face-To-Face Meeting With Each of Your Direct Reports

A lot of leaders think that this should be done in stealth mode (unbeknownst to the other person)—I disagree. Instead, I highly recommend that you schedule a sit down, face-to-face meeting with each of your direct reports, especially those with whom you’re frustrated. In other words, don’t avoid the difficult conversation, head directly into it.

Here’s a sample conversation.

  • “Joe, as we look back on this past year, what do you think you’ve done well and where do you think you could use some improvement?”
    • Note: you always want to start here because frequently, they’ll identify the problem so you won’t have to (not always, but frequently).
  • “Good to hear that. I think we’re on the same page—for the most part. However, there is one issue that I want to help you with this year that you might be unaware of, that is hindering your effectiveness and because I’m committed to helping you become the best version of you possible, I want the two of us to work together on.”
    • In other words, you want to ensure them of your intentions, this isn’t just about your frustration level. This is about you wanting to help them be their best.This is the context for this conversation.
  • “You may be unaware of this, but not only have I observed this behavior, but several others on our team have as well (Note: you want to focus on behaviors, not intents). Whenever someone critiques you or one of your ideas, you get defensive and then tend to go on the attack. If you ever want to be your best version of you and/or a great leader, you can’t do that any more. So, this year, the number one issue that we’re going to work on in your personal development is your ability to not get defensive when you or one of your ideas is critiqued and instead to welcome critique and, believe it or not, even ask for it. Okay?”

You get the idea. Once you clarify the issue, then you want to offer to help them (using the ideas from step two). “In order to help you with this, here are a couple of things I’m going to do to help you succeed at this …” Then get them to work on creating their own plan for how they plan to conquer this issue (i.e. the change is ultimately their responsibility, but you’re not going to leave them alone).

IV. Stay Engaged On This Issue Until It’s Well Ingrained

I don’t know if you ever read Chet Holmes classic text on “The Ultimate Sales Machine” but one of his key phrases was “pigheaded discipline.” Similarly, Howard Hendricks (a theology professor) used to use the term, “bulldog tenacity.” Whichever phrase you prefer, run with it.

Change is hard. If it were easy, everyone would do it. But it’s not. And the mistake most business owners and entrepreneurs make about this issue is they tend to think that if they say something once, it’s done. Nothing could be further from the truth. And you know this from your own experience. Habit gravity is compelling. There’s a reason why people keep doing the same things over and over again.

So, if Sally has a problem with managing her department’s budget, you can’t simply say, “Fix it!” during her annual review—and be done with it. You might need to meet with her once a week or once a month for the next three to six (or even twelve) months, until she manages the budget for her department well.

Likewise, if Anik has a hard time expressing his ideas in a logical and compelling way, you can’t just have a one-hour training session and assume he’s going to magically transform into a great presenter. It won’t happen. I’ve been training pastors for decades on communication and I’m frequently reminding them of issues we’ve discussed over and over again for years. Habits die hard.

This is why I like to limit the issues to one to three items. Why? Because you can stay on top of one issue for one person for twelve months. Every time you see Sally or Anik you know exactly what you want to work with them on.

It’s all about pigheaded discipline (or bulldog tenacity). You have to stay on top of this one issue over a long period of time—not just have one conversation or follow up on it once—if you want the change to stick.

The good news is that if you do these four things,

  1. Select one to three areas to work on over the next 12 months
  2. Create a simple plan to help them
  3. Have a face-to-face meeting with them
  4. Stay engaged on this issue until it’s well ingrained

You’ll have an incredibly better team by the beginning of next year (and the year after that, and the year after that, etc.). Not only will your frustration level be less and your direct reports’ productivity be higher, you’ll be shaping the members of your team into better people—and what more can a leader ask than that? Ten years from now when they look back on their lives, they’ll each look back with gratitude on how you helped them become a better version of them!

So, what’s your next step today?

To your accelerated success!

P.S. The other nice thing about using this approach is that these kinds of behaviors tend to carry over to the rest of their lives. For example, if you can help Joe become less defensive at work, don’t you think that’ll affect all of his other relationships? Of course! If he’s married, his wife will appreciate you. If he has kids, his kids will thank you. And all his friends and relatives will thank you. At every level, you’ll have made an indelible impact on Joe for the rest of his life. I don’t know about you, but that sounds like something worth taking the time to do.

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