Building a High-Trust Work Environment

Building trusting relationships is one of the most important elements of being an effective leader. The good news is that turning around a low-trust environment isn’t rocket science. It starts with performance evaluation. If you are evaluating your people’s performance with a judgmental mindset, I guarantee you are eroding trust.

But if you partner with your people to set clear goals, and then provide day-to-day coaching to help them reach those goals, you’ll build high levels of trust—and that leads to higher morale, increased productivity, and improved engagement. And, as a leader, the constant communication you have with team members makes the performance evaluation part of your role much easier.

Remember, placing an emphasis on judging performance instead of coaching performance will create a low-trust environment. Setting clear goals and working side by side with your people to help them do their best will not only build trust and create effective teams, but also form the kind of working environment where people flourish.

A Simple Framework to Manage Performance

A critical skill for any leader is managing the performance of others. In our book Putting the One Minute Manager to Work, Bob Lorber and I introduce the ABCs of management as a framework to help leaders and their people succeed. It is a simple way to get back to the basics of influencing performance.

A stands for Activators—this refers to things a leader does before performance. All good performance starts with clear goals, so in this phase of the framework leaders must make sure employees understand (1) their areas of responsibility and (2) what good performance looks like in each of those areas. Goal setting is critical because it activates the management process. Once goals are clear, the leader provides the appropriate leadership style—directing, supporting, coaching, or delegating—to help the employee achieve the goals.

B is for Behavior. Here is where the leader observes what employees say and do while working on their goals. Leaders take note of tasks being completed (or not), deadlines being met (or not), and progress being made (or not). Since goals are clearly developed and agreed to in the first step, it is easy to determine whether people’s behaviors are contributing to the accomplishment of the goal or taking away from goal achievement.

What leaders observe in the Behavior stage determines the basis of a response. This leads to the C element in the framework—Consequences. In this phase, leaders manage the behaviors they have observed. If an employee is making progress, the leader praises that progress; if not, they redirect the employee to help them get back on track.

The ABC framework makes managing performance easier for leaders as well as their people. Employees have clear goals and an understanding of performance expectations—and leaders manage consequences in a helpful, respectful way. Give it a try!

Leadership is a Partnership

Leadership is not something you do to people. It’s something you do with people. I have believed this statement my entire career—and it might be even more important now than it was 35 years ago. Workforces are more diverse, workplaces are less centralized, and technology continues to revolutionize how business is conducted and how people communicate. The most successful leaders are the ones who partner with their staff.

Partnership starts with clear and frequent communication. Leaders must establish a rhythm or consistent schedule of discussions with team members. I suggest that leaders meet at least once a week, for 30 minutes with each direct report. That might sound like a lot of extra work, but I guarantee if you spend this time you’ll create trusting relationships with your team that will improve morale and productivity in your department.

Use these meetings to work with your team member to set clear goals, to praise progress on tasks, to redirect efforts if necessary, and to celebrate the completion of each project. It is critical that the leader and team member participate equally in these meetings, speak their truths, and listen with the intent of learning something—not judging.

Some of you reading this might be saying, “This isn’t new information.” You’re right it isn’t—but it is such a simple truth of leadership that I want to remind people again and again. You’ve probably heard me say that the information I provide for leaders is just common sense. But I also say that my philosophy isn’t always commonly practiced.

My goal is to have every leader start having these important conversations with their teams. I urge you to partner with each team member to help them be successful. So, I provide this reminder for you to be a leader that makes this common sense, common practice. You’ll soon realize how a small investment of time spent partnering with your people will build a stronger, more self-reliant team.

Getting Your Management Career off to a Great Start

For decades, I’ve been talking to new managers about their biggest challenges. One thing I still hear over and over is how hard it is to balance being the tough boss and being the nice boss. I think this feat is especially difficult for the new manager who started as a high performing individual contributor, was promoted, and is now managing former colleagues and friends.

This common first-time manager dilemma reminds me of my longtime friend and coauthor Don Shula, legendary coach of the Miami Dolphins. In our book Everyone’s a Coach, he says it is more important to be respected than to be popular.

I offer two pieces of advice. First, think back to a leader who inspired you to great performance. More than likely it was someone who combined toughness with compassion. You knew that person cared about you, but also that they would not let up on you in the quest for excellence. To achieve this balance you need to set high standards to make sure each person on your team is adding value to the organization. You also need to be present for them to offer support and direction along the way. You must be willing to set stretch goals with your people, pushing them beyond their comfort level—and then you need to help them achieve those goals.

This is where the art of communication comes into play.  Having honest and open conversations with your people when setting goals, providing feedback, and giving direction will pave the way to building mutually respectful relationships with them.

My second suggestion is to ask for training. Our research shows that more than 40 percent of new managers go years without receiving any training in their new role! That’s incredible. Is it any wonder that 60 percent of new managers underperform or fail in the first two years? Without proper managerial training, you are likely to develop poor habits that will prevent you from being as effective as you need to be. And those poor habits you developed early can become the familiar, comfortable behaviors that will be more difficult to change as time goes by.

For example, as a new manager you might find it hard to delegate—especially if you were a successful individual achiever who was promoted into a management role. But even though it might be easier and faster to do some tasks yourself, you must learn how to get work accomplished through others. If you don’t delegate, your direct reports might see you as a nice boss, but if you show each person you care about their development enough to require them to carry their own weight, they will respect you as their leader. This relates back to Coach Shula preferring respect to popularity.

Are you ready to ask for training to learn the skills you need to get your management career off to a great start? And are you ready to push your people to find the greatness within themselves? I guarantee if you focus on both of these issues, you’ll set yourself and your team up for success.

Let’s Talk: Tips for New Managers

A new manager faces important and sometimes jarring differences in their new role. They must focus on not only achieving their own work, but also managing the work of their team, managing the relationships of former colleagues who are now direct reports, and managing projects that have an impact on the organization. One of the keys to becoming an effective manager is the ability to conduct meaningful conversations. Our new First-time Manager program introduces the four most important conversations a new manager can master: goal setting, praising, redirecting, and wrapping up.

Put yourself in the place of a direct report who is beginning work on a new task or project. What questions do you think they would have? Here are four areas of concern that I believe drive people’s behavior at work:

“What are my goals on this task or project?”

“Am I doing the right things to help the team move forward?”

“How did I get off track—and how can I get back on?”

“Now that we’ve achieved the goal, what did we learn?”

The answers to these questions lie within the four types of conversations every manager needs to have with each team member at various stages of work on a task or goal.

For example, when a direct report needs to understand what they are supposed to be doing, they need to have a goal setting conversation with their manager. This dialogue focuses on exactly what the direct report needs to do and by when. It should take place at the beginning of a project or task and should include clear and compelling goals that are written down and reviewed frequently. This conversation sets the direct report up for success, growth, and development.

During the course of the task or project, the manager must give feedback to the direct report about their performance. When the individual is making good progress and doing things right, it’s time for a praising conversation. This conversation helps the person understand what specific behaviors are helping achieve the goal, why they matter, and that they were noticed and appreciated.

When things aren’t going as well in terms of a direct report’s behaviors or actions, the manager must initiate a redirecting conversation. This discussion will guide the direct report back on track toward the goal by helping them know what specific behaviors are out of alignment with the goal, why they matter, and that the manager wants the person to succeed.

Once a project or task is completed, it is important to have a wrapping up conversation. This is the manager’s chance to focus on the outcome, celebrate accomplishments, and acknowledge learnings. Managers see the wrapping up conversation as a great way to keep people energized and to inspire engagement by encouraging their progress and honoring the work they have done.

Have you started conducting these conversations with your team? How’s it going? If you find some of the conversations easier to have than others, that’s normal—but I hope you see the importance of continuing to have each of these important discussions with each of your people. You’ll build their trust and confidence while improving morale and performance—and getting excellent results—all for the greater good.