Last month, I worked with a manager who was eager to develop her staff, but was overwhelmed by her senior management’s charge to accelerate top performance with highly ambitious goals.
In her company, performance standards directed employees’ efforts to be "excellent," "exceptional" and "outstanding." Sound familiar? These targets were intended to be aspirational and inspirational. Yet, for her employees who were continually striving to grow new skills and increase competencies, these targets failed to even be motivational.
On the path to growing new skills, establishing the standard of “good enough” gives employees a green light to move into action. Such a standard removes barriers that can stifle employees who feel the level of their contribution is not high enough or who are concerned about making mistakes. Having this testing ground to apply new skills is a crucial step toward true mastery and increases their understanding of what will be required to use those skills at the highest level.
Consider whether you could be accomplished with new software by simply reading directions -- few of us can. When taking your team members’ skills to the next level, use a longer-term view and a bit of patience. Here are four ways for you to make “good enough” motivational for employees on a learning curve:
- Let go of your own perfectionism. In my research, managers were asked what had been their most significant mistake before becoming a more developmental manager. Many managers reported that they specifically directed how staff members should take action. They told me that over time they realized this controlling approach to managing not only inhibited their employees’ growth, but also their employees’ level of engagement.
- Define what “good enough” looks like. Be specific about the skill and what impact is to be achieved. For example, helping an eager marketing analyst see that before he determines and presents client branding recommendations, it will be “good enough” to effectively decipher competitive trends which will be core to having his recommendations accepted. Acknowledge this is a mile marker on the journey, and not the ultimate destination. Explain, too, that “good enough” is not a license for incomplete work, nor is it settling for something less than professional. Share your belief in his ability to both reach the mile marker and move forward from there.
- Delegate with growth in mind. Give enough space to use those skills but not so much as to put employees in jeopardy because it is too big a stretch. Yes, you may need to re-think the assignment and break it into smaller chunks so staff can work on the skill and feel safe enough to experiment. Give permission to make mistakes along with the agreement that mistakes will be discussed as a springboard to advance their development. Open the delegation discussion to address their questions and concerns. Then share your confidence to help spur them past potential obstacles.
- Follow up to propel development. This is one of the easiest yet most overlooked managerial actions in promoting the growth of employees after they have applied the skills. Set this up early on: Let them know you’ll be following up so they can be ready to report back. Take a few minutes to find out about their successes and challenges, ask some thoughtful questions about what they are doing differently, and share your observations about their impact. No big scheduled meeting required. This follow-up demonstrates the value you placed on having the team member take this action. Next, discuss how you each view stepping up the application of the skill in the future.
Developing the talent on your team can be embedded into daily work that is thoughtfully delegated. The “good enough” metric provides a safe place for growth provided both you and your employees understand how it is being used to put them on the path to bigger skills.
Wendy Axelrod, PhD, is a recognized expert in manager-driven, work-centered people development. She is co-author of the practical “Make Talent Your Business: How exceptional managers develop people while getting results.” With over 30 years of experience as a corporate executive and external consultant, Axelrod has worked directly with thousands of leaders in workshops and as an executive coach. She speaks frequently at conferences and corporate workshops. Learn more about her consulting, speaking and coaching at TalentSavvyManager.com.
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