Despite his best efforts, your employee misses a critical deadline and an important business outcome is in doubt. How do you respond?
This situation is something every manager or leader faces at some point.
Will your response depend on the individual employee or on how well you have been informed throughout the process?
Obviously, many factors weigh into your response, but your gut reaction is to either attack the person or attack the problem. And these two reactions can result in very different outcomes.
Those who attack the person may find that this employee can never adequately escape from your perspective that he has let you down. And this can be detrimental to both the employee and the organization.
Those who attack the problem may find that this can keep the employee from taking it personally and hopefully learn from the experience. It can also nurture the relationship you have with the employee and likely raise his engagement going forward.
Encouragement can raise employee engagement like nothing else. I’m not suggesting you say only nice things, but you can choose to encourage the positive and let the negative speak for itself.
Throughout much of business, there tends to be a laser focus on problem solving, which is to seek out what is wrong and find a way to fix it. A counter notion is appreciative inquiry, which is about focusing on what the organization is doing well in certain areas and find a way to replicate it in others.
Too many organizations focus exclusively on problem fixing that never relieve the employee or the organization from creating the problems. That’s because it is all too easy to find problems and fix them without really changing anything to keep them from happening in the first place.
Appreciative inquiry, on the other hand, is about recognizing what results in positive outcomes and spreading it around the organization. Often used to bring about strategic change, appreciative inquiry offers an alternative perspective that encourages rather than discourages, that builds up rather than knocks down, that spreads rather than eliminates.
In a recent front page New York Times article, this notion of positivity was focused on the Seattle Seahawks. Led by head coach Pete Carroll, the football team is having a great deal of success in part because he encourages his players rather than beats them up over miscues.
Remaining positive despite interceptions, dropped passes, missed tackles and even game losses has been instrumental to getting the most out of so many of the Seahawks’ late round draft picks and undrafted players. It has certainly played a part in their back-to-back Super Bowl appearances and expectations for returning again this year.
In the same way this positive philosophy is rare in the National Football League, it is also rare in business. That needs to change if an organization wants to be about collaboration, innovation, continual learning and success.
Collaboration requires trust that an individual will not be attacked for doing his or her best—unless, of course, this becomes a pattern rather than an exception. Collaboration requires taking risks and making ourselves vulnerable. That cannot happen if we’re running scared of making mistakes for fear of reprisals.
Innovation means trying new things and coloring outside the lines in order to find solutions. This won’t happen if we are avoiding experimentation for fear of personal repercussions. Out-of-the-box thinking can’t be based on fear, but requires a nurturing atmosphere to foster creativity.
Continual learning is required for organizations to thrive in the 21st century. This means constantly attacking what (not who) is wrong and find ways to fix or do it better. It requires allowing for mistakes, miscues and failures in order to find the best sustainable solutions.
Success is a road paved with failure goes the old saying. There can be no success if we don’t acknowledge our failures, learn from them, and move forward. Acknowledging these failures can be done in a positive light that encourages participants to own up to their part or negative where people hide or blame others.
Author and management consultant Peter Drucker once said: “The task of leadership is to create an alignment of strengths in ways the make the system’s weaknesses irrelevant.”
If this is not focusing on positive rather than negative, I don’t know what is.
Next time your employee makes a mistake, misses a deadline, or falls short despite his or her best efforts, use encouragement. You will find that, in the long run, this will bring about better performance and raise overall engagement.