How to get the most from your employees

The old cliché “When the going gets tough, the tough get going” has a not-so-inspirational corollary: “It’s tough to get going when the going gets tough.”

And that’s the unhappy reality for many organizations today.

Getting great performances from employees can be a difficult challenge in tough times.

But that’s exactly when great managers show their stuff and talented employees rise to the challenges of keeping business performance high.

How can you get the most out of the people who work for you day after day? Valuable managers must become the workplace equivalent of the inspiring and influential coach.

Some of the best lessons in coaxing stellar execution can be drawn from the playing fields. Not every organization has the same talent, goals or time frame for the game. Not every coaching technique works with very individual or in every industry.

But there are some overall lessons to be learned from great sports gurus and trainers. Remember the true stories of talented mentors who’ve inspired a gaggle of inept misfits to achieve the extraordinary. Apply their approach to your lineup and see how far up you can run the score.

Boost confidence

As a manager, it’s important to remember that nobody wakes up thinking “I’m gonna do a lousy job at work today.” Someone’s performance might be sub par, but the reason usually isn’t a lack of desire to be good at the job.

Often, an employee lacks the confidence it takes to perform. Maybe they anticipate rejection or worse. Cold callers face hang ups, technicians can hit an impenetrable problem.

Empowering workers to feel confident takes skills training and ego boosting. Often, this can be achieved by giving an employee better training, a selection of tips and tricks or better tools to get the job done. Consider enlisting some outside trainers to bring a fresh perspective or a new approach to a seasoned organization.

Employees will also grow more confident when they know they have the trust and backing of the organization they work for – and that’s communicated by respect. Being honest and fair with people will go a long way in boosting their self-image and esteem.

Communicate directly

It sounds simple, but it rarely is. Talking to the people who work with you in an open, direct fashion is a key coaching technique.

Praise for a task done well will do more for performance than berating the worker for mistakes. Helping an employee learn from a mistake is one thing. Belittling someone for a slip-up undermines morale and scuttles productivity. Using a blunder as an opportunity for learning is far more effective than doling out punishment for an honest mistake.

Coaching communication should be clear, concise and unambiguous. Be specific about what’s needed and candid about the consequences of failure. Empty promises or threats will backfire.

It can often be tough to keep the anger and frustration you feel from creeping into your conversations. It’s good to be direct and assertive with the people who report to you. It’s another thing to be furious and abusive.

If you find yourself having trouble keeping your temper in check, give yourself a timeout. Shut your office door, go for a walk, find an empty bathroom stall and retreat from the situation for a bit. Talk yourself down and remember that your reaction can have ripple effects beyond this moment in time. Think about the end game and how to get there.

Customize  rewards

Using a carrot – instead of a stick – is a powerful tool that will engage your people, help you retain talent and accelerate performance. But it has to be crafted to appeal to the individuals involved. People are different and what motivates one employee can fall flat with another. Offering incentives or rewards can be a strong motivator, but it’s important to understand what will stimulate the best performance.

As a manager, it’s your job to figure out what motivates each individual and tailor your rewards so that they will trigger the response you need and avoid a reaction you don’t want.

For example, offering tickets to the ballet for hitting a sales target might be a strong incentive for some workers, but others might view it as akin to being skinned alive. Some employees might view seats for a football game in a luxury box as torture, while other workers would see it as prize. Different strokes for different folks.

An option: Offer a menu of rewards and let the employee pick their own.

Adapt your style

Each individual has a unique personality and a variety of experiences. Using the same style with every person is unlikely to work. Although you can treat all employees with equal respect and honesty, you’ll need to tailor your approach to each one by careful observation and listening.

While it’s dangerous to generalize about people by sex, race or ethnicity, it’s important to remember that there are cultural and gender differences that influence what people value and how they interact. Being aware of those differences and respectful of the behavioral nuances of the people with whom you work, it is possible to be both sensitive and effective with people from a wide range of backgrounds and perspectives.

Managers take responsibility for motivating their employees through direct, honest and enthusiastic communication that is individually targeted and results in building strong, productive teams. Coaching each member of the team in positive, creative ways is the key to transforming your organization. The leaders of the team, its coaching staff, need a variety of tools in their arsenal to be effective.

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