The benefits of loyal staff
If you want to get top results and become a leader with a great reputation, then building loyalty amongst staff is a must.
Some managers and leaders try to do this by force, holding back career progression and trying to make employees feel that there are no other options for them. While this may make them stay in your team, all is does is dishearten and disempower them, and eventually they will leave. Even if they don’t, their performance will slowly deteriorate over time.
Loyalty to a leader creates high performance, through intrinsic motivation. Research shows that external motivators, like dashboard results and commissions, do not raise performance anywhere near the level that intrinsic motivation can achieve.
I’m going to share with you my top tips for developing a loyal, high-performing team. These are taken from my work with senior managers, psychologists, and coaches, as well as my research into top entrepreneurs like Richard Branson and Mark Cuban.
You should be seen as a straight-up, no surprises leader. Your team should never have to worry about what you are secretly doing behind the scenes, or hidden agendas, or any other lack of transparency.
OK, some things you cannot tell staff, such as the details of a performance improvement plan for a certain person, etc. However, you can tell them that you can’t tell them. Staff will appreciate knowing at least the reason why they can’t be told something.
Always look to share as much as possible with all of your team. Let them see you as a person of integrity and authenticity. Sharing information also shows respect to them as equals, so they don’t feel less worthy than you. Ultimately, this will allow you to build TRUST. Trust must be the number one factor of leadership. It is the keystone, as it can be all you need to effectively lead your team.
Be vulnerable and open to feedback
The best thing I ever asked my staff whenever I was a team leader was “What is one thing I could do better?”
I used to ask this magic question at the end of the 1:1 career-development sessions I had with each person. This forced them to give me constructive feedback. Not only did this allow me to develop as a leader – as their feedback was very helpful most of the time – it also allowed them to see me as human.
I was able to acknowledge that I am not perfect, which built sympathy and loyalty amongst my staff. I originally feared that they would respect me less, but because I was confident in asking for feedback they felt more compassion for my role.
Too many leaders think that if your staff hate and fear you it’s a good thing. Actually you are simply enabling a mutiny. By being vulnerable and open to feedback your staff will want to keep you as a leader, rather than see you replaced.
Without doubt the biggest mistake I see leaders making to kill loyalty and particularly creativity is not listening. Richard Branson always likes to say he creates teams out of people better than him. This is the secret. Treat your team as the experts. Let them solve the issues of the team, with your support, guidance and boundary-setting.
If a staff member has an issue, never dismiss them. You need the team to feel like they can tell you anything. Listen carefully and reflect back what you are hearing. Make them feel heard. This will create a bond where they see you as a mentor and as a trustworthy, accessible leader. Then, even if they are “better” than you, they still want you to lead.
If they think they are better than you and that you are arrogant or unreasonable, they will look to usurp you. You certainly don’t win from trying to be the big-shot or solve all their problems for them. Also, if they don’t learn to solve their own issues, they will flounder without you. This makes things like going on leave or changing team processes a nightmare.
Play to their strengths
Teamwork is about sharing the tasks in a way that suits each individual’s strengths best. Do you know what each person in your team is best at? If not, make it a priority to find out.
How? Why you ask them, of course!
Let them tell you what they feel they are best at, or want to explore, or which tasks they are most passionate about. Then look at the overall team workload and figure out new and innovative ways to allocate work, based on strengths.
Most managers give everyone in the same role the same work. This is ineffective. You will get much higher performance and motivation by making each individual the resident team “expert” in something they enjoy.
Hold poor performers to account
Few things demotivate staff more than seeing a peer performing poorly, while they have to carry the slack. “Performance punishing” describes the managerial art of over-working the top performers because poor-performing staff aren’t pulling their weight. In this scenario all you end up with is average performance all round.
For your high-performers to shine, they need the same time and space as anyone else. Don’t just pile work on them because they are good. Instead give them less work but make it more challenging and higher responsibility. Delegate your “juiciest” work to the high-performers as a reward. Let them know you want to develop them. This will free you up to work alongside them (don’t just dump your least enjoyed tasks on them and then run away).
You also need to hold poor-performers to account. Ensure first that they have everything they need to perform, including resources, support, time and clear expectations. If they still don’t perform, make sure this is dealt with swiftly and without compromise.
Ask yourself this: “What would I need to do to be known as a leader who creates superstars and effectively deals with poor performance?”
Use a 5:1 ratio for feedback
Feedback is vital to performance and loyalty. Most people are so starved for helpful feedback that they bond instantly to the first manager to praise them. Too many leaders simply critique staff when they do not perform to standard, and usually this feedback is too vague to change behavior anyway. Particularly when it is not balanced with helpful praise and encouragement.
Aim in a philosophical way to balance every critique with at least five genuine pieces of specific, positive feedback. None of this “good work” pat-on-the-back patronizing diatribe. I’m talking about taking the time to recognize specific behavior and pieces of work that you approve of, and making it known. Tell the person what they did that was good, why you consider it to be good, and encourage them to do more of the same.
Avoid the “crap sandwich” feedback model of Commend, Recommend, Commend. It’s disingenuous, robotic, and staff know you’re doing it so they hate you for it. Critique should not be sugar-coated. It can be very blunt and direct as long as most of the feedback you give is positive. Balance in this case does not mean 50/50, as human psychology is basically pessimistic and negative far outweighs positive. Aim for 5:1.
Treat all as equal status
Get your head straight; no one is better than anyone else. If you put yourself or others at a higher status than any of your team, they will know. Subtle tone-changes, body language and overt gestures will tell staff who you favor, instantly.
Do not think you can hide this.
Try to get yourself into a mind-set that everyone is the same status, yourself included. Flat management structures work better than hierarchies for this simple reason. Staff feel like equals so they contribute like equals. Imagine how much staff will value working for you (and perform accordingly) if you are the only leader at your workplace who treats people as equals.
Get your hands dirty
There’s a catch-22 here. Your team needs to know that you are willing to do anything you instruct them to do. They will have immense loyalty and respect for a leader who is willing to get their hands dirty and take out the trash occasionally. But you need to be a leader first and foremost.
I recommend choosing times with care that you step in and help staff with their work. It could be when there’s an unexpected wave of sick-leave, or the workload increases out of nowhere. You don’t need to do their work for them all the time, just occasionally pitch in and show them you can do anything they are forced to do.
You need to steer the ship primarily, but it does the crew good to see you scrub the decks once in a while.
Under promise and over deliver
Few things destroy trust more than broken promises. So many managers do this and just hope that it will be forgotten. It won’t be. Ever.
The best thing you can do with promises is not make them. Or at least only promise an intention to do something, never promise a result. You cannot control the future, so you really don’t know if you can deliver on promises. Essentially as soon as you make a promise your staff get a message that you are dishonest.
Promises also project the desire to please people, rather than be a fearless leader. You are much better off promising nothing and then delivering a massive win. Staff will be blown away by you exceeding their expectations. They will also learn to not make false promises from your role-modeling.
Protect and serve
Your team are your family. If you can’t accept that, leave. A person’s boss is one of the most important people in their lives, for better or worse. Make it for better. Treat your team as if they are your most precious assets. Fight tooth and nail to get them the best resources they need to do their job. Let them know, through your actions, that you support them 100% and are willing to take a bullet for them. Take responsibility for any negative result your team produces. Give them full credit for anything positive they do.
This will benefit your own career, because more senior leaders will see you doing this and be inspired. It will give the honest impression that you care more about getting the job done right than just looking good. Be assertive for your team. They won’t care if you lose occasionally, they will love you for fighting on their behalf. They will fight for you in return.
If any of them have to go through performance management measures, such as disciplinary action, take care to treat them with respect, honesty and compassion throughout. Even if they leave, what they say to teammates about the process will do a lot for your reputation. Even when you fire someone for poor performance, you should be on their side. You are firing them to help them find a career more suited to their strengths and purpose.
Protecting and serving your staff should be your top priority. Ironically, this will do more for you personally than being selfish ever will, in the long-term.
Dan is a Career and Confidence Coach who helps people find their purpose in life. Check out his blog www.theinspirationallifestyle.com. Subscribe to get a free copy of his popular eBook “The Perfect Job: Make a Career Breakthrough and Discover Your Purpose TODAY!””
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