How leaders can ensure they’re keeping employees on track for success

by FM Media
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Person on the path to success.

Ensuring the definition of success is clearly understood across an organisation is critical to creating accountability and efficiency. BRAD GILES explains.

Imagine you agree to join a friend’s social hockey team. Perhaps you know the basics of hockey – you know there are goals, hockey sticks and a ball – but you don’t know the rules, and you certainly don’t understand the nuances within the game and the dynamics of your new team. You eagerly arrive for your first game, but very quickly you realise that it is very difficult to understand this new environment. For you to be successful, it would take a lot of learning and practice, yet your teammates and opponents are already highly skilled, experienced and understand every aspect of what it takes to win a game. You may have the innate capability and drive to play social hockey, but unless you understand every aspect of what it takes to win a game, you are unable to succeed at that level.

That’s what it’s like being a new employee coming into a business. Despite no ill intent, there is commonly an expectation for these employees – and, in fact, all employees – to meet a certain standard of efficiency and success without much direction.

For leaders looking to be effective, ensuring those who work with and for them understand how to succeed, to the point that it’s not possible for them to misunderstand, is crucial.

Of course, we’re not talking about succeeding by any philosophical or social mark; this is about what it takes you, the leader, to define an employee’s work as successful.

Perhaps you haven’t consciously considered exactly how a person can succeed from your view, but if you were to ask them, there’s a good chance it’s one of the things that they want to know more than any other.

It seems overly simple, but more misery and conflict stems from this basic concept than almost any other workplace interaction. Employees want to know how to succeed, but often leaders don’t give them the information on precisely how or what they expect.

Considering the situation from the employee’s view, it is simply unfair for a leader to fail to empower employees to succeed by not giving them an understanding of exactly how to succeed in the organisation. And yet it is by far the greatest obstacle to building accountability. If people aren’t completely clear on how to succeed, it is hypocritical to hold them accountable when they fail. Furthermore, they have an easy option to say they weren’t aware of what to do when you try holding them accountable.

In order to place employees in a position where it is impossible for them not to understand how to succeed, leaders must broadly focus on two areas: the productivity expectations and the cultural or core values expectations. Then, for each of these two main areas, there could be fifty things or more that you believe a person needs to know and regularly perform in order to succeed in their role. If they don’t know, how can they possibly succeed?

It is the job of the leader to ensure that people understand how to succeed. That doesn’t necessarily mean you need to communicate it yourself if you are in a large team, but you need to be confident it happens.

I have discussed this with hundreds of managers, executives and CEOs, and when there are problems with direct reports, almost every time the employee scores low on this simple measure of understanding their leader’s definition of success for their role. And that’s really uncomfortable, because it indicates that the leader bears some accountability in the situation. But equally, it’s good, because leaders in a difficult situation then understand how to be more effective.

Brad Giles is a leadership coach, speaker and the author of Made to Thrive: The Five Roles to Evolve Beyond Your Leadership Comfort Zone.


Image: Paula May via

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