Leading People: The Foundation of Business Strategy

In his article originally published in the October issue of the Housing First Minnesota Digest, Jerry Olson explains how business success is built on a foundation of people working together as a great team toward a common goal. Unfortunately, only about 20% of employees feel they are part of a great team. Great teams require strong leadership combined with clear people strategies and effective tactics. As labor markets tighten, it is essential to the success of your business to attract, retain and engage the right people.


Unsure of how to achieve that in a demanding labor market? Here are five strategies that can make an immediate difference in your business.


Attract the right people

Many business leaders and hiring managers believe they are great judges of character. So, rather than investing time and resources into proper interviews, they rely on their intuition to choose the right people. Unfortunately, it was discovered that the very crucial requirements of the position were almost always vague and in some cases, completely missing. That hiring manager’s false confidence and lack of knowledge of the position likely means he will hire the person he likes rather than determining if he or she is the right person for the job. So, what does the “right person” really mean?


To develop specific characteristics of the “right people” for an organization, it is important to start with the company’s Core Values. What mission does the business stand for or believe in? What behaviors support those beliefs? Taking the time to develop strong Core Values with accompanying belief and behavior statements provides a concrete set of criteria that can be used to attract and select the right people.


Market more. Recruit less.

Smart business leaders market their company as a great place to work long before they have an open position. Companies should run on-going marketing strategies based on their Core Values to attract people who share those values (the right people). Employers who do so always have a ready source of candidates who know them and want to work for them, resulting in less frantic recruiting for an open position. When a position becomes available, a list of interested candidates who share the Core Values already exists.


Most businesses have clear strategies and dedicated resources for marketing their products or services. Put similar efforts and resources into also marketing your company as a great place to work. You’ll be attracting the right people when these marketing strategies are based on your Core Values. And, even better, the investment in this effort is modest when compared to the cost of open positions, undone work, missed opportunities and bad hiring decisions.


Be more engaging

How many people in your organization dread or are less than excited about coming to work and just show up out of habit? How many are excited to work towards a common goal and are actively engaged in helping drive the company forward?


Get people excited about your vision. Determine the “WHY” of your business. Simon Sinek’s “Start With Why” presentation can provide more clarity on this. View it during your next leadership team meeting to ensure everyone is on the same page before attempting to drill it down into the organization.


Exceptional leaders are the “Chief Story Teller” or “Chief Evangelist” for their organization. They set and communicate long-term targets, paint the picture of the preferred future, bring people together to set annual objectives and set clear, short-term goals aimed to move the organization toward the vision. Telling the story of your preferred future and working together to create goals and objectives provides clear expectations about the vision and direction of the company.


Lead more. Manage less.

Too often people are promoted to a management position because they excel at their current position. These individuals may know the functions of the position through and through but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are effective at managing people. Far too often, there are unclear and unknown expectations of managing and leading people, setting the manager and his or her new department up to fail.


With minimal leadership expectations and experience, the new manager manages the work rather than leads the people doing the work. Even worse but just as common, the manager slips back into doing the work rather than managing or leading or as we refer to it, elevating and delegating.


Instead of leading by doing the work, lead by setting clear expectations about behaviors and accountability. The behaviors, or the “HOW”, should be based on the organization’s Core Values. Set clear expectations about the results (the “WHAT”) to be achieved in each job. Measure behaviors and results against the stated expectations.


Hold people accountable

Stop punishing them. The average boss typically spends too much time punishing poor performers. Unfortunately, employees are often uncertain about the reason for the punishment due to unclear and unstated expectations.


Too often, managers want help fixing their annual performance review system because they believe it’s too difficult to complete. This usually means they don’t know what to say or measure because clear expectations weren’t set at the beginning.


With clear, agreed-upon expectations about vision, values and results, holding people accountable is easy. Measuring feedback and accountability for top performers provided with clear expectations early on, is as simple as the boss asking, “what were the results of your work compared to the expectations we set?” as well as simple follow-up questions such as “what will you do differently to improve the results?” and “what obstacles are in your way and how will we overcome them?” With average to poor performers, the discussion and questions might be more challenging but should still be direct and measurable. In all cases, the discussion should cover expectations to be met, obstacles to be overcome, resources needed to achieve the results and related consequences. This way, employees are never punished. Instead, they enjoy the rewards of achievement or the consequences of failure.


It’s your turn

Do you want to be a leader with an engaged team that is excited about pursuing your vision? Are you ready to be in the top 20% of companies successfully accomplishing their mission with great people? Start practicing these five strategies and you’ll propel your team and your business forward toward your preferred future!


Author, Jerry Olson, is a Business Advisor with The Resultants™. To learn more about Jerry, visit our Team Page or connect with him on Linkedin.

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