Let’s back up for a minute and ask how you would know if you made a good play in football. That answer would be simple. If the action resulted in a gain of yards, or a score, or something that moved you closer to winning, it would be a good play. If not, it was merely activity.
It is easy to determine success in football, because there are a clear set of rules and a precise way of measuring both process (yards) and results (score).
But in your job, you may not have the same structure as you do on the gridiron. When I talk to team members during consulting work, I repeatedly find a vacuum where that structure should be. Sure, everyone knows that profit is important, but there are two barriers to linking it to the frontline work that the employee is doing.
The first is that most employees don’t know exactly how what they do links to the strategy of the company. Most would say that being more efficient or faster is better. But would they know which process to make better first? There are always resource constraints, so they can’t work on everything. And what if there is a gap in a capability? How do they choose whether to streamline an existing process or work to roll out something new?
The second thing is that work has a cost. Leaders tend to trade a lot of their personal life for the compensation and other benefits they get at work. Employees typically have a different definition of work-life balance. As a result, targets are often set substantially different. An employee may see working a hard 8 hours as a good job. A manager may see clearing all the work off a desk as doing a good job, even if it is 9 hours’ worth. Without clear standards, there is a great deal of room for a disconnect in the assessment of job performance. And that disconnect lowers job satisfaction.
So, what should be done?
Well, then first thing I always advocate to a new client is to start doing policy deployment. It provides a framework that junior leaders can use to establish standards based on stated priorities. With strong policy deployment, there is seldom a question about what is important.
The second thing is to establish standard work and daily management. Employees should never be working towards arbitrary goals. If something is not clearly defined, assume that it will be misinterpreted.
I recommend that if you are a leader, you check to see if your team knows how they are doing. Talk to your HR representative, and ask him or her to meet with your subordinates. The result of the gathering should be a summary of what the group thinks that you think is important, and how they believe they are evaluated. If their assessment matches your reality, great job. If it doesn’t, you’ve got some work to do.
Jeff Hajek is the owner and founder of Velaction Continuous Improvement, and the author of Whaddaya Mean I Gotta Be Lean? and the Gotta Go Lean blog. Jeff is a great Lean thinker and has an interesting blog. Jeff also has a newsletter and training materials available on his site. Please check it out.
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