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Action Plan to Achieve Breakthrough Improvement in Employee
Productivity and Leadership Effectiveness
By James A. Trinka, Ph.D., Chief Learning Officer, FBI
1. Role Model Development. Senior leaders set the tone in enabling a culture
of development. They are good role models for developing employees, they
believe that development is important, and they make development a priority.
The best leaders see learning not as an expense, but an investment that
returns dividends of a workforce more committed to the organization and more
willing to expend their discretionary effort to get the job done. When you
stop learning, you stop leading!
2. Clearly Communicate Expectations. Leaders strategically use communication
to produce enthusiasm and foster an atmosphere of open exchange and support.
They are adept at energizing people to see pathways that get to goals
despite challenging conditions. Leaders establish clear performance
expectations and hold people accountable to deliver on their work promises
to their team, boss, and stakeholders.
3. Ensure Work Provides Learning. The vast majority of employees seek to
learn and grow while performing day-to-day work and crave a learning
environment in that context. Many managers lament that time constraints or
competing priorities limit the time they devote to employee development. The
good news is that great leaders incorporate learning as an essential part of
their normal job responsibilities and “blur the line” between learning and
work. They create learning environments so that, on each work assignment,
they can help employees creatively anticipate and find solutions to specific
1. Encourage Development. Great leaders know that their most important job
is to develop their successors and maintain a legacy of leadership. The
leaders who are most effective at developing their successors have employees
who are more likely to stay, more satisfied with their job, more committed
to the organization, and more productive. Choose those you believe have the
values you wish to promulgate and the talent to learn the leadership
behaviors you believe are important to the future of your organization and
then give them personal developmental attention. Yes, it takes time.
However, remember your leadership mission: legacy.
2. Help Apply New Skills/Knowledge. Great leaders provide one-on-one
coaching and mentoring opportunities to apply new technical skills or
knowledge on regular work or new projects and relate these “teachable
moments” back to the overall organizational vision or strategy. The
appreciative support of helping others grow contributes to a distributed
sense of leadership at all levels. Transformational leaders believe in
distributed leadership and are often seen mentoring, coaching, and ensuring
the development of others.
3. Relate Interpersonally. Leaders set a vibrant high performance
organizational culture through effective interpersonal relations, indicated
by real dialogue, lots of input, and transparency. Dialogue implies deeper
conversations rather than information handoffs. Dialogue involves
demonstrating a true concern for the perspective of others and committing to
listening rather than trying to convince. Appreciative exploration gives
dialogue its power; people see you care and are willing to invest in hearing
them out. When people see that you are committed to them, they will commit
4. Pass Along Job and Development Opportunities. The best leaders use their
own experience to give employees advice about emerging trends, political
relationships, career development, and yes…job openings and development
opportunities. You may grow some folks who will take their capabilities
elsewhere based on your recommendations…and you’ve built life-long loyalty
not only from them, but also from the rest of your team…they recognize your
1. Become Knowledgeable About Employee Performance. Leaders are
knowledgeable about their employees’ performance, which builds considerable
trust and respect. Most would say that this is a “no-brainer,” yet only
30-40 percent of employees report that their managers communicate
performance standards and provide fair and accurate feedback to help them do
their jobs better.
2. Provide Voluntary, Detailed, Immediate, and Positive Feedback. Most
employees believe that formal performance reviews do not help on-the-job
performance, yet they crave feedback, especially on strengths. Most managers
view formal performance reviews as an administrative requirement rather than
as a powerful lever to positively influence employee performance. Only 35
percent of employees rate their manager above average in providing feedback
and report that they only provide general, non-specific praise. Great
leaders catch their people doing something right and point it out to them in
a detailed and timely fashion.
3. Recognize/Emphasize/Leverage Strengths. Positive leaders are well known
for recognizing, emphasizing, and leveraging strengths and what is working
rather than the opposite approach of focusing on weaknesses and what isn’t
working. Focusing on success creates positive energy by recognizing and
appreciating what is working, which produces greater engagement and momentum
for change. That doesn’t mean that you never discuss performance gaps…when
you do, focus on specific suggestions for improvement or development related
directly to job performance. The number one reason why people thrive in an
organization is their immediate manager; unfortunately, it’s also the number
one reason they quit.
Bottom Line: Establish a performance management based organizational
culture, although not from a command and control perspective, but one that
involves a coaching environment and conscious attempts at continuous
dialogue within work teams to achieve breakthrough improvements in
manager-employee relationships and on-the-job results.
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