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How To Get Your Horse To Drink: + 12 Performance Strategies

It’s a familiar scenario for too many leaders and managers; You've given your team member’s all the information, tools and told them what to do but they just don’t want to perform, or at least don’t deliver in the time or quality required.

Thursday 18 February 2016


By Mark Johnson

"Aarrrggghhh!  What the *@#% have I got to do to get this done properly!" some might say.

When asked about motivating employees some old school managers respond with the cliché "You can lead a horse to water but you can't make it drink".  Others will beat themselves up thinking it's their fault the team isn't delivering.

Whilst it may be true that you can't make a person do something, if you have team members reporting to you, you have a responsibility to create an environment which gets the best out of people, which motivates and engages.

When I first took on a management role, I made some huge assumptions about my team, their competencies and motivations.  I was new to the team and I trusted that they knew what they were doing.  It wasn't until I got a kick up the backside from my boss that I took a closer look at individuals and their performance.

Over the years that followed and from my own professional development I came to appreciate just how important my role as leader and manager was in getting the best from my team.

Performance Strategies

More recently in my work as a coach and facilitator I see a common set of strategies coming up time and time again which contribute to creating a motivating environment for team members.

So here are my top 12 performance strategies which I know could be expanded to 101 but let's start here with the essentials:

Delegate effectively – choose the right person, tell them why you chose them and why the task is important. Provide clear instructions and make sure your requirements and expectations are known.

Clearly communicate how what they are doing contributes to the team – team members need to know how they fit in and why their role and the work they do is important. It's all about purpose.  When was the last time you enjoyed a task that served no purpose?

Discuss consequences and identify how others rely on them – there are always consequences, both good and bad. There will be consequences to individuals, the team and the organisation.  I'm not encouraging managers to place a "guilt trip" on team members, but it is important for individuals to know the consequences and impacts of the job they do – what's the downside if the job is late or the quality poor.  Likewise, what are the benefits of meeting deadlines or going the extra mile.

Know what motivates and excites team members and find relevant work – the best way to find out what motivates people is to ask them. Alternatively, observe the times when they are most productive or excited and show interest in discussions.  When you know what motivates people you can allocate work appropriately or at least explain tasks in such a way that "pushes the right buttons".

Provide an incentive, reward and recognition – behaviour which is positively acknowledged is more likely to be repeated. It's not about the money, although there is a place for appropriate monetary compensation and incentives.  Genuine appreciation goes a long way.  How might you feel if your boss said "thanks so much for getting this report to me in time for the Board meeting.  I know you've had a lot on your plate, but I really appreciate the extra effort"?

Give them opportunities to learn and grow as part of a personal development plan – everyone has a need to learn and grow but it may look a little different from person to person and may not focus on their immediate job. Uncovering those needs is the manager's role as part of the development planning process.  Keep development needs in mind when allocating work or getting team members involved in projects and again make it clear how such opportunities are aimed at developing their skills.

Ensure they know how to do what is required – provide them with the information and tools they need (or know where to find them). If they don't know what to do then provide training.

Involve them in decision making where appropriate – people like to feel included and valued. A great way to do both is to involve team members in decision making.  This is even better and creates more engagement when they make a decision which will impact them directly.  In this instance they are more likely to be accepting and accountable.

Provide appropriate autonomy and don't micromanage them – the key here is "appropriate". Experienced team members (who may know more than you) don't need your constant attention.  This only serves to annoy them.  A new and unskilled team member on the other hand is crying out for guidance and direction.  Make sure you are familiar with situational leadership models or similar.

Provide coaching and feedback – coaching is a skill in itself and is a must have for all managers. It will allow you to encourage improved performance and when it is conducted well, coaching will increase team member commitment to the action plans for improvement.

Act as a role model – managers who expect team members to be engaged, productive and enthusiastic, must be a shining example of the same. How can a manager expect results when they themselves don't deliver?

Don't take advantage of them or abuse their good nature - Continual allocation of more work or tougher tasks to team members who "never complain" will backfire at some point.  In time, if people don't feel valued, they will cease to contribute. Others may hear them say "I don't care anymore.  I just do my job and go home".  It's a tough road getting them back to their best.

If you want to lift your team's performance or need support in addressing team challenges, please use the contact us link and we can discuss support and guidance.


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