Why is employee performance almost never at the level we think it should be? In answering that question, most business leaders put the blame on their employees. As a result, employee performance never improves--because the finger of responsibility is pointed in the wrong direction. The fault lies with leadership, not with the individual members of the workforce. Confused? Ready to argue? Let me explain.
Sometime in the near future, try this exercise. Meet individually with 5-10 members of your workforce. Draw one or two from senior leadership and the others from some combination of management and the rank and file. Ask each person all of these questions, and write down their responses.
- What is the vision of this organization? How do we want the company to be different in the future and how do we expect to grow?
- What is the purpose of this business? Why do we exist?
- What is the business model of this company? How do we drive and perpetuate revenue; and what will need to change or improve if we are going to fulfill our vision?
- What is our business strategy? How do we compete in the marketplace with our business model; and how does it need to change or improve if we are going to fulfill our vision?
- What is your role in the vision, purpose, business model and business strategy of the company? What is your strategic impact on each of those things?
- What is expected of you in that role? For what outcomes do you have stewardship?
- How are you rewarded for fulfilling those expectations? How does the company’s compensation plan ensure you share in the value you help create when you achieve the outcomes associated with your role?
After reading that list of questions, perhaps you feel a little nervous about performing this simple study. You have probably already determined that your employees will have a hard time answering those questions, at least in any meaningful way. You are likely also starting to figure out why your employees don’t perform at the level you expect—and that the problem may not lie with them. It may actually lie with…well, let’s not worry about naming exactly who is at fault for perpetuating poor performance.
The level at which your people produce becomes diluted when the line of sight in your organization has become diluted. Line of sight exists when employees can easily answer all of those questions—and when those answers are consistent from employee to employee. They must also be consistent with what you want those answers to be.
Stated another way, if your people are struggling to respond to that list of queries, then you have not yet achieved line of sight. If so, regardless of how or how much you pay them, they will not perform at a high level. (Yes, a handful of people with a high work ethic will work hard regardless, but that is not the same things as performing. Performing means the employee is producing an outcome you need him or her to produce—and doing so consistently.)
Why Line of Sight is the Key to Improved Employee Performance
So let’s talk about the line of sight components inherent in the survey questions just listed--and why they are key to helping your employees perform in an advanced way.
Vision. You will never get someone who works for you to improve their performance if they are not compelled by your vision. And employees will never be enthusiastic about the future of your company unless you have placed them in that future. You need to be able to paint a picture for them about why they are critical to what you are building and that it is not likely to be realized if they are not in the role they are in.
Purpose. Once upon a time, people saw their jobs as just that—a place to work for an income. No longer. People want to be involved in something meaningful—where they are contributing to the achievement of something they consider important. Sometimes the impact is grandiose and global but just as often, it something simple. Purpose binds a culture together in a way that profit doesn’t. But if profit is not just an end to itself, but is serving a higher aim, then employees are more likely to be its protectors and promoters.
Business Model. Growth comes when a company is able to leverage its business model. It has to do with knowing where there is room to accelerate virtuous cycles or create new ones. Usually, this requires strategic leadership from individuals who feel motivated to see the company succeed on a higher plane and have the skill set to make it happen. Unfortunately, such players will find it difficult to muster the energy to do that if they are not compelled by the company’s vision and purpose.
Business Strategy. People need clarity about strategic priorities. They need to know whether it’s more important to finish a new product design or to get previous product improvements out the door and implemented. They need to know if it is more important to pursue global opportunities or to leverage domestic ones. People who don’t understand which priorities will have the biggest impact on growth have no idea what success looks like. As a result, their performance suffers, but not because they don’t care about doing a good job.
Roles and Expectations. Employees will never act fully accountability if they believe they are just filling a position. Instead, they will simply focus on carrying out the “duties” of their job. Accountability that leads to higher performance comes when individuals feel like that have role to fulfill. If their role is clearly defined in terms of outcomes for which they are responsible, a sense of stewardship sets in—and high performance follows. When people start “owning” the results their role exists to produce, then their performance will naturally and organically improve.
Financial Rewards. Looked at in the context just presented, the compensation offer a company makes is the way it frames the financial partnership it wants to have with its employees. It shows its people that leadership doesn’t just view them as workers. It sees them as growth partners. When someone feels this sense of partnership in their work, they view themselves as responsible for value creation; and the pay they receive is considered sharing in the value they helped produce. If they can then tie those rewards to the fulfillment of outcomes that leverage the business model and strategy of the company, thereby enabling it to better achieve its purpose, then pay becomes a motivator and performance improves.
As a result, if you want to improve employee performance, focus on improving line of sight.