10 (scientifically-proven) tips for being a better boss

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The future of work is being shaped by extraordinary changes in technology, globalisation and overwhelming information flow. Workers are asking for something different from their bosses. They want clear expectations, accountability, a strong sense of purpose, and ongoing feedback and coaching.

This blog provides 10 recommendations to help leaders become better bosses by shifting their focus from managing performance to developing it. This is proven to meet employees’ needs more effectively and improve organisational performance.

Each is rooted in hard science: analysis of Gallup data from more than 60 million employees worldwide, our work helping organizations transform their cultures, as well as hundreds of studies on goal setting, feedback, engagement and competencies from other researchers.

1. Understand and appreciate the individual -- know what your people want from work.

Gallup research suggests that the modern workforce is interested in opportunities to learn and grow, the opportunity to advance as they develop and a manager who cares about them.

They also want interesting work that makes a difference and aligns with their personal sense of purpose. That said, employees in different roles and from different generations may have different priorities regarding what they value most.

Individualising performance to each person is paramount, and managers must work to understand how these needs manifest for each employee.

2. Become a coach (not a boss).

Managers carry the utmost responsibility for guiding and inspiring employee performance. To improve performance, they must begin to philosophically and functionally shift from being managers of performance to developers of performance.

Successful performance development is not just about changing the way annual reviews are conducted. It requires managers to think of themselves in a new way: as a coach, not a boss.

3. Collaborate to set goals and clarify performance expectations.

The fundamental requirement for setting performance expectations is ensuring the manager and employee are clear on which duties the employee is responsible for; what defines outstanding, acceptable and unacceptable performance; and how performance will be measured.

Managers and employees should work together to set these expectations.

Collaborative goal setting ensures expectations are fair, relevant and challenging. Employees whose managers involve them in goal setting are nearly four times more likely to be engaged than other employees.

4. Provide meaning -- help people connect to the bigger picture.

Employees will not commit fully to their work if they cannot make a connection between it and the purpose and goals of their company.

Good managers help employees understand their company’s strategy and values, why their role exists, and how their expectations align with team and organisational objectives.

Engagement soars when employees have this sense of purpose. Employees who strongly agree that they can link their goals to the organisation’s goals are 3.5 times more likely to be engaged.

5. Take an active role in ensuring individual and team goals are aligned.

Aligning individuals’ performance expectations with team goals ensures that they support teamwork, and research shows that employee productivity increases by 56%, on average, when managers are involved in helping them align their goals with the needs of the organisation.

Employees whose expectations align with team goals understand that they are expected to both give full effort to their personal responsibilities and collaborate well with coworkers.

6. Establish guidelines for prioritising workloads.

Setting priorities creates an understanding between managers and employees about what is urgent and what can wait.

Managers gain awareness of when work cannot get done because barriers to performance exist or because employees are simply stretched beyond their capacity.

If employees have established guidelines with their primary manager for prioritising their work, they can apply those guidelines when deadlines conflict and ask for help in balancing their priorities.

7. Continually coach: Have frequent coaching conversations.

Employees need to know that their manager cares about them as a person, understands what they are working on and is available to them when they need support.

Although the exact amount of feedback employees need varies by person and task, Gallup recommends that employees experience some form of coaching with their manager at least once per week, whether for purposes of recognition, development, problem-solving, constructive feedback or encouragement.

Engagement tends to fall substantially when employees don’t have meaningful, constructive contact with their manager at least once a week.

8. Create accountability.

Accountability is critical to achieving high performance.

Without it, establishing expectations and continually coaching are nothing more than just talk.

Effective performance development requires managers and employees to take the time to review progress toward expectations, discuss lessons learned and plan for the future.

Accountability doesn't mean using an annual review primarily for the purpose of helping make pay and promotion decisions.

When this is the focus, an employee’s attention is on their pay and their manager’s ability to adequately rank or rate them, rather than on understanding what they did well, opportunities for improvement or how they can develop further.

9. Look to the future, not the past.

The best coaching conversations are future-oriented and create a positive, encouraging dialogue about how employees can do their best work going forward.

They focus on learning and planning how to achieve future expectations.

Traditional performance evaluations and approaches to feedback tend to overly focus on past performance and the specifics of what employees have done wrong.

These conversations can be viewed as critical and condemning, rather than constructive and focused on future opportunities for employees to do their best work.

10. Concentrate on strengths, not weaknesses.

Performance evaluations, feedback and developmental coaching that focus on positive aspects of performance, such as strengths and accomplishments, tend to improve performance more effectively than traditional approaches focused on fixing weaknesses.

Focusing on strengths-based development has yielded particularly powerful results in terms of improved self-efficacy, engagement, learning and performance.

For more information on these matters and the science behind them, download our new report, Re-Engineering Performance Management, today.

About Elena Wilski

Elena Wilski, Gallup

Elena partners with companies across industries to strengthen their employee and customer experiences. She is passionate about behavioural science and how it can be applied to impact key business outcomes.

In her role at Gallup, Elena is responsible for identifying opportunities to improve organisational performance and architecting solutions that utilise Gallup’s analytics and strengths-based philosophy.

Elena earned an MSc in Organisational and Social Psychology from the London School of Economics and a BA in European Social and Political Sciences from University College London.

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