Seven Steps to Unlocking Your Team’s Potential
“Continuous effort—not strength or intelligence—is the key to unlocking your potential,” Winston Churchill once said.
We have a saying at Niles, too: “Lean, don’t ram.” It’s something my first boss in this business taught me. I was 23 and full of energy. Stubborn and determined, everything had to be done right now! Well, my boss took me aside and said, “Frank, you have great potential, but you have to learn that when you want to knock over a wall, it’s better to lean than ram. If you run at the wall with all your might, you’ll likely knock yourself out, but if you lean against the wall with constant pressure, eventually the wall will fall.”
It’s advice I never forgot. Over the years, I’ve learned “leaning” is its own process. This is especially true when you’re in a position of leadership and the “leaning” is done within the context of an organization or team. Apply these seven steps in a process of continuous effort, and you and your team can knock down any wall.
Set goals and make them meaningful motivators. Of the 1,000 clichés about goal-setting, one of my favorites says, “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there.” Clearly define what you’re trying to accomplish before you set out, and you’re more likely to achieve those goals. It’s your job to set direction, so determine where you want to end up and translate those desires into concrete goals. Make sure they’re specific, measurable, achievable and time-based, and then use them to challenge, focus and motivate your staff.
Communicate and build trust. Goals won’t become meaningful motivators if you’re the only one who knows what they are! Moreover, a lack of consistent communication usually leads people to assume “negative” and quickly become distrustful, which leads to further feelings of not being in the know, and a vicious cycle ensues. So communicate often and work to build trust. A number of great techniques exist to do so. Our senior management meets twice a month and reviews goals as a team. We also have a monthly “Pizza Day” lunch where we bring everyone together to discuss our progress as a company.
Track results and give feedback. Measure your progress and communicate where you are and how far you still need to go. This important feedback loop keeps you and your team on track by providing advice and the opportunity for course corrections. Consider the “rocket to the moon” analogy. You’ve launched that rocket. At periodic intervals, you check to see that you’re still on course by measuring its position and comparing it to the planned trajectory. If you’re off course, you fire thrusters to realign. The more you check your position, the easier course corrections are. It’s the same in business. Constantly track, report and make subtle course corrections, and you and your team will stay on target.
Visualize the future. An amazing subconscious phenomenon occurs when you learn to visualize yourself accomplishing your goals. The mind cannot distinguish between something that’s real and something that’s imagined in vivid detail. When you visualize the future and see yourself succeeding, your brain will naturally assist in accomplishing your goals. Just imagining success puts you on the right track! So, at least once a year, envision the future and write down what it looks like. Include how you’ll accomplish what you envision and where you’ll be one, two or three years from now. When you look back, you’ll be amazed at just how accurate your vision was!
Develop and mentor the winners. Jim Collins, in his book Good to Great, said, “Get the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus and the right people in the right seats.” He was describing leadership attributes he found in every high-performance company he researched. Your ability to accomplish your goals consistently is deeply connected to your ability to develop and mentor winners. Identify positions that are key to your success. Thoroughly understand what’s required to succeed in these positions, and match up talent to those specifications. If you need to go outside the organization, do it! Don’t scrimp; this isn’t the place to save money. Once you’ve found the talent, pay special attention to developing these “key employees” through coaching, relationship building and rewards.
Get organized! In today’s fast-paced world, it seems there’s never enough time. To stay ahead of the pack and accomplish your goals, be organized. Don’t waste time putting major effort into minor details. Do “first things first.” There are several great techniques for this. A simple one we use to great success is the Quarterly Priorities Manager. Each key manager develops five individual quarterly goals that tie to our overall objectives. Twice a month, we meet, and each manager discusses his or her goals. It builds cross-company communication and support, and ties day-to-day work into the long-term vision.
Celebrate your success. Work doesn’t have to be a death march. Get in the habit of celebrating your successes. Set milestones along the way to your goals and invite everyone to celebrate their accomplishments. Celebrations can be anything from a team “high-five” to a weekend retreat; just do something! One reason good people leave their jobs is not money, but recognition. Celebrating success is the best way to recognize those who make things happen. It also compels them to stay on your team and keeps them motivated to take on the next challenge. CR