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The five actions of top notch leaders

Two of the biggest challenges for leaders today are employee performance and organization change. While advice books abound on both topics, Top Notch leaders need not spend time in a library. Improving employee productivity and leading or surviving the change process boils down to five specific, but interdependent leadership actions. These behaviors are the components of the Purposeful Change™ process and are based on the assertion that leaders can more effectively motivate organization or employee behavior change-especially sustained quality performance-with leader actions focused on influence rather than command. Leadership can be defined as influence we have on people and outcomes despite our position or authority. It is difficult to command the outcomes we wish, but not as difficult to influence outcomes by the behavior we, as leaders, exhibit. Leaders can influence performance and other desired outcomes with the influencing actions of Purposeful Change™.

Purposeful Change™
  • Clear, articulated EXPECTATIONS
  • INCLUSION of people in the decisions that affect their lives
  • REWARD AND RECOGNITION for meeting and exceeding expectations

While these behaviors may seem obvious, experience shows that most leaders have better intentions than track records at using them. Additionally, the culture of most law enforcement agencies may be more comfortable with a command style of leadership than one of influence. Purposeful Change™ behaviors are neither "soft" nor "touchy-feely," however. The job of a leader, no matter at what level of the organization, is to get work done through other people. Many leaders have depended more on "the carrot and stick" reward and punishment approach to employee behavior. It tends to be ineffective for several reasons.

  • Many law enforcement agencies have few resources to reward employees
  • Punishment can bring compliance to directives, but just as often fosters malicious compliance or sabotage
  • When coercion or punishment is absent, employee behavior returns to previous performance
  • Recent generations of employees respond less well to the "carrot and stick" than earlier generations

Becoming a Top Notch Leader ones takes real skill and courage. The leadership actions Purposeful Change™ can be a starting point.

  1. Clearly Articulated Expectations
    Leaders who assume employees know what is expected of them are already in trouble! Employees need to understand what quality performance looks like in concrete, behavioral terms. Because it takes time and energy to make implicit expectations explicit, some leaders use a default mode of, "I know it when I see it," telling employees only what they do wrong. Without clear behavioral direction, employees are asked to play a leader's game of "The Rules Are in my Pocket." If you guess the rules correctly, you get to continue to play. If you guess the rules incorrectly, you get punished. Surprised that many don't relish playing the game?

    Leaders who are clear about performance or change expectations are not micromanagers. They are clear about the outcomes they want and any preferences in how those outcomes will be reached. A Top Notch leader engages his or her employees in how outcomes will be reached.

    That leads to the central behavior of Top Notch Leaders: inclusion. Having some input or a small measure of control over one's work tends to be motivating for employees.

  2. Inclusion
    Employees need to be included in the major decisions that affect their lives. That does not mean that every decision has to be a consensus made by a committee representing a cross section of the organization! A simple concept rules here: the more buy-in you want, the more people need to be included in planning and problem solving. When time is short or crisis is imminent, leaders must command. But ask yourself, "Is there really a crisis or should we make time to include people?" Too often leaders opt out of including employees because they are not comfortable or skilled in the ways to include them, employees are not skilled in being included, or no one wants to take the time and responsibility to make it all work.

    Simply, if you don't put the time and skills in when they are needed, either your outcomes are not reached or you spend a great deal more time trying to make up for the mistake. It takes a great deal of skill to include people appropriately, effectively, and efficiently. That is a topic of future Top Notch Leader columns.

  3. Effective Professional Development
    The #1 initiative used to help change behavior in an organization is sending people to training. Eighty-five percent of all change initiatives rely on training. Yet, we often get very little behavior change for our training buck. The training most likely to change behavior goes way beyond covering content and skills. It engages learners in problem solving and decision-making in the classroom and gives them opportunities to demonstrate, reflect on, and revise their performance. The next column in this Top Notch Leader Series will address Training That Changes Performance.

  4. Assessment and Accountability
    Someone once said, "What gets measured, gets done." Fair accountability is essential. Most of us work best when we know what is expected of us, we are trained well to meet the performance expectation, and we get on-going data and feedback on our performance. Many leaders hate to provide performance feedback. They dislike the "confrontation." Yet, that feedback is one way employees know how well they are doing. The motivation and responsibility to improve increases when employees are included in designing guidelines and processes to assess their own work performance. This type of self assessment in addition to supervisor assessment limits the number of surprises employees get, lowers the potential of nasty confrontations, and provides a clear paper trail if action needs to be taken. Most important of all, this type of assessment limits the humiliation factor that often turns employees into poor performers or organizational terrorists. The quality movement championed by W. Edwards Deming provides many examples of fair and inclusive assessment and accountability techniques.

  5. Reward and Recognition
    A Top Notch Leader knows that a pay check is not reward or recognition for a job well done. Finding ways other than monetary rewards is a key to motivating performance. Including employees in recognizing those among them who are meeting and exceeding expectations is essential. Examine your reward systems. Are most rewards competitive such as promotions? Are they individual recognitions when you want team work? A complete column will be devoted to rewarding and recognizing the best in your organization.

    Working on one area of action is a start, but if you want to see real change in your organization, work all five Purposeful Change™ actions to see real change. In the Top Notch Leader columns that follow in the future, look for specific concepts, models, and techniques to expand your leadership knowledge and skills.

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