That’s It! Helping Your Team Get Energy in the Right Direction


“Why can’t people just do what I tell them?”

“Why don’t people just do what they should?  It’s not that hard.

The gap that often lies between how our employee or team are currently performing and where we would like for them to perform can feel ever present and often enormous.   No doubt, there are a host of things that are a part of this frustration.  But one of the issues that I often find present is the lack of clarity around what the win looks like.  Let me be clear – it is the work of the authority (supervisor) in any system to clarify what a win looks like.  I’m talking about the baseline – the starting place – the non-negotiables of what it means to effectively be about the work.  If not spelled out, we should not expect our employees to know what that is.  Yet, time after time, I find that when I ask those in authority about this I get a blank stare.

Communicating the win starts with clarified values and mission but it’s more than that.  It’s about the cultural non-negotiables.  The clearer the Authority can be on what the non-negotiables are the more the employee/s have the latitude to think creatively about how to accomplish them.  But if those non-negotiables are foggy expect there to be frustration for you – and them.

Stephen Covey tells a story about engaging his son in taking responsibility for the work of taking care of the family lawn.  As they began their work together Covey constantly reiterates with his son what a win looks like.  Green and Clean.  This was the baseline.  If the yard continues to make progress toward Green and Clean then we were going in the right direction.  This story is laced with some comical bumps along their journey toward progress but always with the clearly articulated focus on Green and Clean.  This was critical.

Once the authority has clearly articulated the baseline of what a win looks like it is incumbent that they keep the focus there.  Specifically – they must continue to reinforce when an employee’s efforts connect with the win.  It can be seductive to only point out when and employee misses the mark.  And, no doubt, there are times when clear feedback needs to come in order to provide protection, direction and order.  But once a baseline is given the goal must always be to move beyond it.  This requires a different kind of work – a work nuanced by a focus on leveraging and engaging strengths.  Why?  Because focusing on strengths not only brings encouragement to your team – it brings learning.

Consider the following excerpt from an article entitled The Feedback Fallacy in the most recent edition of the Harvard Business Review…

There’s a story about how legendary Dallas Cowboys coach Tom Landry turned around his struggling team.  While the other teams were reviewing missed tackles and dropped balls, Landry instead combed through footage of previous games and created for each player a highlight reel of when he had done something easily, naturally, and effectively.  Landry reasoned that while the number of wrong ways to do something was infinite, the number of right ways, for any particular player, was not.  It was knowable, and the best way to discover it was to look at plays where that person had done it excellently.  From now on, he told each team member, “we only replay your winning plays.”

Now on one level he was doing this to make his team members feel better about themselves because he knew the power of praise.  But according to the story, Landry wasn’t nearly as interested in praise as he was in learning.  His instincts told him that each person would improve his performance most if he could see, in slow motion, what his own personal version of excellence looked like.   

Whenever you see one of your people do something that worked for you, that rocked your world just a little, stop for a minute and highlight it.  By helping your team member recognize what excellence looks like for her – by saying, “That!  Yes, that!” – you’re offering her the chance to gain an insight; you’re highlighting a pattern that is already there within her so that she can recognize it, anchor it, re-create it, and refine it.  That is learning.”*

There is so much more that is a part of the systemic work of creating a high functioning employee/team.  I want to clarify that I am not implying that this work is easy or obvious.  But I am struck by how many times I find these pieces not only missing – but not thought about.  I would certainly offer this as a starting point for every CEO, VP, Manager or Supervisor.

This is your work.


*The Feedback Fallacy, Buckingham & Goodall, (HBR) Harvard Business Review, March/April 2019, pp. 98-100.

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