November 18, 2021
Too many managers avoid giving any kind of feedback, regardless of whether it’s positive or negative. If you work for a boss who doesn’t provide feedback, it’s easy to feel rudderless. It can be especially disorienting if you’re new in the role, new to the company, or a recent graduate new to the workforce. In the absence of specific guidance, is there any way to know what the average boss would want you to work on?
While everyone will have different strengths and weaknesses they need to work on, when we examined our database of performance evaluation information for more than 7,000 individual contributors and 5,000 managers, we noticed a reliable pattern. There were five behaviors that managers most often associated with high performance:
Delivering results. The strongest, most consistent correlations were skills that focused on achieving results. When individuals achieved goals on schedule and did everything possible to get results, managers were impressed. Another critical component was the quality of work. The person needed to deliver outputs that met high standards.
Being a trusted collaborator. High-performance ratings went with being trusted. Being trusted emanates from good interpersonal skills. Strong collaborators were excellent communicators and were held up as role models. Some individuals strive to stand out by working independently so that it’s clear who deserves the credit. Our data suggest those individuals typically fail. The highest performers, on the other hand, cooperated with other groups and were trusted in making decisions.
Having strong technical/professional expertise. For both managers and individual contributors, technical/professional expertise drove their performance evaluation. People devoid of a deep understanding of the technical issues facing the organization work at a significant disadvantage. Some come into an organization with fresh expertise but, by coasting, become obsolete over time. Technology changes quickly. Keeping up-to-date is essential.
Translating vision and strategy into meaningful goals. The best performers understood the organizational strategy and applied that understanding in their job to make a contribution. Those who did not make the effort to connect their work to the company strategy appeared to work in a vacuum. Often, their decisions were based on personal preferences rather than on being aligned with the vision. Having an understanding of the company strategy impacted performance ratings for both managers and individual contributors.
Marketing their work well. If someone is frustrated or disappointed with their performance rating, they often lament and think: “My work should speak for itself.” Good products are usually successful because they are not only good products but have been marketed well, too. The fact is, good work rarely speaks for itself. Managers are surrounded by hundreds of shiny objects seeking to grab their attention. Good work needs a little marketing.
As you read through this list, think about how you stack up on each of these. Do you have strong expertise but need to work on your collaborative skills? Are you a great team player who needs to learn to toot your own horn? How much output do you generate, compared with the rest of your team, and how is the quality of what you turn in? You can try asking peers for feedback on these areas if you can’t get any feedback from your boss.
If you’re a manager, our data dive revealed two additional qualities to focus on:
Speed. We have been tracking this dimension for several years. It’s become a critical factor influencing individual success. Information is flowing faster, competitors are coming out with new products, global dynamics are changing preferences, and the need to move work at a fast pace is a key differentiator between good leaders and great leaders. In researching our book Speed: How Leaders Accelerate Successful Execution, we found compelling information that leaders who were speedy were rated as being two times more effective as leaders, had significantly more engaged employees, and were more likely to get promoted.
The ability to inspire and motivate others. We have rated the effectiveness of this skill for more than 85,000 leaders and found that, compared with 15 other leadership competencies, this is rated the lowest. Yet when we asked more than 1 million respondents which competency is most important, “inspires and motivates” ranks number one. Fifty years ago, people might have worked for money alone, but today people want to be inspired.
We might also humbly suggest that if you’re a manager, you try to get a little better at giving feedback.
—Jack Zenger & Joe Folkman
Connect with Zenger Folkman on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook
(This article first appeared on HBR)
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