What percentage of your employees are playing to improve? What percentage are just cruising? The answer provides a strong indicator of your team’s potential and what it will take to lead them to achieve it.
People who are cruising stick with what they’ve always done—their personal status quo. They’re content with where they are. In contrast, those playing to improve constantly ask, “What can I do to get better?” They’re focused not on maintaining, but on identifying the next opportunity and stepping into it.
Employees whose careers are in cruise control are in no position to grow and reach new heights, so if you’re leading a team with an abundance of cruisers, it’s time to shift to a new gear. Make it your long-term goal to change people’s mindsets so that at least 80% of your team is operating in “improver” mode at any given time.
Here are three ways to work toward sustainable improvement to your team’s culture:
1) Build a Culture that Rewards Going for It
Too often, company culture promotes the “safe play”—put in your time, don’t rock the boat, follow the script, and after x years you’ll be in line for a promotion. Such a culture stifles innovation and puts your team in prime position to get lapped by the competition.
Encourage innovation by setting employees’ expectations that the way it’s been done before probably isn’t some magic formula that’ll always work. When they come up with something better, affirm your outside-the-box thinkers and doers in front of the entire team.
Are there some inefficiencies hiding somewhere in your processes? Leaders tasked with high-level oversight might not know what they are, though. Ask the experts—those who deal with a particular part of the process every day. Once they identify pieces that don’t work well, find out if there’s a compelling “why” behind the way it’s done. If there isn’t, change the process to better suit the team. Even if the new method isn’t an instant success, your team will be invested in bringing their ideas to life and empowered to improve.
2) Challenge People to Set Big Goals
Use every coaching opportunity you have, whether a formal performance evaluation or a hallway high-five on a big sale, to lead your team members to dream boldly about what’s next. If a team member expresses a desire to do something revolutionary, don’t be quick to throw cold water on his or her dream because you think it’s unrealistic. On the other hand, if members of your team are setting goals they could accomplish in their sleep, work with them to set the bar higher.
You don’t want uninspired underperformers dragging your team down. You do want to make the most of high performers and bold dreamers, who can easily get frustrated if they’re not challenged to achieve or if they feel their contributions are overlooked or minimized. Make them the standard-bearers for your whole team, and snowball their individual aspirations and successes into team-wide goals and big-time wins.
3) Hire People Who Raise the Bar
You may have inherited the team you lead, and there’s a lot you can do to lead its members to new ways of thinking and elevated expectations. But you’ll never have a better opportunity to build a team that’s fully on board with what you’re working toward than when you bring on someone new. Think of every hire as an opportunity to add a piece you don’t have yet. By raising the bar with each hire, you’ll stimulate everyone to improve.
These three adjustments to your team’s culture aren’t rocket science, but they require a strong commitment to continuous improvement that starts with you. The results you’ll see aren’t hard to interpret, either. You’re either improving your way to the front of the pack, or cruising to the back.