Being out of the office can be challenging for leaders: It is easy to come back and notice all that has gone wrong. More difficult than finding all that went wrong is noticing (and calling out) what went right! Leaders, students, and colleagues continually ask me how to get employees to increase their desire to embrace change or improve performance and behavior. I always respond with this question: “What do you say or do when you return to the office after being gone?” They usually say something like, “I clean up what went wrong.” But a simple shift to communicating your approval of what went right while you were away (or while you were present, for that matter) will reap four benefits that will not only earn you more time to pursue your responsibilities, but will also result in increased performance and change adoption.
Perhaps an analogy is appropriate. A new employee is assigned to your team just prior to your departure for a two-day offsite meeting. The quarterly compliance report is due the Friday you return. You realize your new employee does not know how to complete the report, so you ask him to do three of the multiple tasks needed to complete the overall report: pull the employee past-due report; pull the all-employee list; and lastly, remove all employees who are not on the past-due report from the all-employee list.
What would happen upon your return if what you noticed was that the three items you requested were indeed provided, but not exactly the way you want it? It doesn’t look just right. Now you have to spend time reformatting the reports! If you focused only on that in your feedback, you would probably have a resentful employee. However, if you thanked the new employee and commented on the good job where he did get things right, you may enjoy four benefits.
Here are four quick benefits of catching employees doing things approximately right.
Benefit 1: Increased PerformanceEffective leaders know that for employees to adopt a change initiative quickly or to increase performance, positive recognition is of utmost importance. When leaders catch employees doing things approximately right, one of the first benefits they will achieve is increased performance for other tasks. Employees appreciate positive recognition from their leaders, and having a leader who recognizes tasks that have been completed correctly motivates employees to do even more the next time their leader is outside of the office—just like my new employee loved hearing positive affirmation from his leaders. Perhaps the next time you attend an offsite, the employee who was praised will do more than you asked him. Perhaps he will learn to pull other reports while you’re gone.
Benefit 2: Improved Quality of WorkNot only will you see increased performance, but leaders who catch employees doing things approximately right will also soon notice the quality of work will improve. Performance output is great and desired but at times may be sloppy. Teams where leaders intentionally call out successes and not failures soon evince not only high performance but high quality as well. Perhaps next time you entrust the employee you praised with the same task, the quality of their work will meet the format and standards you prefer.
Benefit 3: Less ConflictEmployees begin to trust leaders who call out tasks that were completed correctly rather than those completed incorrectly. When development opportunities are needed, leaders can expect less defensiveness from employees when the culture is flipped from catching employees doing things wrong to noticing them doing them approximately right. Employees in the former situation are spending their evenings and lunch hours on LinkedIn—looking for a new place to work.
Benefit 4: Less SupervisionEventually, you will not have to hold an employee’s hand through every task. You will be free to attend to other strategic and operational duties your job requires. You will not be stuck in the daily and weekly whirlwind of all the tactical duties your employees perform. It takes an investment of time to get to this point, but ultimately you will enjoy the benefits of an engaged workforce and the freedom to pursue other activities. After a few weeks, you can feel confident you can conduct more offsites and know your tasks will be completed by the whole team. This frees you up from tactical tasks to mind other strategic and operational tasks.
So, the next time you’re out of the office, I challenge you to notice what your employees have done approximately right. The long-term benefits far outweigh the short-term inconvenience.