All organisations strive to build better performance in their teams. Achieving this on a consistent basis is easier said than done of course.
The most performance-driven cultures I’ve worked in have all had something in common.
They have cultivated a leadership mindset and culture which combines a strong challenge and strong support approach. In my experience, this is the essential ingredient for effective performance management. In the high performing workplaces this approach was embedded within internal procedures, systems and practiced through individual behaviours.
It’s the challenge element of this equation that many managers can struggle with. The support component is often there, people on the whole like to please other people and to be liked, but the challenge bit can be lacking. Challenge in this context is often misunderstood, sometimes because it is confused with confrontation or conflict, which people often tend to avoid.
When we talk about challenge, it can be effective at multiple levels. It can apply to self, as a form of self-regulation for your own emotions and impact on others, as well as applied to those around you. If we are prepared to challenge others, it follows that we must also be open and receptive to challenge coming back to us.
Support is much more easily understood, a desire to want to help others and encourage them to achieve more. Where challenge and support operate in balance, great things can happen. If too much challenge and too little support is provided, this can cause problems. Likewise, too much support and too little challenge can also present difficulties. The key is achieving a healthy balanced position and combination of challenge and support operating in parallel.
I’m talking here about an ability and willingness to openly challenge others in a constructive way, with the purpose being to help nurture growth, improvement and learning, rather than to criticise or become confrontational. When challenge is deployed in this way it can help build improved self-awareness and responsibility for future action. Building these skills and capabilities with managers is therefore crucial for a high performance, winning culture.
So, for those in a position of responsibility for others, my challenge to you is this. Where do you sit on the challenge-support spectrum? Are you skewed towards either end of the challenge-support spectrum, or do you successfully combine both aspects in your role and sit somewhere in the middle? Perhaps asking your team members to indicate where they see you on this spectrum and then correlating this with your own self-assessment is a good way of putting this approach into practice?
It can be helpful to reflect on the degree of the challenge and support you are providing, and how others see this in you, as you strive for high performance in your teams.