Leaders set the pace and tone in the organisation. They set goals, direct their teams, resolve conflicts and show the way to their people when priorities conflict. Their behaviours establish the norms that define what is right and what is not. Their thoughts percolate down the organization. Based on what employees see, hear and experience, they decide if customer requirements are more important than internal processes and the approval hierarchy. They get to know if customers come first or employees first, boss first or team first. People see if winning at any cost is celebrated or all-round performance is valued. Organizations value outcomes as well as the methods adopted to achieve them. However, it is the culture that defines how important are the methods alongside the results. These the elements of culture and set the tone for performance.
Back to Basics
Adults look for freedom, dignity and recognition; they value a workplace that treats everyone fairly, practises honesty and exhibits consistency. These basic principles are universal irrespective of culture and the style of leadership. Ironically, all organizations do not have the culture fostering these.
We have seen leaders expressing anger and frustration when they hear customer complaints; they punish the employees involved in the transaction. If such a climate stays for a long time and the leadership behaviour is consistent on this, the employees get a clear message about the culture; they fear the punishment and limit their actions to what they are told or prescribed to do. One cannot see innovation in this kind of a place; employees will be focused on their remuneration, lead a mechanistic life at the workplace and could disengage eventually.
While the illustration above is very simple, it gives us an idea of the hidden cost of an overdrive of customer focus by instilling a sense of fear amongst employees. Hence, leaders need to set a culture that aligns with the basic motivators of their people.
Need a fine balance of multiple requirements
Often human beings are not rational. It is always a mix of rationality and emotion that works with the employees. And each employee is unique in her/ his predisposition towards rational thinking. This makes the job of a leader interesting and complex at the same time.
The leadership has to walk a tightrope in making sure that the right balance is being maintained between both the approaches. On one hand, the leader has to demonstrate his commitment towards establishing a friendly workplace where relationships are valued and individual circumstances are considered while evaluating the employee’s performance and making decisions about the role, career growth and further development. And at the same time, objective measures such as SMART targets, KPIs (key performance indicators), predetermined frequencies to evaluate performance, policies around compensation, benefits, rewards and recognition are to be defined.
The right balance of the two makes sure that individual performance is recognised, appropriately rewarded, an environment of healthy competition is created and a drive towards excellence permeates in the organisation.
Job design is critical
All of us love challenges which test our limits and at the same time, gives us a feeling that we can achieve our goals. Too high a goal is not appealing because one concedes defeat before going to the battlefield. And similarly, too low a target loses its purpose of spurring productivity because the challenge doesn’t appeal to the employee.
Leaders have to ensure that each role is designed in such a way that the job is interesting and challenging enough. This has a cultural angle. Something that appeals to people in Japan might not appeal to an average Indian or an American. Hence keeping in mind the environmental factors, one has to design a role appropriately. One of the reasons behind the high levels of attrition in the call centre industry in India can be attributed to this factor of job design.
In summary, the leaders have an exciting job at hand. It is like driving on Indian roads full of diversity and challenges. Firstly, the leader builds an environment where the basic motivation of their employees is supported well. Secondly, the leader strikes a fine balance between a rational approach and a relationship approach. On one hand, she drives performance by defining processes and goals, continuously measuring the parameters and adopting course-corrections. And on the other hand, she builds connections, rewards and recognizes people, reinforces the emotional connect with the purpose of the organization. Last, but not the least, the leader makes sure that the work is interesting and challenging for the employees.