A person first, a professional later

I had a profound conversation with a fellow professional the other day on what truly makes people perform at the highest level. And unlike most discussions on this topic, we didn’t bother to discuss skills, knowledge, and attitude — attributes that make up most of all theories, including peer-to-peer studies, on employee engagement and high-performance. Why? Because as practitioners, we know that a company’s culture and emotional engagement are the key driving factors for high performance. Period.

If culture is all about “people like us do things like this,” the big question is, what exactly do people like we do? That’s the emotional-engagement part that we don’t often pay attention to—and having a clear understanding of the what and why we do things is critically important for us to get any significant work done.

The key, as with all things, is to start small on these lines:

  1. Be quick to acknowledge or apologise — it’s okay not to have all the answers; what’s not okay is to ignore. It isn’t nice to not respond to a message sent to you with some forethought and effort. A simple acknowledgement goes a long way. And an apology goes much beyond.
  2. Be a sounding board before you switch on your microphone — if something’s on fire and your team member is not in the mood, the onus is on you to know what’s going on instead of jumping to conclusions or coming up with baseless assertions.
  3. Be a person first, a professional later — many morons expect that people should behave in a certain way at the workplace. Expectations like people shouldn’t complain much, be available online at all times, or be available round the clock because they’re a people/project manager. Who came up with these rules? Have some compassion and treat people for who they are instead of how you want them to be.
  4. Appreciate in public and criticise in person — it’s an oldie but more like a golden rule that works all the time. But leaders and managers find it hard to practice; it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to acknowledge and appreciate a hard worker openly. At the same time, it makes much more sense to share your “feedback” in person for a much deeper and contextual conversation than humiliating them in front of everyone.

I think I can write a book on this topic, but you don’t need a book to become an effective manager if you consciously make an effort to apply the ideas above. It might not come naturally, but give it a genuine attempt, be patient, and experience your team’s transformation. And they’re going to thank you for the change.

You’re welcome.

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