There’s a surprising lack of context coming from bosses in the workplace about their priorities, challenges, aspirations, and even what keeps them awake at night. This insight deficit is getting in the way of building trust, spurring initiative, and promoting performance.
Context generates performance, while the lack of context translates into suboptimal efforts, poor outcomes, and a host of unhealthful workplace problems. Here are three discussions every boss should find a way to work into the dialog with their team in an effort to create alignment and promote performance.
1. What Role Do We Play in the Bigger Picture?
It’s incredible how different work feels when people connect their efforts to something bigger than themselves. This is a missed opportunity for many groups when the boss fails to share the larger picture of strategy—including marketplace and competitor forces, approaches, goals, and tactics.
While many groups aren’t on the front-lines of market battles and customer work, every group plays a vital role in a firm’s success. Instead of assuming it’s not germane or it’s too abstract for the group, take the time to link their work to the bigger picture, and keep them apprised of how it’s going. And don’t forget to ask for ideas along the way. You’ll be amazed at how creative people are when they understand the details that create the big picture.
Note: if you’re managing a team and you don’t have context for strategy and the bigger picture and how your team fits into it, it’s time for a discussion with your boss.
2. What Problems Are Keeping You (the boss) Awake at Night
Newsflash, bosses are human and prone to the same worries and sleepless nights as the rest of us. I’ve found through ample experience as a practitioner and executive coach that sharing your concerns about the business generally breeds a positive outcome.
Many bosses keep their fears out of plain sight, preferring to put a happy face on lousy situations to not distract the team. It’s a poor plan that is mostly transparent to everyone; breeding added group worry and stress. “What’s wrong with Art? I can tell something is on his mind, yet he’s giving us the sunshine story. I’m concerned.”
Contrary to what you might think, you don’t have to know the answers to every problem. If you’ve done a good job hiring and cultivating your group, they are a great lifeline for the stickiest of issues. But first, you’ve got to share what’s renting space in your mind.
Conscientious bosses worry about performance shortfalls, declining performance indicators, struggles with big projects, and challenges working with other groups. Particularly as it relates to issues that require extreme problem-solving, there’s strength in numbers. Frame the situation properly and share it with your team. You’ll be awe-struck at how helpful and creative they are in the process.
In one situation, a senior manager was struggling to gain traction for some ideas she believed were game changers for the better. Her peers were serving as blockers, and there seemed to be a constant jockeying for position. When she confessed this situation to her team members, she learned how well connected many of them were to influencers and key players in other groups. After giving them more context for her ideas, she watched as team members turned into ambassadors and worked to gain support across the organization.
Admittedly, there are a few distinct personnel or political problems you own as a manager and that don’t necessarily merit this level of involvement from the broader group. However, outside of those few, tapping the power of the group can be a powerful antidote to workplace induced insomnia!
3. What are Your Aspirations?
This topic of sharing their aspirations triggers a discomfort response for most bosses. I’m a contrarian here and prefer that individuals understand the boss’s drive to grow. In my case, I learned that people appreciated knowing that I was striving to contribute more and at a higher-level. Smart team members recognize they will grow and gain if their boss does the same.
Just one caveat here on sharing your ambitions: it should be clear that you view your job in supporting the success and development of your team members and the firm as your top priorities. However, once your priorities are well-established and backed by your repeated actions, it’s healthful and helpful if people know what makes you tick and where you want to go.
Opening up about your future displays trust and shows you respect them enough to share this information. Armed with this context, individuals have the opportunity to support your case, and frankly, to offer you coaching and guidance on the move. I love when career dialog flows in both directions!
Your willingness to share a bit about your aspirations and development plans spurs them to think more about their futures and development activities, adding heft to your development discussions with them.
Last and not least, remember that it’s human nature to want to be on the winning team. When everyone understands you are striving to build a championship team, performance levels tend to rise correspondingly.
The Bottom-Line for Now:
Open up and start sharing context with your team members. Armed with insights into a firm’s strategies, the big problems renting space in your mind and to your career aspirations, you create a fertile environment for performance growth—yours and theirs.