Leading to Higher Performance

Enhancing the relationship and communication between managers and employees is fundamental in improving teams’ performance.

Did you know that subordinates’ performance is intricately connected with managers’ actions? Let’s explore five classical Human Resources concepts pertaining to this correlation to help new managers increase their teams’ performance and understand the importance of the manager-subordinate relationship.

Concept #1: The Hawthorne Effect

The Hawthorne Effect is a concept named after an experiment that was designed to measure productivity in different circumstances (illumination, working hours, rest break). When improving the working conditions, researchers tracked an increase in productivity. However, when the conditions returned to the original status, productivity surprisingly still continued to increase.

This study concluded that, despite the changes, the increasing productivity happened due to the attention given to the employees, which had a motivational effect on them. It could be evidence that not only physical conditions can affect productivity, but so can the social context workers are inserted in.

It means that good pay or good benefits sometimes are not enough. The quality of the interpersonal relationship is what matters the most. There are times when employees need more guidance, need to be heard, or simply need to receive feedback. Workers rely on this alliance with their superiors to make the most of their job experience, advance their career, and deliver satisfactory results.

Concept #2: Pygmalion

It is important to highlight that the way people are treated is transforming, for better or for worse. All verbal and non-verbal communication between managers and employees has a direct impact on subordinates’ productivity.

Pygmalion brings the idea that leaders treat employees according to their expectations. Subsequently, when higher expectations are set for an employee, he or she will be more likely to become productive and effective. When expectations are low, performance is likely to be poor, even when expectations are kept secret due to unconscious communication.

For this reason, managers must always work on their communication and feedback skills. Leaders should keep the door open to their team and be able to clearly express the department goals and expected outcomes from each employee. When workers are held accountable for their results, managers tend to reduce biased expectations while increasing openness to communication.

Concept #3: Feedback

Feedback is the action of returning the result of a procedure to the person who produced it. In a business context, it is a critical conversation that intends to reinforce positive behaviors when they are positive, or to modify current and future negative behaviors, to target specific results. Positive and negative feedback is crucial to performance. It enhances the efficacy of goal setting, as it tells employees where they are and provides the direction for where they need to go.

Managers have the important role of helping to guide their team in the right direction. Thus, feedback cannot be only given on mandatory procedures such performance appraisal. It should be given on a regular basis.

It is fundamental to maintain feedback timing because it helps employees make associations between causes and effects of their actions. As time passes by, people naturally start to distort facts, as it is more difficult to recall specific details, which may lead them to wrongful insights.

When feedback timing is associated with solid examples of what is being exposed, it increases the effectiveness of the feedback. Therefore, the sooner an improvement need is communicated, the sooner it will be corrected. The sooner a compliment is given, the more rewarding it will be.

As previously mentioned, subordinates are the reflection of their managers. Therefore, managers also should ask for feedback. It helps to build a trustworthy relationship and demonstrate that the manager is also willing to learn from others. In addition, this exchange of information contributes to the manager’s decision-making, as it gathers data coming from different professionals and enhances communication among the team.

Concept #4: Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

Self-Fulfilling Prophecy means that a personal belief influences one’s behavior and others’ reactive behavior until the prediction becomes true.

For example, a manager is in charge of making a project presentation to a company’s board to get its approval. This manager, however, does not believe in her presentation skills and does not feel confident in presenting the project. During the presentation, this person likely will demonstrate a lack of confidence, anxiety, and confusion, which may lead the board to question the success of the project and ultimately decline it.

The relationship between manager and subordinate works in the same way. Depending on a leader’s self-image, his or her team will be more or less productive. Once a leader believes in his or her own potential and does not accept being recognized as a low or standard productive manager, the team likely will outperform due to a mutual expectancy of high performance. Moreover, the boss’ high expectations must be realistic and achievable in order to motivate the team.

From this standpoint, self-awareness is the key. Leaders must develop the capacity of nominating and managing their own emotions. With self-analysis, it is possible to identify problematic actions and alter behaviors, producing new responses to old stimulations, to chase better outcomes.

Concept #5: Positive Reinforcement

Conditioning is the procedure used to manipulate contingencies seeking to modify behaviors. In an organizational environment, positive reinforcement is a powerful contingent to shape behavior and motivate employees, leading them to higher productivity.

Positive reinforcement is nothing more than rewarding desired behaviors when they are presented. Every time a specific behavior is demonstrated and rewarded, workers soon will link them, conditioning employees to repeat the same positive action to be granted a reward. Thus, positive responses will be strengthened and negative responses will be weakened.

Positive reinforcers can be anything powerful enough to maintain the desired responses in the long term. Some examples are assigning workers to interesting tasks, good pay, bonuses, recognition for a task or project well done, promotion, and additional vacation days. When it comes to improving performance, all the rewards should be focused on performance results. Depending on the magnitude of the achievement, a reward must be given accordingly.

Finally, in order to obtain the desired behavior, the established rewarding criteria should be clear, specific, and reasonable in order to be achieved. Miscommunication of what is expected from employees may lead to confusion, extinguishing the effort and engagement they once had.

To conclude, enhancing the quality of the relationship and communication between managers and employees is fundamental in improving teams’ performance. Furthermore, managers should get familiar with their own feeling and expectations of themselves and of others, so they can unleash all the human potential they have within their teams.

Camila Horst Correa is a Brazilian psychologist and Human Resources practitioner pursuing a Master’s Degree in Human Resources Management in the U.S. She has more than seven years of experience in the area, helping organizations to achieve their goals and workers to advance in their careers.

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