Want Better Performance? Clear the Path!

by  Chris Edmonds  |  Leadership Development
Want Better Performance? Clear the Path!

I’m a working musician on the side. I’ve been playing music professionally since the early ’70’s. It is difficult to make a living in music, as much today as it was forty years ago.

The band I’m in here in Denver has been together since 2006. It’s a team of skilled musicians with shared values and common goals. We all have day jobs – but we commit a great deal of time and energy to this band.

Through member changes we’ve remained strong. We can’t perform at our best if we don’t trust and care for each other.

Great band performances don’t happen by default. Each member must practice individually to know their parts. Our total band rehearsals help us make music – not noise – by playing and singing “to standard” while listening to each other, responding to each other, and working together.

Great band teamwork and support doesn’t happen by default. We have formalized team values – citizenship standards – that we demonstrate in every interaction with each other, with clients, and with guests. If we tolerate rude or selfish behaviors from bandmates, it won’t take long for trust and respect to erode completely.

In our rehearsals, we’re tough on each other. If I’m late coming in with a harmony vocal, my bandmates let me know. If one of us starts a new song in the wrong key, everyone laughs, then jumps in to redirect. If we tolerate poor performance in rehearsal, that’s what our audiences will see and hear in our band’s shows.

It’s not easy. It’s a lot of work. Even nine years in, we spend hours individually preparing and together rehearsing so our shows WOW our audience members (GOOD WOW, not BAD WOW).

My consulting framework operates the same way. I help leaders understand that a high performing, values-aligned culture doesn’t happen by default. It only happens by intention, reinforced with dedicated time and energy. I help them boost performance accountability and values accountability, every day.

Clients typically bring me in to help them formalize the first three elements of their organizational constitution: their company purpose, values, and valued behaviors. Most clients are convinced that they’re doing great on the other two elements of an organizational constitution: strategies and goals.

The reality is that, for 90 percent of my clients, performance expectations are not clear across their organization – and performance accountability widely varies. There are pockets of clear goals and consistent accountability in my clients’ organizations – but those are the exception, not the rule.

Research supports my experience. Psychometrics Canada’s 2010 Engagement study surveyed HR professionals in over 360 organizations. When asked what company leaders should do more of to increase employee engagement, 71 percent said leaders should communicate clear expectations.

Tiny HR’s 2014 Employee Engagement and Organizational Culture report found that 26 percent of employees do not have the resources they need to be successful. They don’t have the tools, the training, or efficient processes to follow to meet their performance expectations – and they’re frustrated.

If you want better, more consistent performance, three things must happen.

First, clarify performance expectations

Define goals in specific, measurable, time-bound terms. Link individual goals to team goals – and team goals to division goals, etc.

Second, clear the path

Remove hurdles to aligned action by team members and by teams. Provide appropriate resources, raw materials, tools, and systems. Light the desired, most efficient path to performance success – and check that path daily (so overnight growth won’t trip people up).

Third, coach to success

Engage regularly so employees can tell you what’s going well and what’s not with performance traction. Listen, learn, and refine processes to boost performance. Praise effort as well as accomplishment. Redirect players when they get off track – don’t ignore them until just before the deadline. You can’t fix issues at the last minute very effectively.

Don’t leave performance success to chance. And, if you happen to be in the Denver area, check our band’s gig schedule. We’d love to see you at a show!

How has someone made expectations clear for you at work? Tell me about that in the comments!
Photo Credit: Photo © 2009 by Kevin Krayna at All rights reserved.

About The Author

Articles By chris-edmonds
S. Chris Edmonds is a sought-after speaker, thought leader, author, and executive consultant. He writes books. He blogs and podcasts. He’s a working musician on the side.  »  View Profile

What People Are Saying

Paula Kiger (Big Green Pen)  |  04 Aug 2015  |  Reply

Chris, I know I have said this to you before, but it bears repeating. Every time I read something like, “When asked what company leaders should do more of to increase employee engagement, 71 percent said leaders should communicate clear expectations,” I nod my head yes. A previous employer did lots of “perk” type things, thinking we wanted to be taken care of (and knowing they couldn’t raise our salaries). Those things were nice but I would have traded every single one for clear expectations and a heightened sense of involvement. Thanks for your insight.

Juilian  |  05 Aug 2015  |  Reply

Good post. I liked the third part, where accomplishments need to be praised. While not every one can be (of course) it is nice when once in a while, someone does praise you for good work. These days, we can sometimes be too critical without being fair with the praise.

Thanks for posting

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