The Key to Sustainable Performance
January 9, 2019
Markus van Alphen
Psychologist and Author
TopicsCommunication Skills, employee development, organizational performance, Stepped decision-making, strategic feedback, Sustainability, Transformational Leadership
As an organization, as a leader, sustainable performance is key to build and maintain an excellent organization. Sustainable performance means coworkers do excellent work without falling into the traps of burnout or workaholism. Sustainable performance means your organization efficiently and effectively provides quality products and services, is blessed with low absenteeism and low staff-turnover. All of this is good for the bottom line.
Sustainable Performance and Engagement
So, how do you protect coworkers against burnout and workaholism? The best route is via engagement, leading to better performance. Schaufeli and colleagues define engagement as “a positive, fulfilling, work-related state of mind that is characterized by vigor, dedication, and absorption.” The focus is on three main aspects:
- The coworker identifies with the raison d'être of the organization.
- The work the coworker does really interests them.
- They can get better at what they do: the work is challenging and supports their need for mastery.
The first two points are best covered by ensuring the why of the organization (or its mission) is clear, and designing the selection process for new coworkers to hire the right people.
Engaged coworkers do what they’re good at, do it well, and do it because it gives them energy rather than costs energy. It goes further than only doing work they’re good at. When a coworker is only repeating a trick they can do well, with time the trick becomes run-of-the-mill and thereby boring. Rather than getting your coworker to do what they’re good at, how about challenging them to do even better – both in the depth and the breadth of what they’re capable of?
Transformational Leadership is the Answer
If, in your selection process, you’ve gone further than only hiring capable personnel, and choose those with learning and development possibilities and intrinsic motivation to work for you, your next (and possibly most important) priority is to keep excellent coworkers on board. This means a continual focus on (work-related) development. It’s more than just career planning. Coworkers improve and develop their functioning so they can meet the demands of the ever-changing environment, organization, and work, whilst simultaneously challenging them to ever greater heights in terms of their own mastery. Transformational leadership provides the means to this end.
What Transformational Leadership Is
In a nutshell, the aim of transformational leadership is to transform followers into leaders. A leader (and the excellent coworker) needs to identify with the organization’s mission and feels responsible for the work they do. And above all, transformational leadership implies development. This means you as the leader have a key role to play:
- Identifying what an employee is capable of,
- knowing what their potential is,
- understanding what interests them,
- facilitating them in setting challenging (yet attainable) goals fitting with the organizational objectives, and
- providing the environment in which those goals may be reached.
Your task is to stimulate, facilitate, and support.
To stimulate, you require excellent interpersonal communication skills. You need to know what motivates your coworker, so that – over and above their needs for connection, autonomy, and mastery – you craft the work they do to be interesting for them. In terms of mastery, you provide regular process feedback so that they know how they’re doing. And in a dialog with them you map out where they want to be in one year and five years' time, and what’s necessary to get there. You stimulate your coworker to become the best they want to be, supporting their need for mastery.
Stimulation is not enough. You need to facilitate (and by extension, so must the organization!). This means providing training opportunities, coaching, and mentoring where applicable, and above all, regularly monitoring how the developmental trajectory is progressing. Facilitation on organizational level includes implementing stepped decision making.
Stimulation and facilitation go a long way. Add support to this formula: the coworker needs to feel safe, to know they are an appreciated member of the organization and that they are making their contribution. Even though transformational leadership is mostly about tapping into your coworker’s need for mastery, the other two needs shouldn’t be forgotten. So, also remember to encourage and to live trust in the competence of every coworker.