High-performance is what most teams and companies have been striving for over the past several decades. They seek precision, efficiency, and maximum output to deliver strong results. This has been the object of obsession for many executives seeking to maximize profit and shareholder value. And in terms of corporate culture, it’s dead.
High performance execution definitely has its merits. However, the business world is shifting and leadership teams are seeking a new edge to meet the latest pressures emerging from their customers, vendors, and employees. If leaders do not evolve their tactics along with it, they are risking economic and cultural atrophy or even catastrophe. So consider saying goodbye to the high-performance tactics of yesteryear and foster something uniquely different. A new approach that can not only achieve the same results but differentiate your business and your culture in a way that positively re-energizes your team today and keeps them motivated for tomorrow. It’s time to strive for meaningful performance.
Meaning-Driven Leadership is Here to Stay
As I explored in my book, The Science Behind Success – What every leader needs to know about mindset, influence, culture, and performance, there is a dark side in the fight for high performance when it’s self-serving, short-sighted, and devoid of true meaning. In many organizations, high performance is designed to drive maximum shareholder value, making the rich richer while using people as pawns in the corporate game of thrones. Depending on where you sit, the show is either gory or glorious.
Meaning-driven leadership is not about slacking off, cool offices, holding hands, and singing Kumbaya. It holds the same tension of any high-performance model, yet offers a different, more intentional, and purposeful entry point. This shift in perspective is what is going to transform work from being the place where people’s hearts hurt the most into a place where people feel they can express themselves, feel valued, and make a meaningful impact in their world.
A meaning-driven leadership approach might take longer to build, but it leverages the power of compound interest. Leaders driven by meaning focus on creating conditions that are rich and fulfilling rather than reactionary and unforgiving. Meaningful leadership is about inspiring and growing your people instead of using, dismissing, and discarding them.
Here are five things to consider as you replace high performance with something more meaningful to create sustainable results.
Activate the Mindset that Matters
Every action inside your business cascades from the mindsets people hold. Most leaders are familiar with the benefits of a growth mindset over a fixed mindset. What could be better than a growth mindset? Executives need to cultivate an innovation mindset. Innovators are positive deviants. They break old rules and establishments and don’t lament about the obstacles and barriers that face them – they see them as opportunities to experiment and unlock the greater potential inside the business. Innovation is an inside game and those who will win tomorrow are those who tackle their barriers today and start by shaping the mindset to see their world differently.
Fill in the Missing Loop
We are constantly giving feedback – through our inaction, behaviors, and lack of acknowledgment. Even NOT giving feedback is a form of feedback that shapes the habits and behaviors of those on your team. Organizations that really focus on cultivating intentional feedback will emerge as fast and agile as they reframe feedback from a punitive action into an act of collective service.
Recognize the Right Things
The magic of recognition happens when you go beyond simply recognizing team members for achieving their KPI’s or targets. Instead, cultivate meaning by recognizing the behaviors and attitudes that align with your values. Hitting a target may come around once a quarter, but your employees choose how to show up every day in between. Equipping leaders with the tools and structures to recognize those they work with unlocks intrinsic motivation, enhances retention, and creates a desirable culture.
Merge Growth Opportunities with Individual Strengths
People leave their jobs because they aren’t using their strengths and they aren’t growing. Biologically a cell is in either growth mode or protection mode, never both at the same time. Just like the cells in our bodies, we want and need to grow as individuals. Organizations that loosen the job description so employees can utilize their strengths (and passions) find that letting people color outside the lines enables engagement, creativity, and growth.
Develop the Right Skills in the Right Way
Make your company soft: Hard skills are easy to identify, easy to teach, and easy to hire. What isn’t easy is the savvy deployment of soft skills. Even the name ‘soft skills’ doesn’t do it justice, so let’s agree we should call them foundational skills. Unfortunately, these skills can be so ‘soft’ they slip right through the fingers of too many leaders which contributes to toxic cultures of turnover and malcontent. The best strategic plans don’t execute themselves, so make sure the technical expertise on your bench is paired with the foundational skills critical for bridging the gap to execution.
The bottom line is that a culture of meaningful performance is the difference between compliance and commitment. Being motivated from a place of compliance is where we do the things required of us because we feel obligated. Providing feedback to a team member only when it’s time for their annual review (because the rules say we must), or working to the brink of burnout because we fear the ramifications if we do not. It also shows up in the form of leadership that just sees the org chart, instead of seeing the humans in front of them. This is the type of culture employees don’t think twice about leaving if they can get a 5% pay bump across the street.
Being motivated from a place of commitment, on the other hand, happens when teams have found true meaning in their work and their leader is as committed to them as individuals as they are to the corporate agenda. Feedback and recognition are free-flowing in all directions and always in service of the growth of the individual. In a culture where there is a commitment to meaningful performance, true human connections are formed, strengthening the very fabric of the organization.