At The Center for Leadership Studies, we are known for building leaders. However, formal leaders are just one piece of the performance puzzle. Multidirectional influence is more important than ever, and followers play an increasingly significant role in the leadership process. The leader-follower relationship is a two-way dynamic. While leaders can often drive performance improvement by communicating the appropriate leadership style, they are also imperfect people. Even the best leader makes mistakes, rushes through the process or miscommunicates at times. Rather than placing all the development expectations on the leader, consider the impact of creating an environment where the leader and follower are equally committed to proactive communication, reversing regression and driving development. We call this a performance culture.
Building a performance culture is the first step to cultivating an organization that is innovative, resilient and proactive in the face of change. One key component of a performance culture is a common language that allows leaders and followers to have candid conversations about performance and achieve same-page status on expectations and next steps. In terms of the Situational Leadership® Model, this means leaders and followers having the same understanding of leadership, Performance Readiness®, ability and other key terms that create shared understanding.
Let’s look at some of the benefits of fostering a performance culture that utilizes a common language.
Alignment: A performance culture prioritizes alignment between leaders and followers. This is supported by a common language that enables teams to align on the task, expectations and performance needs. Leaders and followers come away from these performance conversations with a clear understanding of the expectations for each of them. This allows them to work as a team with the common goal of performance improvement.
Streamlines communication: There are many barriers to communication in the modern workforce: busy schedules, differing time zones, mismatched communication styles, etc. Employing a common language helps organizations overcome these issues by reducing the time needed to have an effective performance conversation. A leader and follower can more quickly align on current performance and performance needs by referencing the four Performance Readiness® Levels. The language used in Situational Leadership® also helps remove the biases and charged emotions that often come up during performance conversations. Rather than focusing on current performance as positive or negative, the goal of a performance culture is performance improvement.
Empowerment: A performance culture empowers individuals to own their performance and communicate their performance needs. A common language gives them the tools to do so. When performance is a priority at an organization, it gives individuals permission to address their performance needs with their leaders. For example, a team member can speak up when they feel they do not have the necessary skills or information to perform a task, rather than wasting time and resources doing the task incorrectly. This removes some of the pressure from leaders because it places performance ownership on individuals. It also empowers followers by putting them in the driver’s seat of their development.
Reduces time to autonomy: Together, alignment, streamlined communication and empowerment reduce an individual’s time to autonomy. When employees understand their roles and responsibilities within the organization and are given a framework to assess their own performance and communicate their needs in terms that their leader understands, it accelerates the quality and pace of their development. A performance culture enables people to ask for the support and direction they need when they need it. This enables individuals to improve faster and reverse regression sooner. This is especially valuable during the onboarding process and when individuals need to learn new skills in the face of change.
Psychological safety: Creating an environment where expectations are clear, communication is streamlined and individuals are encouraged to speak up fosters psychological safety in the workplace. Not only does this reduce the stress caused by uncertainty or poor communication but also gives employees the confidence to speak their mind and share new ideas. It creates a workplace where everyone from individual contributors to the c-suite feels valued and heard.
In today’s dynamic business environment, cultivating a performance culture is the key to staying ahead of the curve. Although training for formal leaders is a critical first step, to see true cultural transformation, organizations must be intentional about adopting the common language of the Situational Leadership® Model across every level. Doing so fosters a two-way relationship between leaders and followers where they are both equipped with the skills and language to drive performance improvement. By investing in this transformation, organizations can cultivate a culture that supports both individual and collective success.