Thomas K. Connellan has conducted a considerable amount of research into the topic of getting people to perform better. Through this study, a methodology has emerged that we can all apply in any situation in which we want to help our teams improve and feel better about it.
What we want is for our teams to do better than they currently are. Connellan’s studies identified an interesting theme: when you look at the best performers, study after a study identified a high number of firstborns within the best performers. Three factors stood out when studying the environment that firstborns grow up in.
Expectations: People simply have more positive expectations of firstborns.
Responsibility: Firstborns are given more responsibility at an earlier age such as looking after siblings.
Feedback: They get more attention from parents, relatives, and family friends.
What we should learn from this is not that we should only hire firstborns it's that the environment that we lead in is important. Connellan suggests that If we are a leader we need to consciously and appropriately believe in people, hold them accountable and give them a supportive environment.
We all set high expectations of ourselves and others. Unfortunately, in doing so, we set ourselves up for a fall. Connella suggests an alternative: we should consider positive expectations. Positive expectations mean there is a belief in success and the presence of that belief encourages attainment.
All our messages, whether they are spoken or unspoken, conscious or unconscious, must align. While we are often not aware of it, we often tell others what we expect of them simply by eye contact and body language. These are the signs we must be aware of giving. We must use non-verbal communication positively and with the underlying belief of “can do”.
Another important point is that expectations must begin from current reality. There is no point in setting high targets that are too difficult to achieve and are too far from the current situation. What is happening now is our baseline and we should move forward based on what is attainable.
Connellan believes accountability is a key issue. Lack of accountability paves the way to mediocrity. Although many people may play a role in getting to the final result, someone has to be ultimately accountable. Connellan gives us four steps to make accountability work:
Step 1: Establish accountability. We need to assign accountability without blame. Accountability without blame encourages people to try that bit harder, to take qualified risks. Accountability with blame means staff not putting their heads above the parapet and attainment of just the bare minimum.
Step 2: Set Goals. We need to set clear-cut goals and get everyone involved. Without focus, too many people get stuck in an activity rut doing things that may not be relevant. We also need support. Setting a task for someone beyond their current ability can be a challenge.
Step 3: We need to develop Action Plans. Goals are never reached by accident. We need what Connellan calls action plans. These are the insurance that you’ll reach your goals. With a clear definition of our goal, we can tell whether we are progressing. And if not, we can take on a different path.
Step 4: Engage. The more people are engaged in setting goals, developing plans, and measuring progress, the more accountable they become. By involving staff in the development of key processes such as quality assurance we increase their engagement. The more people that are involved, the more they take ownership. The more they take ownership the more we need to focus on their achievements.