I spent time with each of my team members recently to focus on the top priorities for our firm Cue Ball and to make sure we were all on the same page. I asked each person to prepare a list of their top five priorities. In our individual review sessions, I asked them to look at those top five priorities and asked three questions:
- Which of these priorities do you think will have greatest impact for our firm?
- Which of these priorities interests you the most?
- Which of these priorities are you most likely to be successful with?
In asking these questions, I realized that real magic for an employee happens when these three questions produce the same answer. When the item someone is most passionate and capable at achieving success with aligns with the item that has the most impact for a firm. The problem, of course, is that many times it does not.
You can correct this with three principles: Communication, confidence, and aligning interests:
Consistently communicate the top three-to-five priorities for the firm and make sure people get it. A starting point is asking people to reshape what they plan to do each week, month and year into goals that match those top buckets. If it isn't contributing to one of those top priorities, then that's a bigger issue, something you can start to address with this approach.
Promote confidence in people. I recently heard a great story of an executive mentor who told a junior manager that one of their goals had to be to fail at least twice in the coming year. The willingness to take risks -- succeed at them sometimes, but accepting and learning from failure -- is key to building confidence.
Align interests to responsibilities where possible. Know the core interests of your top employees. What naturally drives someone and what is innately rewarding to them is so powerful. As a manager, it's your job to identify those interests and channel that employee's intensity to the right priority to create a frictionless output opportunity.
It boils down to a simple three-step plan. Step one: get the right focus and relentlessly communicate it. Step two: align the priorities to areas. Step three:Build employee confidence and exploit natural interests. Result: happier, harder working, and more loyal employees.
This article first appeared on Harvard Business Publishing on August 4, 2009.