Your team is able to deliver much more than it does today. You yourself also have wonderful potential within you.

You probably see sparks of brilliance that come out now and then. But they seem so random! Making this a regular occurrence — even predictable — seems an insurmountable task.

It turns out that there are a number of useful things that help create the environment of sustainable productivity and creativity. But first you have to admit that everybody is different. What excites you is not the same as others on your team.

Each person has his or her own thinking, his or her own heart, his or her own desires. And don’t think that it’s good to just hire people who do think like you — that’s a recipe for disaster. That’s how you end up with an Enron.

If everyone thinks differently, then your first task is to at least understand what the range is. As your business grows, it will be impossible to have a super-deep relationship with each and every person. Even if you could, as the boss your role is to set direction that unites people toward a common goal.

Not to encourage the anarchy of “just do whatever makes you happy.”

The key is to work on your organization’s culture. You already have a culture, because one is created as soon as two people need to interact. It’s the way folks communicate, what they share in common and how disagreements get handled.

Since you already have a culture, how do you know if it’s good? Well, “good” can be defined as whatever helps you quickly and effectively meet your shared goals. If your people don’t have a consistent picture of what those goals are, that’s a good thing to fix.

You want to move away from “telling people how to do their job” and toward “telling them what they need to accomplish.” From how to what.

What elements of a culture support achieving your shared goals quickly and effectively?

  • Being clear on the shared goals
  • Seeing a clear connection between the individual’s work and the team’s results
  • Understanding how contribution is evaluated
  • Linking behaviors to recognition and rewards
  • Knowing where the boundaries are and how they are to be treated

I see capable leaders who can really miss this last one. Clear boundaries actually make everyone’s job easier, including yours. But they can be tricky to describe.

If the boss says “that behavior is unacceptable because I said so,” the employee learns to just be cautious and take no risks. It’s very hard to predict what the boss thinks is “unacceptable” with no explanation, so the best course is to just do nothing.

Instead, you show your people why you think something is good or bad. Clarifying shared goals and values helps a lot. Linking those to evaluation, recognition and reward makes it real.

You’re creating a picture in each employee’s mind that is pretty similar to what you have in mind. “Here’s what we’re trying to achieve, and how we go about doing it.”

Now that you’ve given your people a nice sandbox to play in, the next step is to actually let them play. That’s where inspiration and productivity comes from, because people like to infuse their personality into their work.

Sure, you have some tight processes that need to be executed flawlessly every time. You’re not going to let accounts go unpaid or defective products go out the door. But that leaves a surprising amount of flexibility with other parts of the job, or some of the ordering of tasks, or interaction with co-workers.

Those are the things where you can really help give your employees some latitude to become engaged. We all have rules we need to follow, but there are plenty of other enjoyable parts of life and work, right?

So help your people to see that their sandbox is larger than just the processes they need to comply with. There’s flexibility, and even room for fun.


This article was first published in BizWest.