Most managers focus on their staff’s performance in the context of technical tasks performed that lead to defined outputs. And let’s face it, there’s nothing particularly wrong with that. The problem is when managers only pay attention to technical task performance and forget (or are completely blind to) cognitive, emotional and social performance. So what do I mean by that?
Most positive feedback is focused on the behavioural component – and this makes sense: it can be observed, perceived and measured. The employee either did or did not complete that report according to agreed standards. But what about the cognitive processes that lead to the completion of this report? That is, what about the problem-solving, decision-making, ideas generation, meaning-making, planning, structuring and quality checking that took place in the employee’s mind? It’s pretty hard to observe that. And in some cases, it’s hard for the employee to succinctly and accurately describe their internal processes. Similarly, what about the emotional layer? What were the range of emotions experienced by the employee and how did they regulate themselves in order to stay in a peak performance state and complete the task. Similarly, what about the social performance? With whom did they interact? Whom did they influence in order to gather the information and complete the task. What political savvy did they use? How did they utilise the social conditions of that point in time and space?
My point is this: what you reward and pay attention to grows. We see this all the time with the leaders and elite athletes with whom we work. Their core capability is paying attention to the right things and not paying attention to the things that might distract them and lead them off the path. Most high-performance coaches know this and their coaching philosophy, training methodology, technical feedback and competition preparation is all honed around keeping athletes focused on what works.
Managers can learn how to do this to. And they can teach their staff to do this for themselves. The trick is to know what matters. If you know what matters, then you can bring intentionality to the process and use this to guide decisions around attention and focus. If our intent it to truly support the performance development of people, then we need to pay attention to those elements that contribute to good performance – not just the observables and/or the outputs.