Endless praise, no wrong answers, and trophies for everyone is not the recipe for an optimal company culture. To get people to perform at their best, take a firmer approach.
Finding an effective method to motivate your employees and create a culture of excellence at your company is always a daunting challenge. But Joanne Lipman, former deputy managing editor of The Wall Street Journal, points out one unlikely source where CEOs can find a solid leadership lesson: an elementary school music class in New Jersey.
Lipman explains in her new book Strings Attached: One Tough Teacher and the Gift of Great Expectations(co-authored with Melanie Kupchynsky) how her former music teacher's tough-love style instilled self-discipline in her class. Although she says the teacher, known as "Mr. K," was "ferocious" and "tyrannical," the students grew to love and respect him because he held them to a high standard and helped them become better musicians. In the Harvard Business Review, Lipman explains how leaders and CEOs can use Mr. K's methods to lead a company in the right direction.
Below, read four ways how you can implement tough love in your office.
Don't give empty praise.
Mr. K's highest compliment, Lipman writes, was "Not bad." Overabundant praise for employees' work (especially when it's part of their general responsibilities), will not help in creating a high-performing culture, she says. Expertise can only result from constructive feedback, even if it's sometimes painful.
Set high expectations and clear goals.
As a leader, you need to set a high standard. If your employees are not doing quality work, you need to be honest while giving feedback that cannot be misconstrued. When Mr. K wanted one of his students to take another shot at perfecting a song, his feedback was simple: "Again!" "His standards were uncompromising--and while at first we students found that intimidating, we ultimately understood it was a sign of his confidence in us," Lipman writes. "He never wavered in his faith in his students to achieve more and better."
When setting goals, be as clear as you can be. If a sale or a meeting goes poorly, you need to ask your employees what went wrong, how they will prepare for next time, and how they will improve. You need to "articulate intermediate goals" and encourage employees to stretch their abilities.
Realize failure isn't defeat.
One major rule is to never punish your employees for failure. When employees do fail, you have to teach them how to get up and motivate themselves to try again. "Mr. K made it clear that failure was simply part of the process--not an end point, but simply an opportunity for us to learn how to improve the next time," she writes. Ultimately, it's the employees' responsibility to find a correct solution and implement self-discipline. You just need to guide them.
Say thank you.
The last piece of tough love is gratitude, Lipman says. During our busy lives it is usually the first thing we neglect, but it is necessary to help make your employees feel cared for and valued. Tough love without the love is just tough, and not effective. Make sure to say "thank you" when your employees do great work, push themselves, and help make your job easier.
WILL YAKOWICZ is a reporter at Inc. magazine. He has covered business, crime, and politics at Patch.com, and his work has been published in Tablet Magazine and The Brooklyn Paper. He lives in Brooklyn, New York. @WillYakowicz