Whether you're running a newly launched startup or a 10-year-old business, the pressure is high. You've dedicated your life to the company's success, so when mistakes are made you want answers, a fix, and assurance it will never be made again.
As the founder, your blood has gone into the business, so naturally you expect tremendous amounts of success from your talented employees. But "when people fall short of those expectations, the way leaders handle their disappointment can mean the difference between a return to high performance and a downward spiral of failure," Peter Bregman, founder and CEO of leadership development firm Bregman Partners, writes in Harvard Business Review.
Bregman says many talented leaders inspire their employees during good business periods, but when revenues go down they lose control of their temper and start looking for people to tear into.
The need to hold employees accountable, Bregman says, is usually a short-tempered leader's justification for reacting strongly to an employee's mistake. Bregman says accountability is important, but you need to ask yourself a question first: What's more important--holding people accountable or improving their performance?
"If they're generally high performers, they already know that they're falling short. And, almost always, they take it seriously," Bregman says. "In other words, awareness and accountability aren't their problems. What is? Regaining enough confidence to take necessary risks to succeed after a failure."
Below, read Bregman's suggestions on how to replace your angry reactions to underperformance with something more productive.
Change your instinct.
"In hard times, people want to feel more connected to their leaders. They need to have reasons to trust you. They need to feel trusted by you," Bregman writes. The usual instinct is to communicate less, to brood and retreat into your office. Bregman says after an employee's failure, you should do the opposite. "We have to counteract that instinct and connect more," he says. "Your role is to give people what they need to perform, not what you need to release."
Take steps to turn things around.
You know you want better performance, so is satisfying your desire to make an employee feel bad for being human and making a mistake going to help them perform better? Bregman says one of his more successful clients recently had a year where the team underperformed terribly. Instead of coming down on them like he usually would, the CEO decided to give out bonuses even though they missed their goals. "The new energy and loyalty this created drove the company's turn-around," Bregman writes. Offering people support is more productive than reminding them of their failure.
Don't punish them.
Bregman says employees almost never need to feel scared or be punished. Again, holding people accountable through angry outbursts will only hurt their performance even more. Be smart and don't let your anger overpower your better instincts. "Choose a response that will achieve the outcome you want, rather than simply making your already obvious displeasure more obvious," he writes.