One of the greatest lessons I’ve learned about leadership is how amazingly well employees perform when they’re united as a team and committed to a shared mission.
Several years ago, I was leading a region of 30 bank branches that had been consistently high achieving. Month in and month out, we ranked in the top 10% of the 85 nationwide regions – but never once had we led the firm.
One weekend, I took home a pile of reports and poured over them with a goal of identifying what specific performance distinguished the three highest performing regions. I was surprised to discover the gap between us was nowhere near as wide as I’d imagined.
In time for my next meeting with all my direct reports, I prepared a few slides which illustrated the results we would need to achieve in order to move to the top. Wanting to challenge my team to get the satisfaction that only comes from being number one, I asked them directly, “Why don’t we set our sights on becoming the best region in the bank?”
My team of managers knew that I was challenging them to do more and produce more but were immediately inspired by the idea and embraced it.
Our decision to take on such an ambitious goal had the effect of altering my normal focus. Rather than being preoccupied with the performance of each individual branch – especially the lowest achieving – I gave greater attention to what the team, together, needed to do in order to progress up the rankings.
Whenever I distributed performance reports and updates, I put the team’s collective accomplishments front and center. Each time we made progress toward our goal, I made a point of commending all of the 300-plus employees in the region.
While I intentionally focused on the team’s achievements first, I never missed the opportunity to recognize branches and individual employees whose exceptional productivity helped us to move the needle. Importantly, this included calling out those branch teams whose results were greatly improved.
Very quickly, cooperation and teamwork soared. Employees saw themselves as working toward the same goal – and were excited by it. Suddenly, there was more idea sharing and mutual encouragement. Some of the strongest team members even volunteered to coach employees where performance was lowest. The achievement of every branch subsequently improved.
Every Friday night, I sent the team an end-of-the-week update and acknowledged our progress and achievements. Even when these arrived after the branches were closed, employees enthusiastically waited for them. While they hoped to see their own branch team highlighted, they mostly wanted to see how close the region was to becoming number one.
In just a matter of months, our inspired team earned the top ranking and held that position for the next three consecutive years.
If you want to energize your team’s performance, find a mission that inspires everyone – and is a stretch – then commit to achieving it. My experience as a regional manager taught me that employees want to accomplish remarkable things and to belong to a team that has a compelling purpose. People are more engaged when they have a shared mission. It makes one’s work more enjoyable – and meaningful.
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