Every person in an organization will be different, and that’s a good thing. But, if your company’s hiring process is effective, they will at the very least share the values of your organization while always being, for better or worse, who they are. So, what does that mean to the leaders within an organization charged with managing all these different personality types? What does a leader do with the class clown and the buttoned-up professional, knowing that both are valuable in their own way but that they go about their business differently? It may sound simple, but the best way to get them all in gear is to define the outcomesthat you wish to produce, and then get out of their way.
Individual personality is a great strength for many companies and, let’s face it, asking people to be who they’re NOT isn’t wise. So, while the organization’s foundational protocols and standards are non-negotiable, if you as a leader simply define the desired outcome then your people can be themselves and flourish within the framework of how your organization does things. Define the outcomes, establish and reinforce the standards and then let your talented people achieve these goals in their own way. I call this the “architect approach”: we (the organization) designed and built the house. You (the employee) can decorate the rooms within the house any way you wish, but you can’t move or tear down walls, change the blue print, etc.
Another simple way of illustrating this point is to look at an example from my days in the hospitality industry. Mary was a server who would create a great guest experience because she was so funny. Another server, Chris, provided great hospitality because of his attention to detail and his menu knowledge. Mary was a hoot and a staff and guest favorite. Chris was a solid and quiet rock-star that fellow employees went to with questions and that guests tipped well over 20%. Both were highly valuable but quite different. If one trait was valued over the other, their particular talents may have been muted. For instance, asking Chris to be hilarious (he was not) would have required that he be inauthentic, and likely very awkward. Asking Mary to “reign it in” and focus on the minutia likely would’ve stifled her glowing spirit. What we asked for wasn’t to conform to a pre-determined and favored personality trait, we asked that they provide a great guest experience. That was the outcome we desired. Do it within the foundation of our steps of service, our standards and general menu knowledge but above all, do it in such a way that leaves the guest happy and loyal. If protocol is adhered to and the guest leaves happy, who cares how they go about doing it? The bottom line is that the outcome was the same.
Be a Catalyst for Performance
Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman, in their book about management called First, Break All the Rules, believe that a great manager is, first and foremost, a catalyst. And when you think about the actual definition of the word – an agent that provokes or speeds significant change or action – it makes sense. Knowing that managers will have a diverse pool of people to shepherd, with their different quirks and personalities, the manager as catalyst must reach each employee and release their unique talents into performance. The authors go on to say:
As with all catalysts, the manager’s function is to speed up the reaction between two substances, thus creating the desired end product. Specifically, the manager creates performance in each employee by speeding up the reaction between the employee’s talents and the customer’s needs. When hundreds of managers play this role well, the company becomes strong, one employee at a time…Great managers all excel at this “catalyst” role.
Of course, recognizing each individual’s unique talent is half the battle in becoming a catalyst. Using servers Mary and Chris from the previous example, you’d probably want to put Chris on a banquet, for instance, because his talent for detail really comes in handy with that style of service. And you probably wouldn’t want to waste Mary’s personality on a banquet if you had a choice because her quirky humor wouldn’t be maximized in that setting. She’s at her best when she’s “on stage”, in front of one table at a time with a captive audience. Knowing that your people, although cast in your organization’s mold, bring their own unique gifts to the table (pun intended) will help you hone in on what their best role should be. In this approach, the people who are best at what they do are put into a position to succeed, because their natural talents are allowed to rise to the surface.
Defining outcomes and being a catalyst for your employee’s talents to meet the needs of the customer may sound overly-simplified, but why does it have to be so complicated? Smart leaders know that clearly communicating an organization’s goals is a no-brainer. And understanding – and managing - the strengths and weaknesses of the people within that organization is too.