Tough love in the workplace

Performance management is good for everyone

Multiple exposure of woman dancing.
Multiple exposure of woman dancing.

Want to watch people burn out? Light the flame by treating them as a commodity instead of focusing on relationships. That’s the prescription for low long-term productivity — at best.

Jason Lauritsen paints this gloomy picture based on years of experience as an author, entrepreneur, corporate human resources leader and consultant. In his view, everyone demands love in some form in their personal lives but skimps on asking for it at work.

He believes performance management could be the key to unlocking major wins for employers and their employees, but only if everyone is treated right.

Lauritsen and Forbes analyst, brand strategist and TalentCulture Chief Executive Officer Meghan M. Biro dove into these concepts to discuss managing performance.

“I’m motivated every day by a team that’s energized and fun,” Biro said. “Work has to be fun. It’s an exciting time to work in the world of HR and HR tech. Nothing stays the same for very long, so I never get bored.

“Let’s be real,” she said. “I love being my own boss. Entrepreneur life is no cakewalk, but it’s right for me. It’s about meaning and autonomy. When I work on something that I feel truly matters and have the freedom to figure out how best to achieve results, I do my best work.”

Lauritsen takes comfort in accountability.

“Good or bad, I need to know I am on the hook for whatever happens,” he said. “I’ll feel the good or bad consequences directly.”

He looked askew at the notion that having fun will make work not feel like work.

“What does ‘feel like work’ mean?” he said. “Why do we think work has to feel bad or hard?

“Any time we say something ‘feels like work,’ it’s implied that is a negative,” Lauritsen said. “Why can’t work ‘feel’ fulfilling and energizing? Why always bad? We need to check our own baggage.”

He noted three common threads in conversations about jobs:

  • People we work with
  • Meaningful work
  • Appreciation and acknowledgment

Growing together

One of Lauritsen’s core messages is that work should be a relationship, not a contract.

“Completely agree,” Biro said. “Besides being fun, if you’re not growing as a person, with other people, what’s the point?”

In a Forbes article, she wrote about how to develop a hyper-transparent relationship with employees.

“Every generation, but especially the next generation of workers, is looking for true connection from their work,” Biro said. “No surprise that theme comes up over and over.”

Lauritsen looked closer at the employer-employee disconnect.

“Our current management and HR practices are almost entirely focused on ensuring employees live up to their end of the employment contract — performance reviews, policies, job descriptions and so on,” he said.

“Yet, all of our engagement research over the last two decades shows that what engages employees to higher performance are things like feeling valued, trust and appreciation,” Lauritsen said. “Work is a relationship — not a contract — for employees.”

He sees false distinctions adding to the problem.

“I disagree that accountability and clarity of expectations are separate from relationship,” Lauritsen said. “A healthy relationship depends upon clarity, accountability and consistency.

“It’s hard to explain in short sound bursts — that’s why I wrote a book about it — but it all starts with clarity of expectations,” he said. “When you start with this clarity, measurement and progress are easy to gauge.”

That drives the point home.

“If you consider your most important personal relationships, you will recognize deep accountability,” Lauritsen said. “I’m accountable to no one more than my wife. It’s imperative that I understand her expectations and live up to them.”

He also offered a different take on work being fulfilling as long as there is enough money for compensation.

“That’s an interesting perspective, and one that I think most employers share,” Lauritsen said. “It’s also why your employees probably lack engagement and loyalty. It is a relationship for the employee whether employers want it to be or not.”

Relationship investment

With trust in organizations — including employers — at an all-time low, earning employees’ confidence becomes an even greater challenge, which Biro and Lauritsen discussed in a podcast.

“If we start to invest more in our relationships at work, we’ll improve employees’ lives,” Biro said. “These are no small stakes.”

She cited author and visual thinker Rachel Botsman’s definition of trust. Botsman breaks down four key traits people consider when they decide whether to trust a company:

  • Are they competent? Do they have the skills and the knowledge to do what they say they’re going to do?
  • Are they reliable? Are they consistent over time?
  • Are they benevolent? How much do they really care?
  • Do they have integrity? Do they have my best interests at heart?

“The age of hiding information from employees and command-and-control leadership is over — it’s official,” Biro said. “It’s all about transparency and trust — now.”

That means overcoming old, staid ways of doing business.

“In my experience, the easiest way to build trust quickly is to extend it first — and generously,” Lauritsen said. “As employers, we are really bad at this. Our policy manuals and employment practices often send a strong message of ‘We don’t trust you.’ This needs to change.

“For example, telling me how to dress as a grown adult is insulting and suggests that you don’t trust me to dress appropriately,” he said. “Dress codes kill trust.”

About The Author

Jim Katzaman is a manager at Largo Financial Services and worked in public affairs for the Air Force and federal government. You can connect with him on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.

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