Focus on people, not process. Simple, right? It may be simple to say, but it’s not easy to do. It makes sense. People get things done. But, I am a task- and process-oriented guy. I like formulas. I like to develop and follow a plan. I like action. I get things done. But, as a leader, I have to rely on other people to do those things because that’s what they are there to do. Besides, if what we’re doing is bigger than me, there’s no way I can do it all myself. Sometimes I lose sight of the people, and focus on the process or the desired output. Can you relate? When I haven’t caught myself, this has resulted in frustration (mine and the team’s) and a discouraging environment. If left unchecked, putting process over people can be devastating to a team and an organization.
As leaders, we need other people to use their talents and abilities to do their part in contributing to the completion of the overall project or deliverable. Without them, we wouldn’t be a leader and wouldn’t be able to accomplish more than we could do on our own. I know this is basic and probably goes without saying, but sometimes we can get so caught up in getting things done that we forget to pay attention to our people. Maybe it’s just me, but I’m pretty sure it is not.
So, how do we stay focused on the people?
First, take time to be with them and get to know each team member. Take an interest in them. Understand what gets them excited and what frustrates them. Know their family situation and interests outside of work. And, help them to get to know more about you personally. Yes, this will take time! But, it will be worth it in the long run.
Second, pay attention to their body language so that you can pick up clues when something else might be going on in their life, between them and other team members, or even between you and them. Pull them aside, and gently and courageously check with them to see what’s there. If you’ve built trust, they will share. If you haven’t, they will most likely downplay it. But, if you let it go unnoticed or don’t address it, productivity is likely to suffer as a result of whatever might be distracting them.
Third, when you speak harshly or do something to offend them, deal with it immediately. State the offense. Admit you were wrong. Tell them you are sorry. Ask them to forgive you. Allow them to hold you accountable. Check to see if there is anything else you’ve done to offend them and ask for forgiveness for the things they mention. (“6-Step Apology” from Transformational Leadership)
Lastly, engage them in setting personal and professional objectives. Schedule brief (10 to 15 minutes) weekly one-on-one meetings to check in, see what they want to accomplish for the week, and ask how you can help. Make the meeting a priority every week, but stay focused and keep it short. It shows that you value them, care about them, and it reinforces that you are there to help them succeed.
These are just a few of the things you can do to show your team that you care about them as people and that you value them more than you do the process. When they are engaged, they are more likely to follow the process to get the results you desire. You may still have to guide them, but it will be much more rewarding for you and for them. Take some time now to reflect on how much you know about your team members and to what extent you focus on them or on process. If you are focusing more on the process than the people, consider what steps you can take to reverse your focus, starting with what’s described above. You’ll be glad you did and so will your team!