Performance to fulfilment

Manage Employee Fulfillment for Peak Performance

Part seven in our Mindsets of Workplace Transformation series.

How does a great leader maximize performance? Great leaders — and their most successful employees — understand that sustaining peak performance goes hand in hand with supporting employee fulfillment.

This seventh Mindset of Workplace Transformation asks you to shift your focus from optimizing performance to optimizing satisfaction. In past posts, we’ve covered shifts from status to service, control to creativity, profit to purpose and better approaches to productivity. In this post, we’ll go over the importance of employee fulfillment.

The Performance Focused Manager

Words like “fulfillment” may sound foreign to traditional managers who have long relied on reductionist techniques for controlling, measuring and optimizing employee output. If you fall into this broad category, you tend to ask questions like:

  • Are my employees doing their job? Are they achieving maximum productivity? Are they meeting objectives?
  • What are their weaknesses? How can they improve skills, knowledge and/or systems to manage these weaknesses?
  • If they aren’t doing as much as they could, why not?
  • Are they giving all that they can give to the organization?
  • How can I make them give more?

The performance-focused manager works from an assumption that employees must be controlled (a.k.a. coerced, cajoled, forced, micromanaged, and monitored) to give their best performance.

Leading Fulfillment

Fulfillment-focused managers are a different breed entirely. They believe that employees who are aligned with their strengths, passions, and values do their best work without having to constantly be poked, prodded, and measured. Fulfillment-focused managers ask the following types of questions on a regular basis:

  • What are the unique strengths of each member of my team? How can I help them leverage those strengths more effectively in their role?
  • Are my people learning and growing in ways that are meaningful for them?
  • Are they getting all they can get from their work?
  • How can I help them to get more from this experience?

The bottom line: performance-focused managers are concerned about juicing each employee for every drop of performance. Fulfillment focused managers understand that if the company is supporting employees to meet the mental, physical, emotional and spiritual needs that help them thrive, the employee will naturally evolve towards higher levels of performance.

This all sounds great, you might be asking, but at the end of the day improving performance matters because it links to the profits that are necessary for the company to thrive. Can you say the same about fulfillment?


Fulfillment Pays Off

Fourteen separate studies by  Wilson Learning Worldwide show a tight relationship between employee fulfillment and work unit performance. The higher the employee fulfillment levels were, the higher the bottom line performance. The studies also demonstrate that managers and leaders are the primary factors impacting high levels of employee fulfillment. Researchers noted higher levels of fulfillment when managers spent their time in the following ways:

  • ensuring clarity of direction and objectives;
  • providing feedback, recognition and support;
  • empowering employees to make decision and take action independently; and
  • eliminating barriers to productivity by creating systems and providing access to the resources employees need to do their jobs most effectively.

In short, fulfillment-focused managers don’t try to wring every ounce of performance out of an employee. Instead, they focus on helping each individual tap into what creates fulfillment for them at work, and on fighting the big picture battles that interfere with people’s ability to do their best work.

Recall the fairy tale with the goose that laid the golden egg. Most managers understand that if they kill the goose, they get no more eggs. However, they fail to realize that if they put too much pressure on the goose to lay golden eggs, its production may slowly dry up. A happy, secure goose that is treated well and given the right kind of love and attention is going to lay far more golden eggs for far longer than one that is starved and threatened while simultaneously being pressured (a.k.a. “rewarded”) to produce.

At the end of the day, performance-focused managers feel they have done their job if everyone is fully spent at the end of the day. Fulfillment focused managers know that they are doing their job if, at the end of the day, people are not simply tired, but “good tired.” When a “good tired” employee gets home, they have that feeling you get after a good workout – a sense of pride at meeting the challenge to do their best and a sense of fulfillment at having done something that matters. And just as you are more likely to make healthier food choices after a workout, employees who are fulfilled at work are more likely to make healthy choices to recharge outside of work. Why? Because they aren’t emotionally drained from forcing themselves to do work that doesn’t leverage their strengths, align with their values, or serve a purpose that matters. They see work as a critical part of who they are and of creating a fulfilling life, not as a necessary evil to be endured to pay the bills. They’re not just eager to flop into bed or flip on the TV; they’re eager to recharge so they can get back to the work they’re excited about the next day.

Stop for a moment and think about the questions you’re asking and whether you’re leading for performance or fulfillment. It will feel uncomfortable at first, but if you persist in asking different questions and work at growing fulfillment in your team, they’ll achieve levels of performance that will leave themselves, your business and the world, forever changed for the better.

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