8 things your team needs to believe to be top performers

How can franchisors and franchisees bring out the best in their teams? At the International Franchise Association’s annual convention held recently in Las Vegas, keynote speaker Marcus Buckingham brought some British humour and some fresh thinking to the issue of leading for excellence.

Buckingham is a four-time New York Times bestselling author and runs his own business focused on management training backed up by research data.

It’s easy to identify top performance but harder to find the underlying causes for success, he suggests.

“We’ve got to be preoccupied with what’s going on in top performing stores that’s not happening in poor performers. Why do two teams in one company have such different performances?”

8 beliefs to foster

After 20 years of research Buckingham came up with eight common themes found among stellar business units. “If you want to run a great team, get people to feel these things,” he says.  

  • I am really enthusiastic about the mission of my company.
  • In my team, I am surrounded by people who share my values.
  • My teammates have my back.
  • I have great confidence in my company’s future.
  • At work I clearly understand what is expected of me.
  • I have a chance to use my strengths everyday at work.
  • I know I will be recognised for excellent work.
  • In my work, I am always challenged to grow.

Successful leaders achieve the difficult balance of making employees feel there is something to share yet still making them feel special, says Buckingham. “We ran data on attrition and turnover and found people join for ‘we’ and leave for ‘me’.

“You have to find creative ways to remind people of the shared values. If your culture isn’t strong enough to repel someone it isn’t strong enough to attract others.”

Out of all the points, the two most predictive of productive behaviour are about understanding the employee. “Know me, focus me and I’ll stay longer,” says Buckingham.

Are you checking in?

“The best team leaders check in with each of their people every week. They ask ‘what are your priorities and how can I help?’”

They have a regimen for five or 10 minutes speaking on the phone, communicating by text or face-to-face.

“If you’re not doing this, I don’t know what you’re doing, but you’re not leading.”

It’s important to have a right-sized team that allows for this regular contact, he says.

“Human beings are attention-seeking creatures. If you say you have too many people to be able to manage this then you have too many people.”

However, don’t make the mistake of using this time to give employees or franchisees an account of how they are performing and what needs to improve.

“You’re not doing feedback. No-one likes feedback. They don’t want feedback, they want coaching. ‘Help me get better, don’t tell me where I stand’,” advises Buckingham.

The best relationships are coaching relationships.

Strength or weakness

As feedback often highlights areas that need improvement, so our natural response when asked whether strengths or weaknesses should be the focus to improve performance, is to concentrate on the weaknesses.

Even millennials, often considered the trophy-seeking, entitled generation, have shown through research that they pinpoint weakness as the key to improvement.

“They’re not clear about what it takes to win. You have to have clarity,” says Buckingham.

He rejects the accepted approach that we need to focus on our weaknesses in order to perform better; Buckingham believes a person will learn and grow the most where he or she is already strong.

“We are more fearful of our weaknesses than honouring of our strengths,” he says. “If you want to learn more, look at how your child learns best. If you want to fix a weakness, go through the strength.

“Think about your team as a chess set – you’ve got to figure out the strengths of each one and how to coordinate and leverage them,” he says.

The value of diverse and disparate personalities and strengths is highlighted in a comparison between highly successful hotel managers in the Hilton chain, all of whom manage their teams with a distinct and different focus.

Where one high energy manager would focus on data and the occupancy rate, another builds the team through a culture of the pay-cheque lunch where food is shared, fellow employees praised, and the manager hands out the pay slips for the month. Yet if the management styles were swapped, it wouldn’t ring true, Buckingham says.

“Average is homogenous, excellence is idiosyncratic. There is no perfect profile only perfect practices that fit your profile. The most valuable is authenticity.”

Buckingham’s advice is to play to people’s strengths and value the diversity. “Turn uniqueness into something useful,” he says.