How to Set People Up for Success

by Susan Mazza | Posted | Leadership

How to Set People Up for Success

New beginnings are filled with both possibility and risk. On one end of the spectrum some leaders focus on mitigating the risks, sometimes trying to control what hasn’t happened yet with detailed plans in the hopes of ensuring success. On the other end of the spectrum are leaders who are so enraptured by possibility and potential they assume those good feelings are enough to foreshadow success.

While most of us fall somewhere in the middle, the most important thing to remember when you are bringing on a new employee or assigning a new project is that as the leader it is up to you to set the foundation for your people’s success.

Whether it is a new job or a new project or assignment, here are three things you can do as a leader to help ensure your people succeed.

1. Establish clear short-term outcomes

The job or project description will of course set the ultimate objective for the position or the project. Yet remember that while you may have put a lot of time and thought into defining the objectives and have a sense of what needs to be done to succeed, the person taking the handoff from you has not. 

They need time to absorb what is being asked of them, some of which will only happen once they take the reins from you and get into action for themselves.

That is why it is essential in the beginning of any new position or project to set a few short-term milestones that can help both of you determine whether things are getting off to a solid start. By milestones I mean an outcome or deliverable, not a list of things they need to do.

When these milestones are met there is a sense of progress and satisfaction. In the event they are not, you will both have an early warning signal that can help you correct course early.

Consider setting a few key milestones at intervals of one, three and six months. Ask yourself: How will you know that this person is progressing in a way that will ensure long-term success? What will this person have learned, completed, accomplished, and/or owned at each interval for you to know they are on track?

The bottom line: Establish clear outcomes as the driver of action instead of prescribing the action hoping the outcome will be what you want.

2. Invite negotiation

When you are handing someone a new assignment or helping them to get started in a new position, it might seem premature to start negotiating anything. After all, they probably don’t know enough about the assignment or position. But while you will be doing more directing than negotiating at first, by inviting questions and pushback on timelines you open the door for the employee to experience being empowered

By allowing someone to interact with your expectations rather than simply receive them as orders you set the stage for ownership and autonomy. 

The bottom line: Inviting negotiation early plants the seeds for self-leadership to emerge quickly.

3. Schedule ongoing progress feedback

Whatever the protocols for your organization regarding performance feedback may be, strong beginnings require deliberate attention. You can start by scheduling checkpoints immediately to coincide with the milestones set. Ideally, there would also be a midpoint and due date meeting set.

This sends a clear message that you are counting on the outcomes being delivered as promised. It also ensures that assessments of progress are deliberate. All too often managers rely on having a sense of how things are going rather than gathering the facts.

Note that a progress check-in should be a conversation focused on progress against the outcome(s) promised, not a recitation of the tasks that have been and need to be done. The two questions guiding the conversation should be: What results have you delivered? Are you on track for the next milestone?  These conversations can be short if all is going well, but may need to be longer if things are off track.

The bottom line: Deliberate and timely progress check-ins against promised results establish the foundation for a mutually accountable relationship.

Continue these practices even beyond the start of a new role or relationship and you will likely find that end-of-year performance feedback is both easy to do and enjoyable to deliver.

Your Turn: What else can you do to set people up to succeed?



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