Businesses exist to get results, make profit and deliver value for shareholders. Anything less than this means a lack of fulfilment of the business dream, inadequate execution or a strategy that is not effectively aligned to the money-making model of the industry in which the company finds itself. In my exposure to many hundreds of businesses, I am amazed at how many companies I find that have not fully realised the potential within their respective markets. They are doing well enough, I guess, but are potentially missing out on a whole lot more business out there – business that is waiting to be captured. There’s “low-hanging fruit” everywhere, but somehow the same is not being perceived and no-one seems to be hoisting the fruit basket to go and harvest it.

Many of the above “under-achieving” companies seem to be erring on one or the other side of a leadership focus scale, as follows:

  • Task orientation – in the extreme, an obsessive focus on process, systems, product integrity, measurement and application of human resource rules to guide the operation. Here the environment is influenced and controlled by hierarchical structures and employees are required to follow instructions.
  • People orientation – in the extreme, an obsessive focus on the creation of a “family” environment, where people feel needed and cared for. Here the environment is controlled by an unspoken expectation of trust that the quality of relationships will prevail and that staff will perform to honour these same relationships.

Staff could experience an extremely task-oriented environment as oppressive, disempowering and uncaring. Here, feelings of resentment could surface and punishment that is levied for not performing at required levels leads to the development of an environment of fear. Staff retention is problematic in such circumstances, with salary and bonuses being the only leverage points in keeping the best people.

Employees, in an extremely people-oriented environment on the other hand, although relishing the warmth of relationships, probably feel that they are underachieving and have more potential than that which is being required from them. A lazy attitude may start to permeate the work environment and accountability might not be taken seriously enough. Staff retention may also end up being problematic where intelligent staff might start looking for fresh challenges and the security of a more demanding environment.

Getting great results through people to achieve objectives in line with the organisation’s requirements is not easy – a balanced leadership is required. This balanced approach needs equal attention on the following:

  • Concern for Production – the degree to which a leader emphasises concrete objectives, organisational efficiency and high productivity when deciding how best to accomplish a task
  • Concern for People – the degree to which a leader considers the needs of the team members, their interests and areas of personal development when deciding how best to accomplish a task

There are times when a good leader should be able to adapt the approach to place greater focus on either production or the people. Good leadership is therefore not only about being able to balance the scale, but also having the wisdom to know when to tip the scale in favour of either production or people. This contextual wisdom, when appropriately applied, produces respect.

Employees want to be part of a winning team – a company that is doing well and growing. Employees also want to be secure – knowing not only that they are valued and cared for, but also that they have the opportunity to contribute meaningfully to the organisation’s success. Performance management is a crucial ingredient to providing this framework and generating responsibility and accountability in the work environment.

For companies to realise their existence in the most effective and meaningful way, leaders at all levels need a balanced approach to the task at hand and the people they need to influence to get the job done. Perhaps here they will find the key to exponential growth?

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