Why caring can boost performance
There is a lot to be said about caring for your team – the research paints a clear picture – so why is it so hard to do?
“We care” sounds like the sort of cheesy thing a hard-nosed executive might say to their employees but, behind their backs, plan for their jobs to be cut to save money and boost the bottom line. But the evidence is compelling that actually caring for your team is critical to team performance – in fact in teams particularly care and caring are powerful drivers of performance.
So, what is the evidence?
Well, there are a number of lines of evidence some direct and some indirect. I reported in 2021 on a number of studies which give direct evidence for caring in some shape or form. We should, however, define caring as this is more difficult than we may assume, though we intuitively may feel somebody cares. So, what does caring for your team members mean:
- You care about their health and mental health
- You respect them and their abilities
- You help them develop
- You value them as people and employees
And the above are defined by emotional engagement with them and being emotionally involved in their progress and performance. You can’t care without emotional involvement. So back to the research and there was one particularly interesting study in 2021. It was interesting because it was a real-world study documenting the performance of 48 teams from 5 Canadian startups. And what were the results.
The teams that were most effective, and resilient, had leaders who encouraged on-the-job-learning, and of note, also enabled and encouraged employees to speak up and give their ideas and suggestions for change.
This therefore falls under the category of care for employee’s development rather than punish, or criticize, or put people down for lack of performance. Of note is that this is a mid-long-term perspective. As Brykman who conducted the study said, “Knowing that you have a leader who is focused on learning and not just on performance outcomes is critical”. This may sound counter-intuitive and to some it is because a focus on performance only, or at all costs, would seem to be the more logical approach. Obviously, performance matters but simply focusing on performance without other aspects leads to worse performance because learning and caring for employees build skills and resilience over time.
Moreover, it has been well-documented that trust improves outcomes in busines and another piece of research in 2021 also showed that catering to team members needs increase trust and loyalty. Catering to employees needs can easily be translated into “caring for employees”. This study by Cindy Muir showed that team members’ perception of fairness was controlled by how team leaders catered to their needs. This is important because we know that unfairness is a major demotivator and disruptor causing intense frustration at times. Muir’s study showed that those leaders who were prosocially motivated made more effort to be fair. This in itself is a positive thing. The question then is do employees only care for prosocially motivated leaders because they are treated better – out of their own self-interest. Well, the interesting outcome was that prosocially leaders were rated less harshly when they made unfair decisions – so not only are they preferred, understandably, they are forgiven more readily.
Of course, on the topic of prosocial behaviour, we should also consider antisocial behaviour and though we obviously know that treating people badly is going to lead to a negative impact, another study in 2021 was particularly interesting because it showed how rudeness can impact decision-making and how this can spread to others and therefore spread through an organisation.
The study by Binyamin Copper et al. showed that rudeness in emergency room doctors led to an increase in anchoring bias. Anchoring bias is that of taking the first cue or piece of information as a reference and working from this. In the case of doctors, it means sticking to your first impression irrespective of what any new evidence points too. In this context this can lead to not identifying the real issue – endangering people’s lives.
Though most people in business are not in life critical situations the study nicely shows how the atmosphere at work can severely impar decision-making – the authors note that rudeness seem to have a focusing effect – disrupting decision-making. Of particular interest is that this was not just when directly experiencing rudeness but also seeing rudeness to others! Those who experience rudeness are also in turn more likely to be rude to others creating a vicious circle. Of note is also that older people tend to respond less strongly to rudeness.
This therefore shows that having the right atmosphere is critical for good decision-making and avoiding a negative cycle of negativity. This is why a team leader must therefore aim one, to be not rude to their team members, and two, to intervene when they see anti-social behaviour. This in turn creates a safe environment and psychological safety as I outlined in lbR-2021-10. Psychological safety, as I noted, was rated as Google’s number one factor in team performance.
So, we can already see multiple streams all pointing to how much caring for team members creates high performing teams. We can translate this into my SCOAP model – which as most of you readers will be aware is a consolidated model of human behaviour.
- Self-Esteem, value your team members, show gratitude, and compliment when and wherever possible Help them build higher status by being engaged in their development
- Control, give autonomy, enable team members to perform
- Orientation, keep team members informed, be a good communicator
- Attachment, care for your team, build relationships, look after them
- Pleasure, handle anti-social behaviour quickly, have fun, make work a pleasurable experience
All of this falls under the broad scope of “caring” for your team members. Now some people worry about clarifying performance and holding people accountable sometimes as a guise for being harsh to certain individuals. Our unpublished data on the SCOAP-Profile data shows that the vast majority of people in business want to perform well. That is not the problem. Sure, we certainly should be clear on performance guidelines and clear on what constitutes good performance or not – and we should enable team members to perform: if they can’t we should care enough to guide them to a place where they can perform. Everyone wins!
Here’s to caring for your team – and the subsequent high performance that can, should, and certainly will come of this.
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