There was an article in a recent Wall Street Journal “In the Lead” column written by Carol Hymowitz entitled “Today's Bosses Find Mentoring Isn't Worth the Time and Risks.”

The headline surprised me. The article started off with a story about Scott Flanders, CEO of Freedom Communications, who says, “In this flatter world, where most managers have a broader span of control, there aren't enough hours in the day to double-check everything employees do. We can't tolerate mediocrity, but we have to presume the competence of employees - and when we're disappointed, spend time coaching and training.”

It continued “this new management model - teaching by example and offering employees intermittent feedback rather than meticulously reviewing everything they do - is being adopted formally and informally at many companies.”

I agree and disagree. First, my disagreement: Leading and mentoring are not and never have been “meticulously reviewing everything an employee does.” I agree that leaders need to “teach by example and offer employees intermittent feedback.” I believe that effective leaders do four things well when it comes to mentoring employees: 1) tell people what they expect of them, 2) monitor performance versus expectations, 3) reinforce effective performance, 4) redirect ineffective performance.

“For most managers, it's a complicated juggling act knowing when and how much to coach employees,” Ms. Hymowitz says. I don't think it's all that complicated.

When all is said and done, managing, leading and mentoring are about relationships. Managers and leaders can build strong relationships with and enhance the performance of the people they lead by engaging in meaningful conversations with them. Three types of conversations are critical to high performance: 1) expectation-setting, 2) reinforcing effective performance and 3) redirecting ineffective performance.

  1. Expectation-Setting

    Expectation-setting is your most basic job as a manager or leader. Everything proceeds from a well-articulated and communicated set of expectations. You have to make sure that your people know exactly what you expect of them. If people don't know this, you can't hold them responsible for the outcome of their work.

    Just as archers have a target with concentric rings that form a bull's eye and bowlers have 10 pins set up at the end of the alley, people at work need to have a clear, unambiguous target to aim at. Be specific about what you expect from the people you lead and manage.

    Meet face to face with your people to discuss and agree on expectations. Once a year, at the beginning of the year, is usually enough. However, in today's fast-paced world, things have a way of changing. When they do, you need to clarify any changes in your expectations of the people you lead and manage. Expectation-setting discussions are the foundation of successful leadership and management. Everything else flows from them.

  2. Reinforcing Effective Performance

    People continue to do the things for which they get rewarded. Recognizing and rewarding people who perform well is an extremely important part of leadership. Unfortunately, many leaders do a poor job of issuing rewards and recognition.

    All too often, leaders and managers say, “I don't need to tell them when they're doing a good job. If they're not performing, they know they'll hear it from me.” This is “high school principal” leadership. As most of us remember, a summons to the principal's office was hardly ever good news. The same holds true in business.

    If the only interactions people have with you are negative or come with some type of punishment attached, they are not going to look forward to interacting with you. On the other hand, if you regularly recognize and reward your people for good performance, you'll build strong, trusting, mutually accountable relationships with them.

    Specificity and timeliness are the two keys to effective rewards and recognition. In most cases, merely telling someone that they “did a good job” is not effective. Such a statement lacks the specificity to make the compliment meaningful to the individual who receives it. On the other hand, telling someone that “they met or exceeded their production quota every day last week” passes the specificity test. The person being complimented knows exactly why you recognized him or her.

    Timeliness is the second key. The best recognition comes soon after the event that precipitated it. Speak with your people regularly. Take the time to let them know when they're doing a good job.

  3. Redirecting Ineffective Performance

    Leaders and managers who do nothing more than set expectations and recognize their people when they do a good job are well on the road to success. However, you really earn your money when you redirect ineffective performance. You're in business to help your people succeed. Most of your people will succeed if you do a good job of setting expectations. However, some will require additional coaching to be successful.

    Take your obligation to redirect the behavior of people who are failing to meet expectations seriously. How well you do in redirecting people who are not meeting expectations can make or break you as a leader and/or manager.

    When someone falls short of meeting expectations, take action quickly. Meet with the individual to review the expectations and his or her lack of performance in meeting them. Be specific about the expectations on which both of you agreed and the individual's lack of performance as measured by the standards.

    Once you've agreed on the specifics of the nonperformance issue, work with the individual to develop a plan for bringing his or her performance up to expectations.

    Effective leaders and managers don't view these types of conversation as punishment. They use them to accomplish two things: 1) alert the individual that his or her performance is not meeting expectations, and 2) assist him or her in getting back on track. Approach these types of discussions with goodwill in your heart. Your main concern should be to assist the people you lead and manage in performing at an acceptable level.

    A lot of leading and managing is as simple as 1, 2, 3. Effective leaders and managers are skilled in three types of discussions: 1) expectation-setting, 2) coaching and 3) performance review. Master the skills associated with these discussions and use them, and you'll be a successful leader and manager.

Bud Bilanich has a reputation as The Common Sense Guy. He earned his Ph.D. from Harvard University and offers common-sense solutions to tough business problems. Contact Bud at 303/393 0446 or Bud@BudBilanich.com. You can also visit www.BudBilanich.com or read his blog at www.CommonSenseGuy.com.