In our organisation, support is one of the integral values in the way we run things. That being said, I think a key differentiator that a lot of people (in general) don’t really get is what it really means to support your staff. If you baby your staff and spoon-feed them the answers constantly, they will never grow. Sure, they might feel “supported” but it’s not true support. Assisting them by completing a task for them may feel like you are giving support, but it’s short-term. I think it’s more valuable to support their long-term progression. That’s at least how we look at it.
What true support comes down to (to me) is accountability.
- Minced words, or
Sure, those things can play a small part, but what matters more (and is less often seen) is having challenging conversations about professional and personal development in the pursuit of achieving that individuals’ goals.
When we started Fuel Your Life, one of our original values was; “supportive – we believe in doing all we can to support each other, mentally, personally and professionally to increase each other’s capacity and achieve individuals’ goals.” Since then, we’ve updated the value to read; “we are always on hand, but will not handhold,” – a change agreed by our entire national management team.
I think this value really sums up the difference between the support we offer and the fanciful, fluffy version of support.
Accountability Has to Go Both Ways
As I said before, true support (as in the kind that favours long-term progress) comes down to accountability.
Accountability for the staff member is:
- Meeting deadlines
- Hitting KPIs
- Implementing feedback
- Speaking up about how they feel
- Challenging conversations and more.
Accountability for the leader is all about:
- Being accountable yourself, and letting your staff know that they can hold you accountable
- Providing the tools your staff require to grow (whether it’s training externally, giving the meaningful feedback they need, regular check-ins, etc), and
- Generally ensuring that all other aspects of the business are running, so that that staff member can actually do their job to the best of their ability.
It goes both ways.
The leader needs to facilitate this kind of culture, this sort of management, this sort of support, but the staff member also has to be open to it.
Our Approach to True Support
It’s easy to describe what true support is. But let’s just say that this is completely new to you and you’ve never looked at support in this light. What do you do?
- The first step is always to identify the goals of each individual that you are managing. You should ask them what THEY want to achieve, not what you want them to – what do THEY want.
- The next step is clearly laying down the steps to achieving that goal. E.g. Saying “okay, you want to achieve this, it is going to take X, Y and Z to get there. You are going to need to do A, B and C to get there. Are you okay with this?”
- From there, you have guideposts. You’ve established THEIR goal, you’ve established how YOU are going to help them with it and what THEY need to do to get there.
So, the fourth step is to stick to those guideposts. If they aren’t achieving that goal, or aren’t progressing how they said they would, this is where it’s your job as their manager to step in and “be on hand.” and hold them accountable to their goals. Step in and ask them why they haven’t achieved it, identify what you have seen could be the issue, where you think there were missteps. But whatever you do, do not complete the work for them. If you constantly do that, they will never learn. Talk them through aspects they are struggling with and provide them with the direction they need to complete the task – or, change their goals.
What To Expect
Expect that things may get emotional during this process and that is okay.
Usually, if a staff member is getting emotional while receiving your feedback, it’s often simply because they care. They usually aren’t feeling personally attacked by you (unless you said something with the intent to be a douchebag), they are probably just upset with themselves, or upset with their inability to complete the task, or upset that they THOUGHT they could and are feeling discouraged. In that sense, it’s okay for your staff to get emotional. You should never intend to hurt their feelings, if you do that, you are a dick and that’s not okay.
If you are going to be a leader, a manager or even a mentor, your intent matters. But in the same light, if you have chosen the right staff member they will not want to be spoon-fed, they will want to achieve the tasks you’ve set together. If a staff member is performing, showing initiative and working autonomously without much assistance, you can still support them by helping figure out what the next step in their growth might be (whether it’s a promotion, a new task or responsibility). That is the kind of support that will truly make a lasting impact.
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