Today’s managers are burned out. According to Gallup, managers are more stressed than the people they manage, with only 1 in 4 managers strongly agreeing that they’re able to maintain a healthy work-life balance. Many managers are stretched thin from having to manage team performance on top of other tasks. So, how can learning and development (L&D) help? Learning leaders can help mitigate burnout and stress on their management teams by fostering a culture of performance.

A culture of performance is a psychologically safe environment in which employees feel empowered and motivated to express themselves through their work. In a culture of performance, everyone is held accountable for their role in the leadership process and empowered to seek the guidance and support they need to perform better. Employees must be equipped with the skills and knowledge to drive their own growth and development.

This takes the pressure off of management and unlocks creativity, collaboration and innovation on their teams. Ultimately, when employees take charge in leading their own performance, they can reach their full potential. In this article, we’ll evaluate best practices for building a culture of performance in your organization.

Performance Leadership

Chris McLean, vice president of training and global master trainer at The Center for Leadership Studies, emphasizes that the role of the manager has evolved. “As a manager today, it’s still about implementing strategy and driving results … while also providing a sense of purpose, flexibility and career opportunities.” This means that managers are expected to influence the right outcomes and behaviors on their teams and within the organization.

To enable employees to own their performance, managers must first become performance leaders. Performance leadership provides employees with the skills and knowledge needed to perform, rather than assume that they’re capable of completing tasks, or worse, micro-manage them. Performance leadership is essential to building a culture of performance because it influences employees to find purpose in their work and drive results.

Performance Ownership

To cultivate a culture of performance in the workplace, managers must empower their employees to take ownership of their own outcomes. In this process, according to McLean, managers can support employees by, “setting clear goals, helping people identify and develop strengths, building motivation, providing feedback and coaching people on how to achieve goals.”

By helping employees identify their strengths, managers can empower them to step confidently into their role as a leader. This can significantly impact team collaboration, innovation and productivity when everyone takes accountability of the contributions they can bring to the table.

“Developing employees means to build motivation and confidence,” McLean says. And this can be done through coaching and feedback, and actively helping employees reach their goals.

Finding a Common Language

For employees to lead their own performance, they must know how to initiate performance conversations — discussions focused on the employee’s performance needs. Learning leaders must give managers and employees a “common language” to engage in these conversations. This equips employees and managers with a framework to interact and communicate as a team.

For instance, the dominance, influence, steadiness and conscientious (DiSC) model is one example of an effective framework. DiSC® is a personality assessment tool that categorizes people based on four behavioral traits, creating a common framework for people in the organization to assess performance. Another effective framework for creating a common language is the ownership, which defines terms to identify different levels of ability and willingness to remove the biases and charged emotions that often come with performance conversations.

Powerful Questions for Healthy Dialogue

In addition to creating a common language, learning leaders should implement a framework for asking the right questions. Since leadership is driven by the dialogue and conversations leaders have with their employees, knowing the right questions to ask can help forge trusting relationships.

Powerful questions for leading performance:

  • “Now that I’ve explained the specifics of this task, can you repeat back to me what you heard to make sure we’re aligned?”
  • “What would improve your confidence on this task?”
  • “What are your biggest concerns on this task?”
  • “I’m glad you’re excited to work on this task. What do you know about it?”
  • “What do you need, if anything, from me?”

And employees need a framework of questions to ask for what they need, take ownership of their performance and lead these important conversations.

Powerful questions for owning performance:

  • “I’m not sure where to start. Can you provide more specifics to the process?”
  • “This is completely new to me. Are there any examples I can reference?”
  • “I’m excited about this opportunity, and I have some ideas. Is it a good time to share my thoughts and get your feedback?”
  • “I’m not sure our standard approach will work this time. What do you think of these alternative solutions?”
  • “I have a lot of experience with this. How should I keep you informed?”

Moving Forward

The goal of creating a common language for initiating performance conversations and a framework for asking powerful questions is to encourage your people to take ownership of their performance. When employees take ownership of their performance and outcomes, they can also become performance leaders.

This creates a performance culture in which everyone is held accountable for managing and enabling their own performance in the workplace. As a result, management teams can experience less stress and burnout, giving them the opportunity to focus on their own professional development, establish a better work-life balance and ultimately, lead their teams toward success.