The success of any organization depends on members accomplishing goals; however, this is much easier said than done. Leaders must ensure that deadlines are met, followers are motivated, and organizational resources are properly used. That’s done through effective leadership. And doing so is an ongoing process. This is where task-oriented behaviors come in.
Task-oriented behaviors help leaders at each step of the process to ensure that followers effectively complete their tasks. We’ll discuss 4 behaviors that you can use to make sure that work is completed efficiently:
- Problem solving
To provide you with the best information possible, our research team have combed through years of research and dozens of peer-reviewed articles from psychology, organizational behavior, and cognition on task completion in organizations.
Task-oriented behavior 1: Plan with pictures and backups
Like an effective leader would, let’s begin with planning.
You may have heard this popular quote by Benjamin Franklin: “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” You might think that Franklin is being a little over-dramatic here, but research has consistently shown that planning is critical to organizational success. Planning entails properly prioritizing and organizing work, assigning tasks, scheduling activities, and distributing resources. Countless planning techniques exist, but a common thread throughout all of these techniques is to design visual depictions of what tasks need done and when these tasks are due.
Common helpful apps include:
Gantt chart technique: This method involves breaking down a project into a variety of tasks and plotting those tasks onto a time chart. The Gantt chart includes information about the time it takes to complete tasks and who will complete those tasks.
Below is a simplified version of a Gantt chart. Although the Gantt chart has become increasingly popular, researchers have questioned its effectiveness. This is primarily because it cannot help manage uncertainty or change in plans, which are common problems in our current dynamic information environment. Therefore, when creating a Gantt chart be sure to prepare contingency plans for tasks that require a lot of attention and resources.
Task-oriented behavior 2: Communicate clearly
Poor communication and misunderstandings have substantial negative impacts on employee-reported morale, goal completion, and even lost sales. Effective leaders must clarify and enhance understanding among their followers across multiple domains, including work responsibilities and tasks; objectives, priorities, and deadlines; performance standards; and relevant rules and policies.
So how can leaders more clearly communicate this plethora of information?
Create a handbook of general policies and procedures. No leader can clarify things for their followers every day. Nor do you want to spend time explaining the same rules or expectations to multiple people. Instead, create easy to understand policies and procedures and place these in a handbook. Most handbooks contain basic information about employee responsibilities and rules. But organizations should tailor them for their specific needs, which might range from safety procedures to employee perks.
During training, ensure employees are aware of the handbook, know what types of information it includes, and can easily access it.
Use meetings for more specific communication. Policy handbooks can clarify broad organizational expectations, but chances are that they won’t cover the details of what each individual needs to do for their specific, and likely ever-changing, job assignment. This is why you need to hold regular meetings with followers.
Although meetings have a bad rap, well-run meeting impact followers’ job satisfaction and organizational success. Fortunately, researchers have identified ways to make meetings effective. In short, effective meetings come down to clarity, pragmatic focus, and a little fun.
So how exactly can you implement that?
1. Ensure each meeting has a clear objective. Although starting with brief socialization may be helpful to build trust and morale, staying on topic is critical for meeting effectiveness. Create a meeting agenda and distribute it to followers prior to the meeting so the purpose is obvious.
2. Respect people’s time: start meetings on time and don’t run longer than needed. Start promptly even if everyone has not arrived. This is not just an issue about saving people time. When meetings start late, people are less likely to problem solve, elaborate on ideas, and support other meeting members.
Moreover, ensure meetings are only as long and as frequent as needed. There is no agreed upon standard about how many meetings should be held within a week or how long these meetings should last. It is important, however, to monitor follower work demands. If possible, schedule meetings for less busy days, so they are better able to focus and contribute. And end meetings when the objective has been met; don’t talk just to “fill the hour.”
3. Use procedural communication. Procedural communication is a form of conversation that explains
- who will complete the tasks,
- when the tasks will be completed, and
- how to complete the tasks.
This may be the most important tip to follow because procedural communication keeps meetings focused and reduces dysfunctional meeting behaviors, such as complaining or criticizing others.
4. Identify and encourage solution seekers. Be sure to recognize meeting members who try to find solutions to problems. These solution seekers help promote new ideas and see the ideas through to completion. If some workers have complaints, ask them to develop feasible solutions for their grievances. People who chronically complain during meetings bring everyone down and hinder innovation.
5. Have some fun. Up to this point it may seem that you act like a robot to make sure you hold a successful meeting, but this is not true. Humor during meetings actually promotes procedural communication, supportive behaviors, and problem solving. They key is to stay on topic and avoid sarcastic remarks.
Task-oriented behavior 3: Monitor and provide helpful performance reviews
Perhaps in an ideal world, leaders would simply inform followers of their tasks, and followers would complete them on time perfectly. But we live in the real world, where followers often hit unexpected struggles, get off track, or simply make mistakes.
Thus, effective leaders monitor their followers. The information gleaned from monitoring can be used to identify issues and increase follower performance. Unfortunately, many organizations struggle with performance monitoring. To ensure that performance monitoring is not a weakness of your organization, let’s discuss what you should focus on.
Determine your monitoring style. Leaders can monitor followers’ behavior through the use of active management-by-exception (micro-managing), passive management-by-exception (hands-off management), or active-constructive management. Active-constructive management–which involves regular check-ins, anticipating problems, and providing problem-based feedback–is usually the most effective.
Improve performance reviews. Regardless of which monitoring style you use, a vital and sometimes nerve-wracking aspect of monitoring is performance evaluations. Performance evaluations are a way to monitor follower performance with the intent to develop followers’ skills.
Often performance evaluations include several domains in which leaders rate their followers. These ratings are supposed to provide followers with quantifiable evidence of their performance; however, many performance evaluations do not help improve performance. One reason is that performance evaluations do not fit a one size fits all approach–followers should be evaluated based on specific organizational and team goals.
With this in mind, here are some useful tips to ensure that your performance evaluations are tailored to your team’s goals and will improve your employees’ performance
- Involve the employees. Allow followers to help design the performance evaluation. The idea here is simple. Employees who have an opportunity to have their voice heard are more likely to view ratings as fair.
- Identify specific areas of performance (e.g., ability to meet deadlines, ability to work well with others) and overall performance ratings. This is helpful because ratings in specific areas provide followers with information about what areas they should improve. Alternatively, ratings on overall performance provides followers with an idea about their general contributions to the organization.
- Provide informal feedback frequently and conduct formal evaluations once or twice a year. Performance evaluations should not contain any surprising information. This requires regular communication of performance standards with your followers. Ideally, you will be able to communicate to employees whether they’ve met your expectations after completing each task. If you cannot make this happen, do so at least once a month.
- Do not rely on your memory for ratings. Our memories of events are easily influenced by a variety of factors, such as our mood and timing of an event. Do not let these unintentional biases influence your ratings of followers. To minimize the impact with memory recall, keep a diary, or written track record, of your thoughts about your followers’ performance.
- Link ratings to objective results.That is, focus on the observable outcomes of an employee’s work. For instance, if you rated a follower as average within a particular domain, provide the employee with specific examples of when their work did not exceed expectations and how they can improve.
Task-oriented behavior 4: Problem solving
So what happens when your effective monitoring has uncovered problems? Effective problem solving behaviors help manage and minimize disruptions of normal organizational operations.
There is not a single solution for every problem. But researchers have identified a core set of processes required for effective problem solving. The first three processes are about defining the problem and generating solutions, whereas the final process is about choosing the solution to implement.
Step A: problem construction. Problem construction requires clarifying and defining the problem as well as identifying the goals, procedures, restrictions, and information needed to solve the problems.
How you construct the problem will have a substantial impact on producing viable solutions. So leaders must get their followers to come up with a variety of ways to frame a problem. In other words, it is beneficial to look at a problem from multiple perspectives.
Be prepared to spend a lot of time at this step. The time spent at this stage, however, will pay off. Researchers have shown that people who spend more time formulating a problem produce solutions higher in quality and innovation compared to those who spend little time thinking through this process.
Step B: Information searching and compiling. Next you must focus attention on gathering and integrating a large and diverse set of information. Searching for quality information enhances the originality and appropriateness of solutions to problems.
One of the easiest and most effective avenues for enhancing information search is simply to provide employees with access to information and with the time needed to search for that information. This might mean providing them with:
- databases or records,
- permission to contact outsiders like vendors or workers in other departments, and
- encouragement to think broadly and creatively.
Without this access and time, most people search only for the most recent and easily accessible information, and fail to consider other helpful information.
Of course, leaders should encourage followers to identify relevant information rather than simply as much information as possible. However, be careful not to provide cues or specific directions that may cause followers to focus their search on what you already think is important or relevant. This will cause followers to fixate on a specific course of action and limit novel ideas.
Step C: Solution generation. Simply put, this requires people to come up with a variety of solutions to a problem. To come up with innovate solutions, leaders can have followers engage in decomposition and brainstorming..
- Decomposition entails breaking down complex problems into a set of sub-problems.
- Brainstorming involves having a group of people produce a list of solutions for a problem. Ideally team members should brainstorm independently before sharing their ideas with others.
Although these strategies are excellent at producing a large quantity of solutions, they are not always great at coming up with creative ideas. If creativity is important, leaders should instruct followers to focus on information that seems unrelated to the problem or have followers think more in-depth about the meaning of information.
Do not be discouraged if you and your followers are not creating innovative solutions. Novel solutions typically arise in the later stages of the idea generation process. And sometimes the best solution is simple or obvious.
Step D: Idea evaluation. Here leaders and followers assess the viability of every solution generated and pinpoint which solution or set of solutions will be implemented. In doing so, identify unintended consequences and potential obstacles associated with each solution. Identifying the possible consequences and obstacles will allow you to determine the best way to implement a solution and come up with any contingency plans that need to be formulated.
Given that idea evaluation requires critiquing and dismissing solutions rather than generating them, steps 1–3 will not work here. Instead, leaders should promote convergent thinking; that is, you and your followers need to narrow down the list of possible solutions to a single solution that can be practically implemented.
Recap of effective leadership implementation in a 4-step process
Getting work done is perhaps the most fundamental part in determining what makes an organization successful. As a leader, you should focus your attention on 4 specific task-oriented behaviors: planning, clarifying information, monitoring follower performance, and problem solving. Each task behavior has a subset of actions that you can perform to ensure organizational objectives are accomplished.