Want To Boost Your Team’s Performance? Be An Avocado Leader

I had a conversation recently with a client who was talking about her team’s performance reviews. For some organisations, this is the “dreaded annual performance review”, but that isn’t the case for my client. They have a healthy approach to performance reviews (feedback culture, no surprises, not just a “ticking the box” exercise, etc.), but of course this is the first time they are doing performance reviews in the middle of a pandemic.

She asked me the very reasonable question:

“Should we consider external factors – like COVID, lockdown, and working from home – when assessing somebody’s performance?”

Of course, the answer is yes!

External circumstances should always play a role in assessing performance, because you’re measuring their results against a goal. And sometimes the goalposts move.

It works both ways. If your industry went through an unexpected boom and everybody was exceeding expectations, you would hold your people to higher standards, wouldn’t you? The same applies – in reverse – during a crisis. And if you can’t make allowances for a dip in performance during a once-in-a-century pandemic, when can you?

My client agreed, and that was her view as well. But she (and I) have heard of other organisations that don’t think that way. In other words, they are still judging their people on goals, targets, and outcomes that were set way before the pandemic.

But does that mean you wipe the slate clean?

No, of course not. You don’t have to give everybody a free pass. You can still assess their performance, but make allowances for the changed environment.

And you might need to change your leadership style, too.

As a leader, your official title might be a project manager, director, financial controller, General Manager, or whatever – but now you suddenly find yourself thrust into the role of a counsellor. Of course, you’re probably not a trained counsellor, and there are HR and EAP resources to provide that service. But you can’t just handball everything to them.

Maybe you need to be an “avocado leader”.

My fiancee Nikki, who’s a state manager for a medical device company, sent me a leadership article she read about “avocado leaders”, based on recent research from Macquarie University Business School and consultancy firm We Are Unity.

The research suggests we need a new kind of leader, who successfully strikes a balance between commercially-focussed business outcomes and empathetic people skills. Like an avocado, you have a hard core and a soft outer layer.

How can YOU be more of an avocado leader?

Of course, the best leaders have always got this right. They treat their people as people, not robots. At the same time, they also know performance matters.

But even if you think you’re already an avocado leader – and especially if you know you’re not – it’s worth considering what you can do to get better.

There’s no one-size-fits-all formula for finding the right balance. To find what might work best for you, ask yourself these questions:

  1. Have I been driving my people too hard to achieve the business goals? How can I be more empathetic to their personal situation?
  2. Have I been too soft with them because of external pressures? How can we re-focus on their business goals?

It might only take a few tweaks, or it might take some major changes. Either way, it’s worth the effort, because we need more avocado leaders now – and in the future.

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