Everwise Answers: How to Push Your Team Hard — Without Making Them Hate You

By Mike BergelsonMay 6, 2014

On the Everwise Answers forum, we post a business dilemma, case study, or question direct from our high-potential protégés and ask the experienced mentors in our community to give their advice. These are their expert opinions. For more business best practices delivered right to your inbox, sign up here.

It’s one of the greatest dilemmas for managers: You want to push your team to do better, but without making people resent you. Our Everwise mentors give tips on driving your team hard, while keeping their loyalty and enthusiasm.


This is the scenario:

As a global director at a 15,000 person pharmaceutical company, Sara has ten managers directly reporting to her. She’s very results-oriented and pushes her team hard but worries that, because she’s so demanding, she could come across as not caring about them.

How can Sara drive a high performance culture without making her team hate coming to work (or her)?

Here’s a summary of our mentors’ best advice:

1. Lead by Example

The most popular recommendation was for Sara to win her team’s respect by showing that she’s willing to roll up her sleeves and do the hard work herself, too.

Everwise mentor Paul Karlitz, Managing Director at Lenox Advisors, has personally seen the value of “showing my direct reports that I’d never ask / expect anything from them that I wouldn’t (or hadn’t) done myself.” He says that pitching in to help is “a sign of solidarity, empathy and how much you value / appreciate them.”

Andre Andrade, CEO at Novitech Serviços & Tecnologia, says: “Sara should take the lead and do several tasks herself, showing the team how she does it and what the expected outcomes are. In very little time the team will understand how Sara works and what she’s demanding from them. I’ve done this more than once, always with positive results.”

2. Differentiate

Those ten people that Sara manages are all different individuals, so it’s important to find out what motivates each of them. Her hard-driving approach may work for some people, says Emma Canter, Head of HR at Direct Energy, but others may need more support and encouragement.

“Successful leaders spend time learning what motivates each person in their team and then tailoring their approach to get the most out of each person,” she says. “It’s not a one size fits all approach. Stopping, listening and observing are key to understanding what about your style is working and what’s not.”

3. Be Human

Instead of worrying about how she comes across to her direct reports, Sara could simply ask them. But to get meaningful answers, she first needs to establish trust and develop a personal rapport.

“Work hard, play hard” is the advice from Robert Guglielmo, a recruiter in New York City. “Have team lunches, and functions outside the office. Take a few minutes each week to just sit and chat with the team to see what else is going on.”

Trey Noel, Chief Financial Officer, NextGxDx, adds that Sara needs to show she cares about more than just performance and results: “The employee’s background, interests, family, goals and motivators need to be understood. These attributes are only shared with some element of personal and individual interaction, not gained through questionnaires, 360 reviews or other sources.”

4. Be Clear

Is Sara setting clear, achievable goals, and confirming them with her team? If she is, then she shouldn’t have a problem, says Vipul Sheth, VP of QA for Coronary and Peripheral at Medtronic Vascular.

“Most times, when goals and objectives are clear, reasonable / achievable and are mutually accepted, then employees are excited to achieve them,” he says. “It is only when goals are either unclear, unachievable and not backed with appropriate and timely recognition, that employees get frustrated and disengaged.”

As well as setting clear goals, it’s important to communicate to the team exactly why they are important, and how they fit into the bigger picture, says Dinesh Bettadapur, President of Next Level Consulting:

“It all starts and ends with good communication. Sara needs to ensure that she has clearly communicated the performance expectations to her team and obtained their inputs and eventual buy-in. As part of that, she needs to have shared the vision and goals for her group and perhaps even the division and how each team member is playing a significant role in helping the group / division realize its vision / goals.”

5. Celebrate

If you’re pushing people hard, you need to give plenty of praise when they do meet your demanding expectations.

Always show your appreciation in public, and criticize in private, advises Ashutosh Labroo, Director of Human Capital at ISS India. Public praise not only makes the employee feel motivated and appreciated, but also motivates other people by creating “a culture where others know that when they do good, Sara will notice and make them feel like a star.”

If you’re too harsh on people when they don’t measure up, you’ll just find that they set lower expectations in future, says Steve Betts, founder of consulting firm Steve Betts Associates. It’s better to “encourage them to set stretch targets, but don’t blame them if they are not achieved.”

6. Go on Vacation

Joe Smith, Director of Innovation at Mental Robotics, offers a unique suggestion. Like some of the other mentors, he recommends celebrating good results and coming up with ways to motivate different people. But he also says managers can learn a lot from what happens when they’re not around:

“I also suggest taking a 3 or 4 week vacation and analyzing (privately) how productive the teams were… If they were more productive… then someone should definitely lighten up.”


Here are some useful books our mentors suggested reading for further ideas:

The Mentors

Curious about where this advice came from? Or want to connect with the mentors we’ve featured? Here are their details:

For more Q&As on key leadership issues, click here to register for the Everwise Answers forum.


Mike Bergelson

Mike Bergelson

CEO at Everwise

About the Author

Mike Bergelson is the CEO and a co-founder of Everwise, a talent development startup that connects employees to the people, development resources and experiences they need to thrive at every stage of their career.

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