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Beyond the Bottom Line: Balancing People and Projects for High Performance

When it comes to leadership, one can argue leaders have two distinct but interrelated “buckets” that demand attention: People and Projects. Traditionally, the scales have tipped heavily towards the projects bucket, with leaders and managers investing considerable time, effort, and resources into achieving tangible outcomes. Receiving relatively less attention is the peoples bucket. If this imbalance is hard to believe, consider how many times per month meetings are conducted focusing specifically on projects and their progress compared to meetings that focus on people and their growth.  An imbalanced focusing on projects, whether unintentional or not, often overshadows an equally, arguably more critical aspect of organizational success: the people driving these projects forward. When feedback (type, amount, and frequency) favors projects over people, the consequences can ripple through the organization, impacting everything from employee motivation to team cohesion. Let's delve into the neuroscience behind feedback and explore why a more balanced approach could be the key to unlocking the potential of individuals and teams.


The Neuroscience of Feedback: A Double-Edged Sword

Feedback serves as the brain's guiding light, shaping behavior, fostering learning, and driving motivation. However, when feedback disproportionately focuses on projects, neglecting the personal contributions and growth of individuals, it can lead to several adverse outcomes:


  1. Diminished Motivation and Engagement: Positive feedback triggers the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with reward and motivation. A lack of personal recognition can lower dopamine responses, leading to decreased motivation and engagement among team members. This shift not only affects individual performance but also dampens the collective energy and enthusiasm of the team.

  2. Eroding Job Satisfaction and Well-being: Continuous project-centric feedback can make employees feel undervalued on a personal level, impacting their job satisfaction and mental health. The human brain craves recognition and social connection, integral components of psychological well-being. Without these, employees may experience feelings of isolation and stress, undermining their overall job satisfaction.

  3. Stunted Growth and Development: Feedback is crucial for personal development and skill acquisition. A project-focused feedback loop limits opportunities for individuals to grow, learn, and adapt. This neglect can hinder professional advancement and the cultivation of critical leadership and interpersonal skills, essential for navigating the complexities of today's work environment.

  4. Weakening Trust and Team Dynamics: Trust and team cohesion are foundational to effective leadership. An imbalance in feedback can erode trust, creating a perception that leaders value outcomes over people. This undermines the social bonds that are vital for a cohesive and collaborative team environment.

  5. Increased Turnover and Loss of Talent: In the long run, a lack of balanced feedback can lead to higher turnover rates. Talented individuals, yearning for recognition and growth opportunities, may seek environments where their contributions are valued both professionally and personally.

  6. Leadership Blind Spots: By focusing primarily on projects, leaders risk developing blind spots regarding their team's dynamics, needs, and potential. This oversight can limit a team's effectiveness, innovation, and ability to respond to challenges with agility and creativity.


The Path Forward: A Balanced Approach

To navigate these challenges, leaders and managers must strive to balance their focus between people and projects. This approach not only recognizes the contributions and achievements of individuals but also fosters a culture of growth, trust, and mutual respect. Here are a few strategies to consider:


  • Personalize Feedback: Tailor feedback to recognize the unique contributions and development needs of each team member. This personalized approach can boost motivation, engagement, and loyalty. And personalized feedback can only happen if you spend time and energy getting to know people.

  • Foster a Culture of Growth: Encourage continuous learning and development by providing opportunities for skill enhancement and professional growth. This investment in people signals that their personal and professional development is valued.

  • Build Trust Through Transparency: Open, frequent and honest communication builds trust. Share not only the "what" and the "how" of projects but also the "why," helping team members understand their role in the broader mission.

  • Celebrate Successes: Recognize and celebrate both project milestones and individual achievements. This dual focus reinforces the importance of both the work and the people doing the work.


The true measure of leadership success extends beyond project outcomes to include the well-being, growth, and satisfaction of the people behind those achievements. By balancing the scales between people and projects, leaders can cultivate an environment where motivation thrives, talent flourishes, and organizational goals are met with enthusiasm and commitment. Let's move beyond the bottom line, recognizing that the heart of every project, every mission is the people who bring it to life.


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