The Intelligence and National Security Alliance (INSA) “Assessing the Mind of a Malicious Insider” teaches that leaders and managers sequestered from their people, who do not take a genuine interest in their people, simply do not know what’s really going on in their organizations. Carried to its logical and its worst end, that kind of leadership negligence can be devastating. But there are some mitigation techniques. Here are two important ways leaders and managers can effectively engage with and respond to their employees’ needs, for important reasons.


According to INSA, simply and genuinely caring about people is one of the most important aspects of heading off home-grown insider threats. And one of the most effective—and, in my experience, most neglected—way for leaders and managers at every level to demonstrate that they care about their people are performance management conversations that help employees find their work fulfilling and their job environment welcoming and encouraging. And, of course, effective performance management tailored to support organizational objectives and today’s employees’ needs is a combat multiplier for company success.

Good performance management counts not only when an employee finds herself or himself in a personal or professional crisis, but when all is going well, too. In fact, it’s effective performance management when things are going their best that pays off most when employees face those inevitable personal and professional challenges. INSA argues that “a strong personal relationship can help individuals weather a period of job dissatisfaction. Similarly, a positive work environment and feelings of professional reward can carry them through a period of marital stress.”


Fulfillment needs for today’s generation are vastly different from those of older generations. In the past, Gallup reports, employees’ needs emphasized paycheck, personal satisfaction, annual reviews, and charting weaknesses. These days, fulfillment is about purpose, development, being coached to success, conversation and interactions, personal strength, and life—which means life inside and outside work. “The needs of the changing workforce,” writes Gallup, “reflect why a company’s performance development program should continually clarify expectations; review progress frequently in a constructive, future-oriented way; and focus on developing and applying employees’ strengths.”

According to Gallup’s findings, today’s employees have two fundamental needs that managers and leaders need meet to achieve optimum performance and, by extension, optimum loyalty to the leadership and the organization: expectation management and accountability.


“Employees want their manager,” reports Gallup, “to provide clear expectations and help them prioritize what they should do next — and they do not want to wait for an annual review to receive that direction. Understandably. As pejorative as it might seem, employees born into a world in which information is literally at one’s fingertips need answers. Now. Not six or 12 months from now. As the pace for the larger organization increases, so increases the pace for information, updates, and guidance for employees. It is absolutely not enough to engage an employee once a year, once every six months, for 30 minutes and be done with it. Effective managers and leaders will routinely engage with employees on expectations, direction, priorities, progress, and the like.


According to Gallup, employees “need their manager to know what they are working on and to coach them toward excellence — because talented, dedicated employees want to be held accountable for their performance.” Yes! Employees want to be held accountable. Why? Managers and leaders can’t hold employees accountable for the quality of their work if managers don’t really know—or, in the mind of the employee, really care—what the employee is doing. That means managers and leaders have to know what’s being produced by an employee, why it’s being produced, and how those products are advancing the larger project. If it is not important for a leader or manager to know that, then either the larger project may be unnecessary, or the employee’s talents could be better used elsewhere, where the talents are of value to larger company objectives. Indeed, for the most part, I think, that’s what employees want—to be part of a team contributing in tangible ways to organizational success. Effective performance management sees to it.

Remember that an “initially loyal employee does not suddenly transform into a malicious insider.” If INSA’s right, that means productive, effective, engaging, caring employee performance management is not only a good idea, it’s a duty—for employees and the agency.

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Ed Ledford enjoys the most challenging, complex, and high stakes communications requirements. His portfolio includes everything from policy and strategy to poetry. A native of Asheville, N.C., and retired Army Aviator, Ed’s currently writing speeches in D.C. and working other writing projects from his office in Rockville, MD. He loves baseball and enjoys hiking, camping, and exploring anything. Follow Ed on Twitter @ECLedford.