From the Ask Tom mailbag –
Our culture is the worst. It is based on fear. Everyone walks around here on eggshells, tip-toeing around the CEO. We try our best, but there is always something wrong. We can take the truth about the screw-up, but the load that comes with it makes the person feel small and worthless. Even if I am not the target, I stand by and watch a co-worker on the receiving end of a scathing reprimand. It just makes me feel bad.
All crumbs lead to the top. Always. You have an accountability problem that shows up as a culture problem.
Many managers tell me they have to hold their people accountable. If an output goal is missed, the manager feels the need to bring it to the team members attention through a reprimand, warning or a scolding write-up in the employee file. (Oh no!) If the manager can muster an emotional, red-faced dressing-down, all the better. The manager must have truly held the team member accountable.
Understand, in all this froth, nothing changed. The output didn’t change. The behaviors that created the output didn’t change. Oh, wait. Something did change. The manager feels powerful and effective. But the only effect is that the team member feels bad.
People don’t perform better when they feel bad. Their breathing becomes shallow. Fear drives them into four unproductive responses –
- Fight (the boss is an asshole)
- Flight (I will hide, I will hide my work, my contribution will no longer be detectable)
- Freeze (Paralysis that freezes all decision making, including appropriate decision making)
- Appease (Sycophant behavior that never questions anything, the perfect “yes man”)
Accountability for output is misplaced. If an output goal is missed, it is not the team member I hold accountable. It is the manager. I hold the team member accountable for this one thing. I hold the team member accountable to come to work each and every day, with their full discretionary attention to do their best. That’s it.
It is the manager I hold accountable for their output. It is the manager who controls all the resources. It is the manager who selected the team member for the task. It is the manager who trained the team member in the necessary skills. It is the manager who provided the tools and equipment necessary for the task. It is the manager who controlled the working environment, the start time, the end time, the quality of raw materials. It is the manager I hold accountable for the output of the team member.
And, most often, it is the CEO I hold accountable, for the CEO is accountable for the output of the entire organization.
A reprimand is counter-productive to output. Output is made up of a number of variables –
- Working environment?
- Target completion time?
- Quality of raw materials?
Replace the reprimand with this question. What could we do differently to get the output we want? This is the only question that impacts output.
And, now, I am talking directly to the CEO. Your people can take the truth, not the load. Replace the reprimand with a question.