Category Archives: Accountability

Separated From the Group

“And, what happens when that social network of people is interrupted, where the person becomes separated?” Pablo asked. “And that separation could be physical separation, or mental separation.”

“Do you mean, like sending a technician out in the field, alone, as a team of one?” I floated.

“Perhaps,” Pablo replied. “Or excluding someone from a meeting in which they had a vested interest. Remember, the lions, tigers and bears are not so physical anymore. There are a hundred things leaders can do to disconnect team members from the group. Sometimes, as leaders, we create that disconnection without thinking. And when we create disconnection, it shifts the mental state of the individual into distress. That mental state of disengagement, can be incredibly corrosive. I bet you already have someone in mind, who is in a state of disconnection, and whose behavior you see as counterproductive (at best).”

I nodded. “Stands out like a sore thumb.”

“But, let’s bring this down to work, because that’s what we are really talking about. It is not my purpose to teach you to be warm and fuzzy with your team. We are here to get work done. Let’s create a list of characteristics where the mental state is in work mode vs non-work mode.”

  • Work vs Non-work
  • Positive vs Negative
  • Productive vs Unproductive
  • Cooperative vs Collusive
  • Scientific vs Unscientific
  • Conscious vs Unconscious

“And what is more contagious that a positive attitude?” Pablo smiled.

I nodded again. “A negative attitude.”

Lost in Digital

“But, there are no real lions, tigers and bears, at least not in the workplace,” I smiled. “So the issue of safety, physical safety, shouldn’t be an issue. My team members are safe, whether they work in the office, or they work from home.”

Pablo grinned. “The physical threats of days gone by are the psychological threats of today. We need to be together physically and we need to be together emotionally. The perceived threat of isolation is as powerful as the real threat. That is why the body language of communication is so important. A high percentage of what we communicate is non-verbal. What we can see in another person visually completes the content. What we communicate through words is mostly data. But, have you ever sent an email where the emotional content was completely overlooked, misconstrued or ignored? What we communicate non-verbally is trust, rejection, appreciation, agreement, disagreement, encouragement.”

“But in any teleconference, we can see the other person’s face, we can hear their tone of voice,” I observed. “It is truly almost like being there.”

“Almost, we assume,” Pablo replied. “Why is it, that even remote workers, when it comes to performance feedback, formal or informal, want the context of the feedback in person? What is it about the physical presence of two people, in proximity? We have meetings over teleconference, but have you ever asked someone to have lunch over teleconference. It works well for data, not so much for breaking bread. The emotional connection we all seek, in which we work the best, where we are most productive is often lost in a digital platform.”

Our Best Work

“So, it’s not a control thing?” I asked.

“Wanting people back in the office sounds like a control directive,” Pablo replied. “I am sure some team members see it that way. But, your call to reassemble, physically in the workplace, is more of an invitation. It is an invitation to collaborate, to break bread, to share the workload and ideas.”

“You’re not going soft on me are you, Pablo?” I was curious.

“Not at all,” he replied. “When we are together, when we are safe, we can do our best work.”

Time to Step Up

“I am ready to throw up my hands. I have come up with eight ways to Sunday for our route technicians to do a better job on their service calls. I am ready to do a Flutie drop kick and just let them deal with it.” Russell commiserated, hoping I would be sympathetic.

“Well, I think it’s a good idea,” I said.

“What do you mean?” replied Russell, still looking for sympathy.

“I mean, I think you should call your technicians together and let them deal with it. Look, the problem isn’t that your ideas are bad; the problem is they are your ideas. If you want your technicians to do a better job on service calls, the ideas have to come from them.

“One of the biggest mistakes young managers make is thinking that you have to solve all the problems of the world. You don’t. Spread the burden. You will be surprised at how your technicians will step up to the plate.”

Mailing It In

“I’m stumped,” Susana announced. “I talk to my team, give them their assignments, so they know what to do, but then, it just seems they mail it in.”

“Meaning?” I asked. “Mail it in?”

“I can’t put my finger on it,” she said. “The team shows up for work. They show up on time. They do the work, but it doesn’t seem they care. I tried to talk to a couple of them about it, but they just shrugged it off.”

“I know what a shrug looks like, but what did they say?”

“They said the work was okay, that if they wanted something more out of their job, they would just go find it somewhere else. I was a little shocked. I mean, when I was growing up, jobs were scarce, and I felt lucky to just have a job. Finding another job wasn’t easy.”

“And, how did you feel about that job?” I wanted to know.

Susana stopped. “You know, I guess it was just okay.”

“Kind of like your current team?”

Susana nodded.

“So, what is different between your experience and your current team’s experience?” I asked.

“I used to think it was all about the unemployment rate. You know, supply and demand. Right now, there are lots of available jobs, so I guess it follows that mobility, free agency is pretty high.”

“And, what is the cost of that free agency, to you as a manager?”

“Turnover is a killer. I thought when we came out of COVID, when people’s government money ran out, there would be a glut of applicants looking for work. But the labor market is tight. Finding people, finding the right people, getting them trained up, letting them make a few mistakes is expensive.” Susana shrugged. “Then, if they are the wrong fit, I have to start all over again.”

“Is this just happening to you, or is it happening to other companies, too?”

“You can read about it in the press. It’s all over,” she replied.

“I know you pay competitive wages, so it’s not all about the money. Your work is no more, no less interesting than your competitor’s, so what is it, that would give your company, your team, a leg up in team member engagement?”

The Relationship

So, I left Shannon to ponder why. Why was she drawn to be a manager? I asked you the same question.

Shannon was promoted to manager as the next thing in her career. It was different than she thought it would be. She thought being a manager would make her more important (it does). Being a manager provides authority to tell people what to do (prescribing authority).

The additional compensation doesn’t last. Being important may stroke a manager’s ego, but that ego trip wears thin very fast in the face of accountability. It’s not about the manager. It’s about the relationship between the manager and the team member. Shannon’s report –

“But you were right. It wasn’t for the money. It wasn’t so I could order people around. I just want to make a difference. A difference for the company, a difference for the people on my team and to make a difference for me.”

It seems that Shannon has a cause. But having a cause is not enough. To be a truly effective manager, Shannon has to be had by the cause. And it take some time to understand the cause, to be had by it.

We Improvise

“Not one plan, but four plans?” I wanted confirmation from Roberto.

He nodded. “I was in the Marines. We had a saying, ‘We don’t plan. We improvise.’ But, improvisation only works if you are prepared with a plan. What’s the first part of every plan?”

“Purpose,” I replied. “We all have intentions, mostly unspoken. A plan is created when intentions become a documented purpose.”

“Improvisation only works when there is a commonly agreed-to purpose,” Roberto continued. “Without a purpose, improvisation becomes chaos. The chaos may be interesting, but it accomplishes little. Purpose drives the next step.”

“Visualization,” I replied.

“Everyone on the team must agree to the purpose and hold a similar vision of what that future state looks like,” Roberto explained.

“How do we know the picture each holds is close to the same picture of their elbowed teammate?”

“Simple,” Roberto grinned. “They talk to each other. It’s a discussion. It is the necessary work of improvisation. When all hell breaks loose, we have to be prepared to make the micro-decisions of the moment, in concert. Serendipity doesn’t happen by random chance. Serendipity is all about our intentions.”

“And?”

“And only then can we create the mile markers to chart our progress, the goals, objectives of our micro-decisions. What looks like serendipity only occurs when we create the context of a plan in which to operate. It may appear we are winging it, but our actions require preparation to be effective toward our purpose.”

Discretion in the Quality of the Data

“You describe the role as entry level. The output must conform to strict guidelines, which creates the quality standard. What are the decisions that must be made in connection with the work?”

Arlene was shaking her head from side to side. “We don’t allow a lot of latitude with this work. Sending prescription drugs by common carrier is serious business.”

“You think you don’t allow latitude. In fact, you tell your team members there isn’t a lot of latitude, when in fact there is. There are a ton of decisions that must be made.”

Arlene was quiet.

“Look, most of the prescribed duties involve collecting data from your customers to determine their qualifications. While it seems cut and dried, there are many decisions that must be made about the quality of their responses, the accuracy and completeness of the data.

  • Is the customer address we have on file their current mailing address?
  • Is the customer mailing address the same as the shipping address?
  • Is the telephone number we have on file a mobile number we can send a confirmation text message to?
  • Will the shipping priority we have on file assure the product reaches the customer on time?
  • If the customer does not answer the door, is it okay to leave the product on the front porch, or is there another more secure location?

“The difference between ok performance and outstanding performance is not in filling out the forms, but in the decisions related to the quality of the data that goes on the forms. The job may be completing the forms, but the work is the decisions that must be made.

“An important discussion between the manager and the team member is not about the forms, but about those decisions.”

Entry Level Work, Not Cut and Dried

“I still don’t know what you are getting at,” Arlene shook her head. “It’s entry level work. You are right, it’s not that interesting.”

“Don’t be so swift,” I reprimanded. “Let’s talk about this entry-level work. First, what is work?”

Arlene was looking up, retrieving the answer planted in her mind some weeks ago. “I remember. Work is making decisions and solving problems.”

“Okay. And what decisions must be made in connection with this entry-level work?”

“It’s pretty cut and dried,” Arlene related. “Our work is highly regulated. Everything we do has to be within very specific guidelines.”

“And what if it’s not cut and dried,” I challenged. “You see, the guidelines you work under only set the quality standards for the output. Let’s ask the question again. What decisions must be made in connection with this work? And as we answer, I think you will find this work is quite a bit more than entry-level.”