Tag Archives: performance

Getting the Team to Take Accountability

“So, Reggie, here is my challenge to you. In what way can you get your managers to talk about those behaviors instead of you?”

“But I’m the manager,” Reggie protested. “I thought I was the one to set the direction. I thought I was the one to give the marching orders. I thought it was my responsibility to tell them what to do. It’s my responsibility to manage them.”

“Reggie, people don’t want to be managed. People want to be lead. It is your responsibility to set the direction, but from there, your role becomes leadership. How do you get people to think? How do you get people to consider different alternatives? How do you get people talking?”

Reggie was quick to respond, “That’s easy. You just ask them questions. But I have tried that before and most times, I don’t get any response.”

“And why don’t you get a response. What’s the problem? What’s going on the mind of your team member?”

“Well,” Reggie started, “sometimes they just don’t have anything to say, and sometimes they are afraid to say anything.”

“Where does that fear come from?” I continued.

Reggie stopped. “I guess they don’t want to be wrong.”

“How could you change that? How could you create an environment of trust, where no matter the contribution, it was accepted and valued?”

First, Define the Behavior

“So, you tell me. What could we do differently to get the behaviors we want that drive the results that we want?” Reggie insisted.

“You already have the first two steps,” I began. “The first thing you did was define the purpose for the program. You said the purpose to keep your managers focused on the company’s goals and to engage in behaviors to create those results.” Reggie nodded his head in agreement.

“Your second step was to communicate those behaviors you identified to drive the results you wanted, right? You did that in your individual KRA meetings.” Reggie continued to nod his head.

“So, if you didn’t have the bonus program, in two cases you would have achieved the results you wanted anyway, three of your managers would not have spent counterproductive time trying to game your gross margin system, and your other two more of your managers would not have become discouraged halfway through the quarter?”

“Okay, I’m with you,” Reggie interrupted. “But, what can I do differently, to make sure I get the behaviors I want?”

“Every week, you sat down with each manager and reviewed the behaviors you wanted, right? And each week, each manager promised to try very hard to do what you talked about, yes?”


“So, stop talking about it. You stop talking about those behaviors.” Reggie looked puzzled. I continued, “The wrong person is doing all the talking. You stop talking. Your management team need to be talking about this stuff, not you. The first thing that needs to change is who is doing the talking.

“So, Reggie, here is my challenge to you. In what way can you get your management team to talk about those behaviors instead of you?”

Does Bonus Drive Performance?

“So, tell me Reggie, what exactly were you trying to accomplish with the bonus system? Because that is where we have start our discussion. What was the purpose?” I asked.

“The purpose, well, you know. I want my managers to stay focused, to have the company’s best interest at heart, to take that one more phone call before going home,” Reggie replied.

“And how did you communicate this to each of your managers?”

“Well, once a year, we sit down and look at their job. We break it down into Key Result Areas, then create a goal in each area, for the year. We attach dollars to each of the goals, to be paid quarterly. We are doing it just the way our consultant told us to do it.”

“And what are the results?”

“It’s all over the board. Two managers made most of their KRAs, but I don’t think they did anything special, it just happened. Three other managers did some suspect things to manipulate the numbers into the last quarter, so they got their bonus, but, they didn’t really achieve the goal, it just looked like it. And two other managers, well, they missed their targets, in fact, they quit trying about halfway through the quarter.” Reggie stopped. He didn’t like his own expert opinion on this.

“So, by your assessment, the bonus program achieved results in two cases, but you figure those results would have occurred with or without a bonus program. And in five other cases, the bonus program created manipulation or became a disincentive to performance,” I restated.

“Yes, that’s it. So, you tell me. What could we do differently to get the behaviors we want that drive the results that we want?”

Only Measure of Performance

“I have a dilemma,” Sylvia explained. “I have a team member who consistently underperforms. And, every time I ask what happened, to try to find out what went wrong, the cause of the project failure, I always get a plausible reason. I understand why the project failed and it’s not this person’s fault. My dilemma is, I have a make or break project that needs to go to this person, but I hesitate to assign it.”

“Is this person competent in completing assigned projects?” I asked.

“Not in completing them,” she defended, “but, there is always a plausible explanation.”

“Do you need the project completed, or do you need an explanation?” I pressed, not waiting for an answer. “It sounds like your team member doesn’t get better at performing. Your team member gets better at explaining why the underperformance is never their fault. Your team member gets better at an explanation that you actually believe. The measure of performance is not an explanation. The only measure of performance is performance.”

Short bow to Lee Thayer, Leadership, Thinking, Being, Doing.

What Were They Thinking?

“I don’t understand,” Geoff began. “We had a meeting. I explained the new way things were going to be done. A couple of people asked questions. Everyone on the team agreed.”

“And?” I asked.

“And when I took a look at the work today, nothing was changed. It was done the same as before without the changes,” he replied. “I don’t know what they are thinking.”

“If you want to know what someone is thinking, watch what they do. People say and agree to all kinds of things. As a manager, never mistake what someone says for what they can do or will do. Don’t listen for their agreement, watch what they do.”

The Team Will Never Be Much Better Than the Leader

“So, I have the team I deserve,” Sheri nodded.

“Yes,” I agreed. “And understand the team you have, will never be much better than you. If you want the team to get better, who has to get better first?”

Sheri was still nodding in agreement, but while her head was moving, her brain was pushing back. She still wanted to lay the blame on her team. “Okay, the team did not do what they were supposed to do, but you seem to say that it is my fault.”

“Fault, schmaltz,” I chuckled. “I don’t care whose fault it is. But, I do hold you accountable for the output of the team. All crumbs, always, lead to the manager. As the manager, you control all the resources for the team. You control the work instructions, you pick the team, you pick the number of people on the team. You pick the roles for people to play, you design the workflow. I hold the team member accountable for showing up and doing their best, but I hold the manager accountable for the output.”
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How to Hold Someone Accountable

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

I very much enjoy your blog and always find improvement opportunities within your messages.  As you point out rather frequently, holding the right people accoutable is crucial.  In that regard, I would like to ask, what different ways have you found effective in “holding people accountable” beyond expressing your dissatisfaction with their performance, formal performance improvement requirments (PIP)  or replacing them?  I would like to know what tools/techniques you recommend and believe most effective.

Here is my short list –

  • Raising my voice.
  • Repeated criticism.
  • Frequent complaining.
  • Public flogging.

The person who believes these methods effective is someone who has no children.  None of these work.  I spent several hours with one of my executive groups on this very issue and at the end of the day, here was our conclusion.  The only person who can truly hold me accountable is me.  All other forms of harassment are largely ineffective.  Self-accountability is the only path.

Yet, we still say that we have to hold someone accountable.  My definition of a manager is that person held accountable for the output of their team.  So I say it, too.

So, here’s a better list of conditions required for self-accountability.

  • Make the expectation (of output) clear.
  • Ensure the availability of required resources.
  • Validate the required skills and sufficient practice for the task.
  • Match the persons capability with the capability required for the task (measured in time span).
  • Ensure the person places a high value on the work (interest or passion for the work).
  • Ensure the person engages in reasonable behaviors required to complete the task.

If we still observe underperformance or misbehavior, we have to make a judgment as to the cause.  Then we have to make a judgment if this cause can be corrected.

How to Build Trust

“What do you mean – No surprises?” Rachel quizzed. “My team member must know that this conversation is coming. Everyone is constantly correcting his mistakes, making him do re-work.”

“So, you want to keep him guessing? You see, surprise works both ways. As his manager, you are surprised when he under-performs, fails to meet a deadline or turns in work with mistakes. What happens to your trust, when you, as a manager, are Surprised?”

“The trust level goes down,” Rachel replied. “It’s at the point now, where there is almost no trust at all.”

“So, as the manager, you are surprised when your team member fails to meet a deadline, and your team member is going to be surprised when you have an accountability conversation with him?”

Rachel nodded, silently, her eyes darting back in her brain. Finally, she spoke. “And we don’t trust each other. So, how do I prevent surprises when I go into this accountability conversation?”

“Pretty simple, really. No surprises, no ambushes. When you schedule the conversation, tell him the subject of the conversation will be about his current performance on the Phoenix project and the improvements we need going forward.”

The blood was draining from Rachel’s face. The truth does that, sometimes.

Chocolate Mess, Related to a VP

From the Ask Tom mailbag:


I was hired into the company six months ago, in a managerial role. One of my team members, a supervisor, was promoted beyond his capability. It’s a mess, but a mess that I inherited. This guy is not a bad person, he means well, just over his head. Oh, did I mention, he’s related to one of the Vice-Presidents?


You are doing no one favors by leaving this person in a role where they consistently underperform, no matter who they are related to. This person may be doing their best, but pace and quality suffers.

The fix is managerial work for you. Your options range from modifying parts of the role to a complete reassignment to a different role. If you intend to modify the role, you will need to break it down into Key Result Areas and determine which parts of the role are done well, reassign the rest to someone else. In your assessment, take a look at the history of this person, what were their previous positions and how well did they do? Everyone has competence, somewhere, you just have to find it.

The political part, being related to a current VP, will require some finesse, but will likely be easier than you think. If you truly have a chocolate mess on your hands, everyone already knows it, they just don’t talk about. And yes, the VP knows it, too. You will be doing the VP a favor if you can determine a more suitable position.

The Measure of Performance

From the Ask Tom mailbag:

I attended one of your workshops last week. How do you evaluate the Potential Capability of prospective or current employees, using Time Span as the metric?

While this sounds like a simple question, there are many elements to it. Your question is all about Capability.

  • Does this person have the Capability to fill the role, now?
  • Does this person have the Potential Capability to fill this role in one or two years?
  • Is the underperformance, that I observe, related to a lack of Capability, OR another factor?

These are all absolutely legitimate questions for a manager to ask when making a decision related to task assignment, internal promotion and external recruiting from a candidate pool.

It is critical to understand that successful performance in ANY role can be traced to these four factors –

  • Capability (your question above)
  • Skill (Technical knowledge and practiced performance)
  • Interest or Passion (Value for the work)
  • Reasonable Behavior (Habits and the absence of extreme negative temperament)

And I depend on the judgment of the manager to determine which factor(s) are most directly related to the performance I observe. And if the primary factor turns out to be Capability, the most descriptive term is Applied Capability. Indeed, the person may have greater Potential Capability, but as a manager, I am only able to see Applied Capability. I can see Applied Capability because there is a work product, direct output.

But your question was about Potential Capability. As a manager, I may make an intuitive judgment that a team member has greater Potential. This typically means, that, as a manager, I observe underperformance that I deem “could be better.” The question is “why?” What factors could be changed to create higher levels of effectiveness in the role (or task)?

Changing the degree of Applied Capability has little to do with Capability. It has more to do with the other three factors. The limits to Applied Capability have to do with Skill, Interest and Reasonable Behavior. Change any one of those factors and you will see a change in Applied Capability.

But your question was about Potential Capability. The only method, as a manager, to gain insight into a person’s Potential Capability is to test for it. Project work is the single best way to test for Potential Capability. Lee Thayer says it best, “The only measure of performance, is performance.”
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