One of my clients called me one Saturday morning – FRUSTRATED! One of her employees was a ‘no show’ at the time her business place opened. This meant that the other person working that morning had no help, which would delay pre-business preparations, Lord knows, by how long. My client made several attempts to call the employee. No response. So, she immediately put Plan B in action, asking another employee to come out, even though she was not rostered to work. This was now an emergency.
The tardy employee finally showed up with what we can only describe as ‘cock and bull’ story. When pressed as to why she didn’t return her employers 3 missed phone calls she simply said “I had no money on my phone.” She was sent home.
My client told me that she makes it abundantly clear to ALL employees when being hired that “I have no money on my phone” is an excuse that WILL NOT be accepted.
We often like to view situations like this in the context of character flaws. The employee has no manners, was not brought up to respect authority figures, is just not responsible etc.
In a paper titled ‘How to combat a culture of excuses and promote accountability’ Jeff Grimshaw, Gregg Baron, Barry Mike and Neill Edwards tell us “A number of years ago we noticed that while leaders frequently complained about the accountability problems in their organization, those conversations rarely produced meaningful action or improved outcomes. One big obstacle, we concluded, is a bias that social scientists call fundamental attribution error. The attribution bias makes it easier for leaders to shirk their own responsibility for promoting accountability. The result is leaders complaining about lack of accountability and excusing themselves in the same breath:
‘We have accountability problems in our company – and it’s hurting our financial performance. But it’s no reflection on the strength of my leadership [the kind of person I am]. We’re in a tight labour market [an environmental factor I can’t control] and we’re doing the best we can with the people we’ve got [another environmental factor over which I have limited influence]. In fact, we’ve communicated to them repeatedly what’s at stake, but they just don’t get it [yet another environmental factor over which I apparently have limited influence because of the kind of people working here].
The title of this week’s column was borne out of a quote I came across, by James Garfield 1877
Now more than ever THE PEOPLE are responsible for the character of their Congress. If that body be ignorant, reckless and corrupt, it is because THE PEOPLE tolerate ignorance, recklessness, and corruption
This is a column meant to inspire and teach people better ways to run their businesses and lives so I’m not going to talk politics. But let us replace ‘THE PEOPLE’ with ‘BUSINESS LEADERS’. And let’s replace ‘Congress’ with ‘Business’.
Grimshaw, Baron, Mike and Edwards suggest that there are four factors that characterize a culture of accountability:
1. Expectations are clear to employees.
2. Employees perceive that those expectations are credible and reasonable.
3. Employees anticipate that positive consequences will follow performance.
4. Employees anticipate that negative consequences will follow poor performance.
Here are a couple of things that you can do IMMEDIATELY to promote a culture of accountability versus one driven by excuses:
- Minimize or eliminate positive consequences for poor performers. In organizations with accountability problems, poorly performing employees have less work to do because they have ‘‘trained’’ their supervisor not to count on them. Less common, but no less infuriating to others, is the poor performer who gets promoted to another department by his manager in order to get rid of him.
- Follow through. In some organizations, leaders seem to enjoy talking about ‘‘wringing necks,’’ but do not actually do much of it. While a demonstration of bravado may serve as a means of catharsis for frustrated executives, it is by no means an effective solution. In fact, it has an effect similar to threatening children with ‘‘time out’’ over and over without actually administering the consequence. It becomes a ‘‘ritual’’ or ‘‘something that we do’’ that does not have literal meaning and does not motivate a change in behavior.
Make no mistake – if there is an absence of negative consequences for poor performance you will get resentment from other members of staff. Some actual staff comments to ponder on:
- ‘‘Management wants to be everyone’s friend, but you have to set expectations and hold people accountable,’’
- ‘‘You can’t get rid of someone here, especially if they have ‘friends.’ “
If HOPE is your only strategy, consider your business doomed or in the words of Machiavelli “‘He who neglects what is done for what ought to be done, sooner effects his ruin than his preservation.’’