Most of us dislike confrontation. And having a frank discussion with an employee who has broken a commitment is no exception. One, it’s uncomfortable. Two, if you do it incorrectly, you can create even more problems.
Yet ignoring accountability issues is always a mistake. A well-orchestrated team depends on everyone doing their job, at the time they are supposed to do it, yielding the results they are supposed to yield. This is why we need consequences–they remind us that not keeping our commitments will carry repercussions.
Not all consequences are created equal. While it’s true that they will all let your employees know when a ball has been dropped, different consequences will have very different effects. Some can demoralize, discourage, and stress your people into their Critter States without really fixing the problem, making these individuals less effective as they move forward.
On the other hand, consequences done properly have the ability to help you and your employees diagnose and correct the problem in your Smart States.
So how do you apply consequences effectively? The first step is making sure you don’t trigger the person’s ego.
We may unintentionally send the employee into their Critter State when we question their:
Competence: If you openly question someone’s ability, you are poking at the ego’s cage, so don’t be surprised to hear a roar. Better to discover their level of competence and help them increase it.
Significance: If you talk down to a person and see them as beneath you, be ready for the ego to attack—which could be in a passive-aggressive sabotaging manner.
Lovability: Leaders often suggest lovability isn’t questioned in business scenarios. Not so! There are always team members who are perceived as “above the law” or in the “in crowd”—which means more lovable. Those on the outside can damage your culture through dissent. Better to love all.
On the flipside, as we reinforce and celebrate someone’s competence, appreciate their contributions and significance, and foster a culture of equality and transparency (thus lovability), we’ll help them stay in their Smart State.
Now that you know how egos are triggered—and the types of comments you should avoid when discussing dropped balls—let’s look at enacting consequences that work, not hurt.
I like to keep things simple on the consequences front, because if you hire people who are aligned with your values and you have a clear culture of performance and accountability, consequences will need to be applied only rarely.
Our clients find using the four steps below work well when a team member doesn’t keep commitments:
First miss: Ask, “Are you okay?” Maybe your team member is dealing with a personal life disaster, and his life has been turned upside down. If he answers yes, then remind him how essential accountability is to the culture and to your trusting him—and walk him through setting up calendar reminders if need be. If he answers no, and he is not okay, work with him as best you can to help him through this personal crisis. Lightening his workload may be required.
Second miss: Ask, “Do you have too much work?” If so, help lighten his workload. If not, stress how crucial accountability is to trust and ask how he will ensure he’s accountable in the future.
Third miss: Ask, “Is your role too big?” It appears that his role is too demanding for his ability. It may now be time to discuss if he is in the right role and if he needs to move to a reduced role, shift to flex time, or some other option to ensure you get the performance he had promised. At this stage you’ll want to bring Human Resources into the conversation.
Fourth miss: Ask, “Do you really want to work here?” His behavior is showing that he doesn’t. That’s okay. Just have a frank conversation about the situation so that everyone’s needs can be met. If he insists he wants to stay at the company and in his current role, then design a counseling period where he’ll demonstrate and maintain improved performance starting immediately (perhaps 30, 60, or 90 days). If the counseling period concludes and his performance isn’t improved, it’s time to transition him out of the company.
There is nothing unfair or negative about these four steps–quite the contrary. Most of us were raised with consequences (“If you don’t finish your dinner, you won’t get dessert”; “If you don’t get good grades, you won’t get into college”), so I find they can foster safety, belonging, and mattering when you apply them properly.
With consequences we’re safe, because we know that if we don’t hand in our weekly hours, for example, we won’t get paid. We all have the same consequences; we’re a team; we belong together. It matters if I perform—I see how I made a difference here. Likewise, it matters if I don’t perform—I am letting the team down.
Consequences tap into something powerful in the human psyche. Apply them properly and they can supercharge performance and go a long way toward creating a SmartTribe.
Christine Comaford is a global thought leader on corporate culture and performance optimization. She uses the latest neuroscience techniques to help leaders and teams create reliable revenue, deep emotional engagement, and profitable growth. Sign up for her free webinar series and download an excerpt of her upcoming book at www.SmartTribesBook.com. Follow Christine on Twitter: @comaford