Hold Employees Procountable

June 16, 2013

Thumbsup croppedNo, that is not a typo in the title. This article is a twist on the concept of “holding people accountable.” Those three words seem to be the mantra in management circles over the past few years. When used, these words almost always mean that someone has fallen short versus expectations, and the supervisor needs to point out that lapse and have a discussion about improving performance. If you listen carefully, nearly 100% of the time managers use “hold them accountable,” it is coming from a failure point of view.

One source of the problem is the word “hold.” It conjures up an image of holding a person’s feet to the fire. The transitive verb to hold means, ” to make liable or accountable or bound to an obligation” (Mirriam Webster 11th Collegiate Dictionary). In other words, when we hold something in this sense, a force is acting to restrain it, and make it liable to a prior obligation. That is clearly negative spin rather than the alternate concept of helping people do the right thing for the betterment of the organization.

Imagine how the world would be different if we eliminated the negative concept of accountability and replaced it with a positive concept called “procountability.” In this case, the action would be to reflect on the many ways an individual is doing well and measuring up to, or exceeding, expectations.

For most people, being held procountable would be a positive experience that would encourage more of those actions rather than cause a person to cower in fear of the next chewing out from the boss. Sure, there would be times when a person did not measure up to expectations, so the procountable discussion would point out that the intentions of the individual did not produce the expected result in this instance. Some coaching may be needed, and occasionally a kick in the butt may be helpful, but most of the procountable discussions would be supportive and lead to higher productivity on the part of the individual.

The logic here is that most people come to work on most days with the intention of doing the right things. Very few people actually try to mess up at work, and if you tolerate any of these people on your team, shame on you. Get rid of them as fast as you can. So, if most people are doing the right things most of the time, we could have numerous procountable discussions relative to their successes. When a occasional lapse does happen, for whatever reason, it would be the exception rather than the rule on feedback. That difference alone would change the equation greatly. If 95% of the feedback is coming in the form of supportive comments, and only 5% coming in the form of potential improvements, the working environment would be a much better place for most employees.

Unfortunately, in most organizations that obsess on holding people accountable, the feedback employees hear from managers and supervisors is 95% negative and only 5% supportive. After a while, the culture gets beaten down, and the need for more corrective and punitive discussions becomes more frequent. The common phrase uttered by thousands of workers over the decades is “the only time I ever hear from my boss is when I screw up.”

Try reversing the logic and encourage managers to hold employees procountable rather than accountable. It will change the entire environment at work. Soon there will be a lower propensity for problems because the overwhelming volume of feedback produces a positive feeling that comes from being recognized for doing the right things.


Reboot Every Day

June 17, 2012

Surprise! This article has nothing at all to do with computers or technology. Rather, it is about the human condition and spirit.

Every day, there is a special moment for each of us. It is that first instant when we become conscious after sleeping. We may have been dreaming or not; that does not matter. That very first blink of consciousness is something marvelous. Here is what I experience, and I am sure it is the same for you.

Blink. “Oh, I am here. Where is here? Who am I? What is my role here? Am I happy or sad? Do I hurt? What’s on my agenda today?”

Crossing that demarcation line between the unconscious and the conscious world is a kind of “rebooting” activity where we spend just a second or two getting our bearings.

In that instant of first awareness, we each have a wonderful opportunity. We have the power to choose. Whatever external or internal conditions are facing us, we each have the opportunity to decide how to respond to them. I believe that is what separates humans from other species: the power to choose our attitude.

I believe that the freedom to choose my own quality of life is amazingly liberating. I may be waking up as a prisoner of war or a person with a terminal disease or a hangover. In that first blink, I may realize that I have been out of work for six months, or perhaps yesterday I won the Nobel Peace Prize or an Olympic Gold Medal.

Regardless of the miserable or delightful circumstances, I remember my conditions as my brain reboots each morning. I still have the opportunity to choose how I wish to respond to those conditions. Unfortunately, most of us quickly jump to a fatalistic view that we are powerless to modify the quality of life, which is where the opportunity lies.

If we can push the “pause” button in our thinking long enough to suspend the pain or the negative things that are lurking in a corner of our brain to ruin our day, then we might consider the options. For example, this morning, I awoke at 2:30 a.m. with a stabbing pain in my right little toe. The pain actually woke me up. There was no reason why there should have been a pain in my toe today. I did not stub it or drop something on it, but there it was, big as life.

I recall lying there trying to figure out what the pain was. Since I had no clue, my brain continued with the rebooting exercise as I began to think about the good and not-so-good things that awaited me today. When a computer reboots, it does not have options for changing attitudes. It just goes through the programs and determines the health of the system with no ability to change its response to certain failures or bugs.

I decided to let my human side take over and process today in a positive light. After all, I did wake up, so I began to marvel over the choices I had today and the multitude of things I could get done. For example, I could create this article, and though I am not revealing any rocket science here, perhaps my thoughts translated through this medium may be helpful to a few people. As a result, I would be using my energy as a positive force in the universe. What better way to start out a day?

Try to make your first moments of every day a special conversation with yourself. Think about the opportunities you have rather than the difficulties you face. I think there is some powerful magic we all share as part of the human condition. Of course, you can wallow in self pity or depression. It is your life to live. I hope you will use this reminder to make a positive contribution to your mental process right now, and especially tomorrow morning.


Playing Politics

November 6, 2011

Do you play politics? Is that a good thing to do? Is it morally right? Is it smart? How we deal with political situations has a huge impact on the quality of our lives.

We are surrounded by politics at all times, and we can all identify with the negative aspects of political activities. Webster defines politics in an organizational setting as : “scheming and maneuvering within a group,” immediately giving the word a negative connotation. If we are practicing politics, something bad is happening. We have encountered Machiavellian individuals who would take credit for the work of others or somehow undermine their efforts in order to enhance themselves. You can undoubtedly visualize a highly political individual in your mind as you read this article. What gives rise to political thought?

All of us have a set of wants, needs, and desires. For example, most of us would like to get our hands on more money, thinking it would allow fewer problems in our lives. Most of us wish the world would slow down so we could relax once in a while and enjoy the ride. None of us like to feel we have been taken advantage of in any kind of interchange, whether it be a co-worker goofing off while we toil away, or our boss forgetting the raise we were promised. In short, most of us want more of the “good stuff” in life, and we want to be assured we are not disadvantaged by someone else hogging more than their share.

We all have a vested interest in getting our share in life: what we have worked for and are entitled to receive. There is a constant agenda going on in everyone’s head relative to ensuring this equity; it makes no difference if a person is on death row or the CEO of a multinational organization. It is impossible for the needs of all people to be optimized at once, so this creates tension between individuals and groups. How we deal with this tension is called politics. We all engage in it most of the time. There is nothing wrong with doing this. It is human nature. We live in a sea of politics.

I read a great definition of political dynamics by Tom Rieger in “The Conference Board Review.” Tom wrote, “If your self-interests are in conflict with those of the greater good, it is simply human nature to adjust your view of the greater good to match the context of what is best for you.”

The ethical dilemmas about politics surface when people get greedy. They want more than their fair share of the “good stuff” and work to figure out ways to enhance their portion at the expense of others. We need to be alert for these people and protect our own interests at all times. Sometimes they are easy to spot, like the one-eyed pirate trying to cut off your head with a broad sword. Other times, they are so crafty their damage seems almost painless as if you are being sliced up by a razor-sharp foil.

Conducting yourself in an ethical manner, yet still being politically astute, can do wonders for your sanity and your pocketbook. Let’s look at 14 rules for political survival:

1. Know who butters your bread and act that way. Some people seem to forget their boss’ power to influence the quality of their life. This does not mean you need to be a “yes man” or a “suck up.” Just don’t go around intentionally undermining the boss, even if you think she is wrong.

2. Act in ways consistent with your values and sense of spiritual rightness. You know what is right. Often people rationalize and do wrong things in order to get ahead. These actions tend to backfire by reducing trust.

3. Make 20 positive remarks for every negative one. It is amazing how many people have that ratio exactly backward. They gripe and complain all day long. Then they wonder why nobody likes to be near them. Test this out on yourself. Make a mental note (maybe keep a 3X5″ card and make hash marks) of each positive and negative statement that comes out of your mouth. You may be surprised. If you don’t like your ratio, change it.

4. Do not grandstand. Practice humility and avoid taking cheap shots. Putting people down often feels satisfying at the moment (like they got what was coming to them), but in the long run, saying hurtful things will bring pain back to you in the future.

5. Try to understand the intentions and motivations of others. It isn’t enough to observe their behaviors. You need to dig deeper to reach the true meaning in their actions. Only then can you understand what is happening.

6. Follow up on everything. Try to achieve a reputation for being 100% reliable at doing what you promise. Show initiative and be alert for opportunities to demonstrate your reliability.

7. Do the dirty work cheerfully. Every job has unpleasant or boring aspects. Do these quickly and efficiently without complaint. You are not too good for the menial jobs.

8. Agree to disagree. Arguments at work can persist for months while people dig in further to buttress their position and undermine the other side. Life is too short for this pettiness. After three legitimate attempts to convince one another , it is best to say, “It looks like we are not going to agree on this matter. Rather than arguing about it, let’s agree to disagree. We still respect each other and can work well together. We just have this one area where we see things differently.” It is amazing how much time and acrimony can be eliminated with these few words.

9. Don’t beat dead horses. Forget the discussions that go on and on. Make your point once. If you think it was misunderstood, make it again. After that, move on. Repetition is a rat hole. Sometimes you can observe a group in heated discussion for a full hour. It sounds like an argument, but they are really in violent agreement.

10. Be aggressive, but don’t be a pest. There is a fine line between high initiative and being intrusive. Learn to read the body language all around you and back off before you go too far.

11. Administrative people and other support people have real power. They hold the keys for access to power people. They understand the sidebar conversations about you and the unpublished agendas that define the real ball game. They will be supportive if they like you.

12. Keep an active social life with work associates. This is not mandatory, but the better the relationship outside work, the more information will naturally flow in the conversation. Information is power. The basis for political power is that people do things for people they like.

13. Always be considerate and gracious. Try to avoid snapping at people. It is not always helpful to wear your emotions on your sleeve. The best rule here is the “golden” rule. Put yourself in the other person’s place and ask how you would like to be treated.

14. Try to foster peers as political allies. Never make an enemy if you can avoid it – and you almost always can avoid it.

That is a pretty long list of “dos” and “don’ts,” but most of them are common sense. The point is that your reputation (which is your most precious asset) is on the line in every interaction. Make sure you do everything possible to enhance it. I suggest you print out these tips and review them frequently. Following them can mean be the difference between floundering and thriving.