Friday, November 30, 2012

Five ways that bosses destroy accountability

Watching by stringberd
Watching, a photo by stringberd on Flickr.
Nobody comes to work wanting to do a bad job, and that includes supervisors and managers.  But as with many other behaviors, supervisory behaviors can have an impact that is quite different from the intentions behind them.  In particular, the methods a manager uses to elicit action on his or her team can destroy the very accountability that the company needs.  For the purposes of this post the words "supervisor" and "manager" are being used interchangeably.

  1. Multiple "A" priorities - When everything is equally important, nothing is important.  Even if a staff member claims to be multi-tasking, they aren't really able to do more than one thing at a time.  They are toggling back and forth among the items the boss identified as important.  And the result is that all of them will be partly completed rather than any one of them being able to be checked off the list.  To improve accountability, the manager needs to help the employee establish a clear prioritization among their assigned tasks.
  2. Too many bosses - In this instance, the employee has to choose whose directions and assignments are to be completed first.  They might have two or three lists among which they are choosing tasks to perform - one for each boss.  This is particularly evident in matrix organizations, where staffers and specialists are prescribing activities in addition to those assigned by the line management chain.  The solid-line (direct) manager for the employee needs to be the clearinghouse for the employee's priorities.
  3. Circumventing lines of authority - Mid-level managers and supervisors have accountabilities for the performance of the individuals on their teams.  They can't do so effectively when managers from outside their department and outside their chain of command give instructions to individuals on their team without involving the attending supervisor.  This condition places employees in a position of having to choose which manager to follow in their attempts to do a good job.  In addition, if there are employee performance issues not being shared with the direct supervisor, the supervisor has no way to be accountable for improving the performance.  They can't train, discipline, terminate, etc. if they are not being kept in the communication loop.  Informing them afterward is no substitute for involving them at the time the incident is occurring.  And the longer the time delay between incident and communication with the supervisor, the more unreasonable the expectation of supervisor accountability becomes.
  4. Hovering and short-stopping - There are times in the early part of an employee's development when it is not only appropriate but essential that a supervisor have hands-on training involvement in the employee's assigned tasks.  But as an employee grows familiar with his or her workload, the supervisor has to free the employee to complete the tasks and then provide performance feedback on the work product.  It can be useful for the boss to touch base with the employee for progress checks along the way if the project is large, has a long time frame, or if it is strategically critical to the company.  But when the boss constantly peeks over the employee's shoulder in the course of the employee's everyday workload, the boss demonstrates that the employee isn't trusted to complete it on his or her own.  This erodes the employee's motivation to perform, and it also interferes with the company's ability to hold the employee accountable for the results they are expected to achieve.  If the employee is truly not performing, there  are training and other actions that can be taken.  
  5. Assumptions about what is and is not going on - With every level a manager rises away from the daily employee workload, his or her ignorance about what's really going on increases.  They see the tip of the iceberg and think they know what lies underneath the water.  Until and unless they involve front-line employees to gain first-hand information, they don't have the data necessary to validly hold people accountable for performance.  Managers might become upset with an employee for dropping a plate, not realizing that in the course of the everyday workload the employee is trying to juggle eight plates on two hands and one foot.  When employees feel like they are in "no-win" situations at work, at some point they give up and stop trying to be accountable for results.  Instead they detach from the frustrating expectations placed upon them and invest their energy in trying to survive.
As said at the beginning of this post, everyone - including supervisors and managers - has the intention of doing a good job at work.  But when this intention is played out in the form of the five behaviors listed above, the boss is wasting the company's money.  They are interfering with the very employee productivity that they want, and they are not working at their highest and best use in their own role.  In addition, if they can't trust an employee to do the job (and hold them accountable for the results they do or do not achieve,) they might as well not have the additional person on the payroll.  They might as well do it themselves.  And in most cases that's not what the boss really wants to do.

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