I am an administrator for a mid-sized professional services firm in a division of employees under the direction of a director. The director claims that his staff has been empowered to do their jobs. But nowhere in the discussion is there ever any mention of accountability (which I believe goes hand in hand with empowerment). I am not referring to the finger pointing blame game. I am talking about those who fail to learn their jobs/responsibilities after much personal training, coaching, and handholding. As the firm’s administrator, I believe that some key people must be held responsible for their repeated mistakes. The director, however, views anyone who points to an individual’s inability to retain the basic knowledge required to perform their job as “not a team player”.
In this situation, how can one ever address poor/weak performance without being labeled “not a team player”?
I am a frequent (online) reader of Practical Leadership and would welcome any suggestions you might have.
You’re describing a fairly complex situation that would take more analysis to give you a firm recommendation. In our consulting work, we run into lots of accountability problems. They always require thorough analysis to get the roots of the issue. I will draw from some of that experience and take a general stab at a few things that might be helpful:
Accountability is a slippery subject. Like leadership, excellence, or quality it has many faucets and meanings for different people. From what you’re describing, it sounds very much like the most common accountability issue; failing to follow through. Many teams are good at planning and launching new initiatives. But it’s the tiny (and higher performing) minority that actually follow up with a regular discipline to see what’s working and what isn’t. You may need to discuss with your director how to build a robust and regular follow up process.
Accountability has different meaning according to weather you’re on the giving or receiving end. Many of us have been lashed with the accountability whip wielded by a clumsy manager who is into playing “gotcha games.” Follow up discussions need to focus on the situation, issue, or behavior without judgment, harsh criticism, or putdowns. The purpose of most follow up (like that of measurement) should be course correction and learning. Too often it is the fault finding and the blame game. So people avoid following up.
If people have failed to learn their jobs/responsibilities after much personal training, coaching, and handholding, then action is clearly needed. If you have the power to remove or reassign them, that may be what’s required. If you don’t, you need to figure how to work around these people because you know they will not keep their commitments. The other option is to figure out how to increase your influence either with them and/or their manager to get action.
Your question about being labeled as not a team player really requires further digging and perhaps a difficult look in the leadership mirror. Most friction in a relationship is caused by the wrong tone of voice. We’ve all had the experience of resisting what others are trying to get us to do not because of the idea itself, but because of the approach used (“I am not against what he/she is trying to do. It’s how he/she is doing it that gets my back up”). You may need to get some objective coaching or perspective from a third party who knows the situation (or can analyze it for you – such as a coach or consulting firm) and can give you good feedback. You could even look for a safe way for other team members or the director to give you suggestions on what you should keep doing, stop doing, and start doing to be a better team player. Tools like “360 feedback surveys” and action planning can be helpful here.