Once again, I’m motivated to write a post based on recent coaching conversations. This time, the topic is holding people accountable. A quick internet search found many references to two actions so common-sense it’s hard to believe that it takes someone from The Center for Creative Leadership or The Harvard Business Review to spell them out.
1. Define and clarify roles, goals, and expectations.
How can a leader hold anyone accountable if there isn’t alignment and understanding as to what success looks like? To compound the issue, a leader who sends confused or mixed messages about performance will be contributing to a culture of mistrust, uncertainty, doubt, and fear. So why is getting clarity and alignment about roles and goals so difficult to get right?
Here’s what I’ve heard:
– I thought they understood ….
– We discussed expectations in performance reviews
– We reviewed team goals at the staff meeting
– I sent out an e-mail to the team
– It’s obvious what we need to do to succeed – meet our numbers!
– We don’t have time to _____________________.
The only problem here is the belief that people hear and perceive messages the same way. It’s a common misperception that because we’re in the same situational experience, we all must be experiencing it the same way. In actual fact, we are never having a common situational experience. Ten leaders on a conference call or sitting around a board room table are having 10 different, thought-generated experiences on a continuum of clarity and presence to disengaged and checked out. And, that level of clarity and presence will fluctuate throughout the meeting within each individual.
A leader who understands the inside-out nature of reality in the moment will naturally want to verify and validate what his/her team members are hearing. It won’t make sense to broadcast a one-way message to a distracted team, to assume silence equals agreement, or to believe that sending an e-mail will “make it so.”
Furthermore, a leader who realizes that the frustration s/he feels when communicating current business challenges and expectations is always and only coming from thought in the moment and not the situation or the team’s reactions, will be better able to maintain the presence and connection required for getting alignment and commitment.
2. Provide honest, timely feedback on progress or lack thereof.
I’m beginning to suspect that the current over-emphasis on being politically correct is contributing to a lack of honest conversations about progress on goals and objectives. Some corporate cultures seem to reinforce the old adage “if you can’t say something nice…” sending an implied message that negative/constructive feedback is somehow disrespectful. Isn’t it disrespectful not to be honest with people?
Again, the faulty reasoning that our feelings come from anything other than thought in the moment is at play. Some leaders worry about how critical feedback will be received and from that place of worry and discomfort, they deliver vague, confusing messages about performance – or avoid having the discussion altogether. Others may take poor performance personally and react from feelings of anger and frustration that look absolutely justified when one believes that circumstances cause feelings – and therefore that dire circumstances require “tough talk.”
There are many reasons for lack of progress or poor performance, but there’s only one way to really understand what’s going on. We need to have a connected conversation from a space of mental clarity. And finding this space is not about tips or techniques. Every introductory supervisor training has a module covering performance feedback. There’s no formula for interpersonal effectiveness – it’s about understanding how human beings operate.
The Secret to Holding People Accountable
The key to more effective conversations about performance is realizing two facts:
1. We are all living in separate realities created by thought taking form uniquely in each person, in every moment
2. Our feelings are always and only coming from our thinking and not the circumstances
Each of us is living in an ever-changing world of thought in the moment – from inside of us, not from circumstances or other people. When we realize how the mind works, we don’t waste energy and create noise in the system looking outside of ourselves for the cause of our emotions in the moment. Without that activity, mental clarity is our natural state of mind. From that space, wisdom, common sense, and connection emerge and honest, effective conversations are possible, regardless of the situation.