High performing companies are only possible when we demand strong accountability of ourselves, our leaders and our teammates. Too often we fail to hold ourselves or others accountable because we want to avoid tough conversations.
Maybe it’s with a direct report that is going through a tough time, you feel bad for their plight but they just aren’t producing good material like they have in the past. You want to move them to a lower profile project until things settle down but…
Or maybe it’s a co-worker that you like as a person. They are a great person but they’ve been slacking lately and you really need them to get their s*** done so you can finish your project.
These are tough situations because there typically isn’t a clear answer to what should be done. The knee jerk reaction from some of us is “tell them their work sucks and be done with it!” others may cite the extenuating circumstances:
“They’ve done great work before I’m sure they will get over this speed bump.”
Or “They went through a rough time [insert tough life event that occurred months ago] recently, I don’t want to pick on them.”
And with those statements the cliched buck gets passed down the road.
When we avoid tough conversations it’s nearly impossible to drive a high performance culture.
Because that is a big piece of building a high performing company: people have to be held accountable and they have to see others being held accountable.
In theory we all want to work at a place where we hold each other accountable. In reality, many of us want to be nice, or perceived as nice so we are reluctant to tackle the issue of Mary’s sloppy work head on. Instead, we’ll force the entire team to listen to a lecture about standards and hope that Mary realizes we are talking about her. This has happened somewhere you’ve worked, no?
When I say holding people accountable and addressing poor work, I’m not talking about putting a woman who just had a miscarriage on a PIP (I’m not even linking to the Amazon stories anymore). Of course we have to be compassionate. We have to give people time to work through tough issues in their lives but when that event is a few months, a year, two years in the past? By all means the buck stops with the appropriate person (their manager, HR, whoever).
If the project or work is too high profile? Too time sensitive and you need strong work right now? Then it’s the time for a different but still tough conversation: “We’re moving you off this project and here’s why.”
As HR pro’s we play a key role in this space. We must work with people to help them have the tough conversations and we must push for people at all levels to be held accountable.