A manager in my Leading and Managing Change course approached me after class with the following issue: “There are things at work I should be accountable for and I am not. I think I should be accountable because they are in my area, but my boss doesn’t hold me accountable for them. Do you have any recommendations for how I might deal with this?”
This was an invitation to have an understanding conversation with the manager to explore what he might do to increase his accountability and how he might go about doing it. He already knew what he wanted, when he wanted it, and why it mattered, so we didn’t need to have an initiative conversation, we could get right into an understanding conversation and explore how he might approach his boss. We raised and discussed several options for approaching his boss, such as asking him why he doesn’t hold the manager accountable, and asking for feedback on the manager’s performance in the areas of concern, but dismissed most these as potentially too confrontational and likely to make the boss defensive. What we finally agreed on was that he could approach his boss and ask for his partnership in developing the manger’s accountability. The manager saw that he could say something like: “I would like your help in developing myself in being more accountable. I think it will make me a better manager and improve my performance. Would you be willing to help me in this?’ Again, this is an invitation from the manager to his boss to engage in an understanding conversation.
The intent of the understanding conversation is to explore how the manager and boss can work together to increase the manager’s accountability, which is what the manager wants. The manager has his ideas, but doesn’t know what his boss thinks or what his boss is willing to do. By inviting his boss into an understanding conversation as a potential partner, the manager gains a valuable resource in helping him achieve what he wants. And, as they proceed in exploring options, they are likely to see some arrangements that could work for both of them. Once they have identify possible options, the manager can shift to a performance conversation and make a request, such as “I think option 2 would work best. When can we start with that?
Sometimes we know exactly what we want and can just ask for it. In other cases, such as this one, the options are not so clear. In such cases, inviting people into understanding conversations is a very useful way to learn what can be done and how.