Do You Micro-Manage Slackers?

People are mad that Elaine avoids work – and sick of her “good excuses”. There are two different views about what their manager, Beth, should do:

  1. She should meet with Elaine at the start and end of every day to check on whether she’s doing her assignments or not.
  2. She should give assignments to everyone according to skills and interests and follow up with everyone – in group meetings.

That 1st option is called micro-managing. Singling out the slackers for a double dose of attention is a poor use of a manager’s time and energy.

The 2nd view suggests a way to use feedback: make a list of everyone’s primary assignments with milestones and due dates – a simple way to keep agreements visible to all. The Assignment Calendar is a manager’s best friend.

Beth took that advice and posted an Assignment Calendar showing everyone’s assignment timelines.  “It was much easier than I thought it would be,” she reported. “I made a chart listing each staff person, with the Friday due dates for the next 2 months as column-headers. Then I entered their milestones into the chart.”

She also said the best part was that her Tuesday staff meetings got much simpler too. “We just go down the column for this coming Friday and everyone reports their assignment status: who’s on track, needs support, how things are going. Elaine isn’t special anymore – she has to participate to keep from embarrassing herself.”

Motivation Postscript – Excuses and Justifications

There is one last piece to the motivation story. It’s about what happens when people agree to do something by a certain time, then don’t do it and don’t let you know in advance that they aren’t going to be able to do it.

These people have learned – from their parents, teachers, and bosses – that this is OK as long as you have a good Reason for not delivering what you promised when you promised it. Actually, some people don’t even bother with a Reason, they just tell you they will do something and then they forget about it. Maybe they expect you to follow up, or maybe they don’t think they did anything as extreme as “making a promise” – hey, it was just a thought, right?

In either case, what you need to remember is that people are trainable. It just means you have to invest a little more time in making 3 things very clear to them:

  1. You plan to treat what they have said they will do as a Promise, not just a thought. You have to let them know this at the time they say they will do something. EXAMPLE: Them – “I will call you tomorrow.” You – “I will expect your call before 3:00 PM. I appreciate your promising to do that.”  Dropping the “promise” word into what you say makes a difference.
  2. When the call doesn’t come, and you know they’ve either forgotten or blown it off, prepare your next communication and deliver it promptly. EXAMPLE: “I was disappointed when you didn’t keep your promise to call me by 3:00 PM today. We need to find a way to talk clearly with each other, so neither of us is left expecting something that isn’t going to happen.”
  3. When they give you a Reason (or justification, or excuse), even if it’s a pretty good one, let them know you are going to start counting. EXAMPLE: “OK, I understand. But I still think we need to have clearer communication. This one time is alright, and I can let it go. If you can’t keep your word again though, it is going to be like “Strike Two” for me, and I’m likely to be cautious about believing you will do what you say next time. I don’t want to even consider what happens after that. We really need to work together to improve our ways of talking to each other , don’t you think?”

That last question makes an opening for them to respond to the idea of adding this much rigor to your conversations. You can adjust your tone and intensity to be appropriate – maybe they want to learn how to upgrade their communication, or maybe the whole idea of anybody taking them seriously strikes them as absurd or even infuriating.

Don’t give up. People are trainable. But if you keep accepting being blown off or tolerating excuses, you are training them in the wrong direction. Stick to your guns: honor your word, and support other people in seeing that it is possible – and beneficial – to do that too. It’s motivational because it gets people moving.

Only 58 Weeks Until I Can Retire

That’s what a friend, Earl, said to me two months ago: “I can retire in 1 year and 1 ½ months.” I could tell this wasn’t a simple fact for him, because it was accompanied by a sad face and a sigh of defeat. This guy can’t wait to leave his job behind.

We talked about this, and what was beneath his “Escape Goal”, as Earl called it, was the fact that he had lost the good relationships he had once enjoyed at work, and was now surrounded by people who had little respect for his talent in handling details and complex problems.

“They don’t see why to bother with things that used to be so important,” he said. “People aren’t trained well, and when they don’t cut it, they are replaceable. Nobody takes time to listen or help people these days.”

Earl had given up. The saddest thing is that it looked like he would spend the next 58 weeks having this same conversation, to himself and with other people. Pretty soon nobody would want to talk with him at all, because every conversation would go the same way: sad and boring.

Could an Initiative Conversation be useful here? Maybe start something new at work and get out of the pits? Earl and I talked about how to invent some kind of game or goal that would have him be more positively engaged with his co-workers. He resisted the idea that anything would be worthwhile, until he mentioned the documentation problem.

“Our documents are all out of date,” he complained. “My bosses don’t even realize it, and wouldn’t care even if they knew.” It was obvious this was something he cared about, but he hadn’t seriously considered taking any action.

How long would it take to fix those documents? Probably more than a year, Earl admitted. But then he got a light in his eye. “I could do it,” he said. “I’m halfway out to pasture anyway, and can do most of what they expect from me with one hand.” I encouraged him to take on the document-update project, even though it wouldn’t be recognized or rewarded. It was a sanity-protection plan.

I checked in with Earl yesterday. He didn’t say anything about his retirement date, and he didn’t look defeated. In fact, his office was bustling with people bring in papers and flash drives, and taking other ones away.

“I’ve got everybody working on this,” he said with a grin. “I had an Initiative Conversation in our staff meeting right after we talked. I told them what I wanted to do – update the 11 documents that are relevant to our job in this department. And I said by when I wanted it – before I leave here. And I explained why it matters – because I want to do something that will make life easier for the people who come after me.”

“About four people wanted to get in on this project, “Earl continued. “Now there are six of them, making the changes and editing each other’s work. We’ll be done by the end of next month. Guess I’ll have to think of something else to accomplish, just to keep everyone happy!”

Earl’s tip: When you’ve got the blues, find something that needs to be done. Then get busy and get it complete. No excuses.

Put down the grudge, Put in a correction

Two people this week have complained to me about someone else’s failure to do something. One was Dan, a mid-level manager, who felt that another mid-level manager should have informed him of a decision she made. “She should have known it would create problems for our service team”, he said. “Why didn’t she call me to talk about it first?”

The other was Candace, a member of a service team whose boss had asked her to work overtime during the holiday season to help handle extra customer requests. “A boss should make those scheduling plans at least a month ahead”, she groused. “Now I have to find a baby-sitter with only three days notice.”

Both of these people owe themselves a good “closure conversation” with the other person involved. It may be too late to fix the situation in either case, but it’s never too late to put down the grudge and put in a correction. I suggested this to each of them. Here’s what happened:

Dan said, “I was afraid I’d let her know how mad I was, and it would turn into an argument or her getting defensive. So I blew off some steam first, then sent her an email to set a time to meet. When we talked, I asked her to be sure to include me in decisions like that in the future. She seemed fine with that, maybe even a little glad that I came forward instead of being upset. It worked well.”

Candace told me, “No way am I going to confront the boss about this.”

I couldn’t make her see that communicating about the timing of a request to work extra hours didn’t have to be a confrontation. She couldn’t imagine anything other than a bad outcome. Maybe the difference is that Dan’s relationship is a peer, where Candace’s is a boss. But it still seems it could have resolved something for her to get into communication instead of carrying the resentment. Closure isn’t confrontation, it’s completion.

Paula Deen’s Non-Apology

Paula Deen, the celebrity chef and cooking show host, continues to have problems because her attempts at apologizing for making racial slurs are really not apologies – they are explanations, denials, and justifications.  This is evident in her recent interview with Matt Lauer on the Today Show.

Apologies are closure conversations in which one admits making a mistake or engaging in a wrongdoing, accepts complete responsibility for it (e.g., “I did this, and it was wrong/a mistake”), acknowledges the impact of the mistake on others, asks for forgiveness, and promises a change in future behavior.

Paula Deen has mistakenly been using understanding conversations in which she is explaining how she was brought up, her distress over how young people talk to each other, that she is not a racist, and so on.  In other words, she is trying to get people to understand that she is not a “bad person” and that it is all really a misunderstanding.  Understanding conversations are not closure conversations.  Apologies stand on their own and do not need to be explained.

Had Paula used a closure conversation and given an authentic apology, rather than using an understanding conversation to try an explain herself, it is very likely she would be having far less difficulty.  Don’t make the same mistake Paula did.  When you apologize, apologize and don’t try to explain or justify while making the apology.

No Response Leads to Resentment

A former student of mine sent me the link to a great blog article posted by Fast Company entitled “2010: The Year of Saying ‘I Got It’ “.  The focus of the article, written by Lynette Chiang,  is how companies, as well as individuals, have gotten into the habit of not responding to inquiries – they don’t tell you “I got it”.  Telling people you received what they sent you, or that you got their message, is a closure conversation and it completes something for them.  As the author of the article points out, when we don’t know if the person we are corresponding with received what we sent them, it creates uncertainty, leads to resentment, a loss of trust, and damages your reputation.

Most of us have experiences similar to those reported by Lynette.  I once order some electronic marketing materials online with a “money back guarantee”.  When I downloaded it and found it did give me what I wanted,  I emailed and called the seller – multiple times.  At no time did he respond (sorry, I don’t remember the  seller’s name), so I finally contacted my credit card company, went through their processes, and eventually got my money back. Interestingly, even though I don’t remember the seller, I do remember one of the people who endorsed him (whom I also contacted and who didn’t respond) and I will no longer consider his products either.  Unfortunately, not only do the people who “don’t respond” hurt themselves, they cast a shadow of doubt over everyone else in the business.

But “no response” is not limited just to businesses.  How many people do you send replies to when they send you something important?  How many people tell you when they got the report, the email, the proposal, or any number of other things you invested in providing them?  Is your opinion of them higher or lower as a result?

Telling people “I got it” does not take much.  Telling people “I got it” is a simple closure conversation, but it  makes a world of difference to them and to your reputation.  Tell people “I got it” and see what happens.


What the Absence of Accountability Sounds Like

I have been doing some research in preparation for a workshop on personal accountability a colleague and I are doing for MBA’s at the Fisher College.  As I have been getting into it, I am beginning to notice more about what the absence of accountability sounds like when people talk.  Consider the following example.

The other day I was changing a light bulb in my basement work area.  One of the screws holding the cover on the light was tight, so used a screwdriver to loosen it.  When I was finished with the screwdriver, I threw it down onto the workbench (I was on a stepladder), where it hit and scattered some small ceramic tiles I had been removing from a table made by Laurie’s dad.  I found all the tiles except one and was upset because its loss would mean the table could not be restored in its original form.

When I went upstairs to tell Laurie, my first thought was to say “The screwdriver knocked a bunch of tiles off the workbench, and now I can’t find one.”  And that’s when I noticed how the absence of accountability sounds – there is no “I” in the action of what happened.  My initial thought made the screwdriver accountable for the lost tile, not me.  I was the one who threw the screwdriver and my having done that accounts for why the tiles were scattered.

As I thought more about this one example, I began to notice how many places I leave off any mention of “I” when things happen, as if they happened on their own accord and I was simply an observer.  You know, stuff like “The cup feel off the dish drying rack and broke” rather than “I hit the cup and knocked it on the floor.”  The more I considered explanations for things that I have something to do with, the more I realized that the key word missing in those explanations was “I” and what “I” did that produced the result – good, bad, or ugly.

Perhaps you have noticed the same thing when people give explanations – there is no “I” in what they say except, possibly, when it is something good.  Check it out.  Listen to the explanations you and others give and see when there is an absence of accountability.  Let me know what you discover.