Creating a Culture of Accountability Without Emotional Backlash
Power and position are two common traits leaders often lean upon to drive results. Somewhere in your past, you have likely experienced leaders who used some sort of power and position to motivate you. Depending on the situation, it may have helped you and those around you move the growth and performance needle. Today, you may also see how power and position motivates your employees and team to perform at a level that drives success throughout your organization. However, the use of power and position, if not managed properly, can create barriers to effective coaching and employee motivation to fulfill and exceed expectations. This has never been more critical than today, given the current generational shifts in the workplace.
Accountability is interaction designed to improve performance. Often, however, as owners or leaders, when we communicate with our team, we see a common communication style that comes across as critical. Perhaps we focus on and pick at weaknesses, areas of underperformance, and mistakes and bark out directives to get things done. After engaging in performance reviews, we see improvement in areas of underperformance - sometimes it sticks However, after a period of time, the mistakes or lack of attention begin to creep up again. Therefore, at the next review, we find ourselves talking about the same issues, and maybe even bringing the “hammer down” a bit harder. The reality of this tactic is that our employees check out and we foster a sense of insecurity. Our employees start to ask themselves if they can do anything right. They then start to operate out of malice compliance, which minimizes their motivation to go beyond the call of duty. We enforce a way of thinking that does the exact opposite of what we want. We therefore keep them from wanting to think outside of the box because they will likely be criticized versus rewarded for their efforts.
We worked with a client where the franchisee-owner had an employee who was a “high-performer” and potential future leader. It was clear to our client that this employee was driven, loyal, and willing to put in the work to grow to the next level in his stores. He recognized that this individual could be a potential future manager and leader. Because of this, he believed that this high-performing employee knew what they were doing well, and therefore he didn’t believe there was a need to spend time acknowledging or celebrating the employee’s areas of strengths. Rather, our client felt their priority to help this employee to continue to develop was to focus only on those things that the employee needed to work on.
Our client believed that using this approach meant they were helping the manager move past their weaknesses, while allowing the manager to keep the course on the things being done well. Even with the greatest of intentions, our client was making the employee feel as if they had nothing but shortcomings and failures. The employee was left to feel as if they were only recognized for what they were doing wrong, not for what that they were doing well and suffered from low confidence. At one point in our interaction with the employee, we asked, “Where do you feel you excel?” and the employee was at a loss, but could quickly tell us their weaknesses. The result here is that this high-performing future leader for the franchisee felt demotivated and could not see how they could have a future in the organization: the exact opposite of what our client was trying to achieve.
This is a classic example of a multi-unit franchisee owner operating as a critic, when they thought they were being a coach. As a result, the developing manager was left to their own resources to try to fulfill the franchisee’s expectations, but basing it only on negativity and failure. The reality is that criticism, over a period of time, will eventually cause the employee to go into a “protection defensive mode” for survival. They will grow to believe that a future in the franchisee organization may not be an option, solely because they did not feel that the franchisee saw a future for them. Ultimately, this future leader will either leave, or learn to lead others in the same manner they had been led.
Although we do not often intend to be a critic, it is easy to get caught up in looking for the negative versus making the good even better. Being a coach is not innate in us as leaders. However, a coaching attitude can work towards eliminating the negative and draining emotions of accountability. Acting as a coach builds the foundation of a team, and in turn gains the respect of the employee because you serve as a role model, demonstrating vested interest in the employee’s success. This builds confidence in their abilities and future in your multi-unit franchisee organization.
Ask yourself what kind of leader you really want to be in order to be an effective and inspiring influence on your team. The “we’re in this together” approach to improving performance enables accountability to be seen as positive. You foster empowerment within your employee and offer them an environment in which they believe they can grow. In doing this, you design sustainability and growth for your business by developing leaders so that you can grow too.
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