How Public Accountability Can Reduce Cultural Ruptures

“We say we work in a professional environment, but I have a peer who seldom follows through on his action items, causing us to miss deadlines.”

“I work in accounting and I’m aware that leadership has misrepresented financial estimates to some of our lenders.”

“I can’t believe in today’s world that my manager continues to make sexists comments in our meetings.”

“We failed to honor warranties to some of our customers by inaccurately claiming that they had failed to service the equipment according properly.”

As revealed in the above comments, Sarah Clayton writing in the HARVARD BUSINESS REVIEW, reports that one in five employees have experienced a cultural crisis—shoddy quality, discrimination, cheating customers, bad leader behaviors—in the last year or two. 

Lack of accountability appears to be a major reason for these cultural ruptures.  For fear of elevating incidents, too many leaders just look the other way.  And when leaders do hold people accountable, they hide their actions under the cloak of “privacy.”

Effective cultures identify clear expectations and consequences regarding legal, ethical, and moral behaviors. 

To ensure greater accountability, leaders should:  (1) communicate expectations vigorously and repetitively, (2) apply appropriate consequences, and (3) shine the light on consequences by making them public.

How to Disagree without Stifling Discussion

“I have a good team,” commented a leader.  “But, one member, a high performer, often shuts down our discussions.”

“What do you mean?”

“He speaks authoritatively, often raising his voice, and acts as if his opinion is superior.” 

“Do other team members ever disagree?”

“Rarely.  When someone occasionally disagrees, the aggressive member responds with data, quotes, and historical incidents to drive his point home.”

I think it effective for team members to engage in passionate, challenging discussions.  But there is a fine line between fruitful discussions and win-lose debates.

Win-lose statements include:  “You are wrong!”  “That would be a big mistake!” “You have left out important data!”  “Your suggestion will not work!”  “That has already been tried!”

Such statements are likely to dampen free-flowing exchanges because they set up debates where one wins by proving the other wrong. 

Consider expressing disagreements with phrases such as:  “I’d like to offer another way of looking at this.”  “I don’t fully understand how you arrived at your position.”  “Can you fill me in with more background information?”  “I’d like to hear others’ opinions.  We can evaluate later.”

For engaging team discussions, it is important to create a tone of exploring options before evaluating and selecting.

Why You Do Not Make Concessions to Anti-Team Members

A manager said, “I have a good team but two members seem to oppose any significant suggestion I make.” 

“Are they in agreement with each other when opposing your suggestions?”

“Not usually.  They seem to have their own agendas.”

“Do you ever make concessions to them?”

“Yes. I have accepted modifications, even when I thought it might weaken the plan, to get their support.”

“What do other team members say when one of the opposers argues against your plan?”

“Not much.  I think they are intimidated.  Some tell me privately they support my version.”

“Is your current handling of the situation working?”

“No. The opposers still want to argue.  Some projects are being delayed.  I sense frustration building among other members.”

Unfortunately, many otherwise good teams include a member or two who are anti-team—uncooperative, argumentative, self-serving, controlling.

It is almost always a mistake to accommodate anti-team members, as they see cooperation as a weakness to be exploited.

If an anti-team member cannot be removed, it is usually better to simply acknowledge the anti’s position and move forward undeterred with what the leader thinks is better.  Explanations and conciliations seldom satisfy anti-members; they do extend meetings and annoy cooperative team players.

How Praise Reduces the Need for Criticism

When discussing the role of recognition and praise, an employee said, “I don’t need recognition.  I know when I’ve done a good job.  I want my manager to point out my mistakes and show me how to get better.” 

While a few individuals may shun recognition and lean into criticism, sincere and regular praise increases team performance and reduces absenteeism. 

The Gallup organization reports that only about one in four employees “strongly agree” that they  received recognition and praise for doing good work within the past week. 

Some organizations use apps for instantly recognizing good work.  But my personal research identifies “manager recognition for good performance” as the most powerful tool for communicating appreciation. 

Sincere recognition releases endorphins, sometimes called “happy hormones,” which create feelings of well-being and happiness.  Thus, individuals become even more passionate about doing good work.   

As a nice side effect, less engaged employees become aware that effective managers shower recognition on good work; and they sometimes put forth more effort to earn the boss’s approval. 

Some people bask in public recognition; others prefer private ceremonies.  Effective managers note the differences among their team members’ and act accordingly. 

Is “Joy” a Part of Your Work Culture?

During a planning retreat, a vice-president asked me, “Do you think it is OK for staff to feel joyful at work?”  

“Absolutely,” I responded.

The VP asked, “How do you cause employees to be joyful? We celebrate birthdays, offer movie outings, and sponsor employee sports teams.  Employees show enthusiasm during these events, but smiles turn to frowns upon returning to work.”

“Joy” is a feeling of pleasure and happiness, and an A. J. Kearney survey revealed that only 37% of employees say they experience “joy” at work. 

But “joy” is not about employees playing together.  Alex Liu, writing in the HARVARD BUSINESS REVIW, explains that employees experience joy when they achieve something together that contributes to society.

Put simply, joy is the product of cooperating with team members to achieve “wins” that also improve society.

Winning sports teams provide a formula for how to create “joy.”  Team members understand and accept their roles, and they recognize other members’ contributions.  The late Dean Smith, a hall of fame basketball coach at North Carolina, encouraged shot makers to acknowledge the teammate who passed the ball by publicly pointing at him. 

Just as in sports, a little high fiving, handclapping and team cheering may induce joy and help advance the ball at work.

How Questions Increase Influence

(Part 2 of 2 Parts)

Wendel, a long-time supervisor, disagreed with the company’s attendance policy and sometimes failed to enforce it.  When Wendel’s manager explained the reasons for the policy, Wendel’s typical response was, “Our policy is too harsh.  Good workers should not lose pay for an occasional lapse.”

Wendel’s manager retired and Sofia assumed his role.  Sofia quickly became aware of Wendel’s inconsistent enforcement.  However, rather than explaining the benefits of consistent enforcement, Sofia used questions to influence Wendel.

“Are you aware of our attendance policy?” Sofia asked.

“Yes, I am,” Wendel responded.

“Do you think you are consistently applying the policy?”

“Probably not.  People do not miss work on purpose.”

“Is your approach fair to other supervisors who are enforcing the policy?

“I’m not leading their departments.”

“Are you aware of the company’s legal jeopardy caused by your inconsistency?”

“Not really. The company can take care of itself.”

“Do you think legal action would have implications for you?”

Sofia started with a softball question allowing Wendel to confirm his knowledge of the policy.  Then she moved to hardball questions that implied more serious implications for the company and for Wendel.

Effective managers rely on both declarative statements and thoughtful questions in their influencing attempts.

How Declarative Statements Increase Influence

(Part 1 of 2 Parts)

While working on a project with a tight deadline, Jessica made a critical error and it did not seem to bother her too much.

When Emma, the team leader inquired, Jessica said, “It doesn’t matter all that much if we are late.  They don’t expect us to complete these projects on time anyway.”

“Jessica,” Emma explained, “the deadline is important.  I want you to correct the error and help get the project back on schedule because it will improve customer satisfaction and revenue.”

Emma used the pronoun “I” and the word “because” in a declarative statement to express her opinion about Jessica’s behavior.  This influence tactic is frequently used and can be quite effective.

However, I have observed that many influencers shy away from using “I” and prefer to substitute the pronoun “we.”  For example, “We need to do what we can to get back on schedule.”  The use of “we” by Emma would have made her expectation of Jessica far less clear.

Some influencers also leave out the word “because.”  Emma by including “because” explained the reason why the schedule was important.

Declarative statements that include both “I” and “because” increase the likelihood of influencing the behaviors of others.