“He’s missed two important meetings and offers no excuse! He just says he overslept and that he’s sorry. This is unacceptable, highly embarrassing, and disrespectful to the client.”
This was the current situation of my client, Roger (not their real name) who found himself in the middle of an accountability dilemma. A facilitation support team member, who was critical to the project meetings, had missed two in the past month without notice. Moreover, his team members had to scramble to fill his role each time at the last minute. Roger had made it clear with the first infraction that missing meetings was unacceptable. Now it had happened again and Roger wasn’t sure how to handle this second disappointment.
As the leader, you will entail situations where failure to meet expectations has occurred numerous times. As discussed in the book Crucial Accountability, it’s important to understand which problem you need to address. Now we are assuming that all of the previous steps of the accountability process have been met. These would include crystal clear expectations and agreement of both parties to meet those expectations. Also, you’ve given them constructive feedback along the way and have clearly spelled out what success looks like.
The First Time: They don’t meet expectations
The first-time expectations aren’t met, it may be understandable. You’re disappointed, but you don’t expect perfection. As long as your team learns from their mistakes and puts forth efforts to prevent the same outcome in the future, your happy.
Seek to understand the issues and barriers with your team member, and ask them for their new plan to be successful. Once you have an agreement, you can consider your course correction complete. For some, this will be a one-time-only occurrence and you’ll never have to address it again. For others…..
The Second Time: They don’t meet expectations
Your team member has let you down again. Even if it’s not the same infraction, it’s another failure in meeting expectations. This is the second occurrence and you’re starting to wonder if a pattern is developing. That’s the issue you need to address now. The pattern.
Again, seek to understand the issues and barriers, but express your perception of a pattern. Explain how this impacts the team and the organization’s success. You’re conveying to the team member that their reputation may be damaged if this continues. In fact, it may already be damaged and they need to make it up to the team somehow.
Again, ask for a plan to prevent a repeat performance, and get an agreement. At this point, get the agreement in writing. This could be a simple e-mail from them outlining what you’ve agreed to during your conversation. On a more formal note, you might include a signed accountability agreement to give it even more weight.
The Third Time: They don’t meet expectations
Now, this is a real problem. Not only is it embarrassing, but you also feel disrespected. In fact, now the problem is a damaged relationship. It is now difficult for you to trust them. How will they address that issue? You not only need a plan to get them back on track, but you also need them to develop a plan to gain trust from you and their team members. This may be a huge task and not everyone can recover. At this point, you need to do some deep thinking as to the true intentions of your team member. Are there truly some barriers that can’t be overcome, or do they simply not care enough? How damaging is it to the team? How damaging is it to the organization?
Remember that as a leader, everyone is watching you. They’re watching how you hold others accountable. It sends a message. What message do you want to send?
If you determine that this person is worth keeping, then have the relationship and trust conversation with them. Get their commitment yet again, but clearly spell out what will happen if the infraction occurs again. Just like a parent, you then need to follow through with those consequences.
The FOURTH TIME
There shouldn’t be a fourth time. At this point you should have determined at least one of the following about this team member:
- not the right fit for the expectation
- does not have the capability of meeting the specified expectation
- does not have the capacity for meeting the specified expectation
- doesn’t care about meeting expectations
- doesn’t care about damaging the relationships with you or other team members
In any case, you need to decide if they belong in another job, or another organization.
And if for some reason you can’t make either of those changes, then you probably need to look at your own leadership position and determine if it’s time to leave.
Lynn Zettler is an Executive and Leadership Coach specializing in helping to create amazing leaders with excellent communication skills, exemplary accountability cultures, and impactful strategic plans.
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