Articles

Too Little, Too Late – Correct Leadership Action When It’s Not A Means, Ability, Accountability Or Even A Capability Issue

August 15, 2016 - By Wendy Lambourne, Director, MA Industrial and Organisation Psychology, Registered Psychologist with SA Medical & Dental Council

corrective

By an experienced line manager and practitioner of the Legitimate Leadership principles; with comment by Wendy Lambourne of Legitimate Leadership.

How do you handle a situation where an employee can technically do a job but simply does not “fit” with the rest of the team and the relationships are broken?

Almost any aspect of poor performance and dysfunction in people or teams can be diagnosed using the Legitimate Leadership Model.

The easy cases are where there are Means, Ability or Accountability issues.

Let’s deal with these quickly:

Means: if someone does not have the means – that is, tools, time, budget, resources, materials, equipment, etc. Then, provide them! Sometimes that will mean making hard management decisions about priorities as it is rare to have unlimited time or resources.

The subtler means issues are around having clear standards (be they technical or behavioural, and others, such as authority). Authority is subtle in that the person being asked to take accountability for delivery has to know he has the authority – but so also do the people he engages with need to know that that person has the requisite authority to act.

Ability: is about how and why.

If someone does not know how to do something, you show her – otherwise known as “training”.

If someone does not know why she is doing something, you tell her, or show her how to find out for herself – otherwise known as “coaching”.

Of the two, the “why” aspect is more important – after all, there are often many different ways of doing the “how” and clever people can figure out for themselves how do to something. It is harder to find out the why in isolation.

Accountability – the golden rule of accountability is that you cannot hold anyone accountable unless you have first given him the means and ability. However once this has been ensured, then the person needs to be held appropriately accountable – that is:

Intent Appropriate Accountability
Careful Recognise/praise
Consistently extra mile Reward
Careless Censure
Deliberately malevolent Discipline

The shorthand for all of the above is:

Means = I am allowed.

Ability = I can (I am able).

Accountability = I will (you can hold me accountable for my unique contribution).

So, all easy to diagnose so far! I’m allowed, I can and I will.

But what if I can’t? That is, no matter how much means and ability you give me I simply will never be able to do the job, even with an infinite amount of training and coaching and time. That becomes a capability issue, not a means or ability or accountability issue (I really want to do it but simply can’t and never will be able to).

The correct leadership action in this case involves removing the person from the job and redeploying him into a job he can (is able) to do. If this is not possible, he must leave with gratitude and appropriate compensation for his time and contribution to date.

Now, a more complex situation: what do you do when an employee is now willing and capable of doing the job but does not have the relationships with peers to be effective? That is, previous behaviour, which is admittedly now corrected, has generated a reputation which creates a toxic environment which prevents full contribution.

Let’s look at a case study to understand. An employee entered an organisation in a junior capacity and did the job largely to a good technical standard, but displayed a few behavioural characteristics which required feedback and light censure. This went on for some time; the employee did listen to the feedback and, with constant coaching, did slowly improve to the point where he is now consistently trying not to revert to his more natural competitive and combative style.

However, all peers now have a pre-conditioned mindset regarding that person’s style (his reputation) which creates a set of relationships which impairs the person ability to operate with his recently-developed behaviours. No matter how hard he tries to be his newly-improved self he is not accepted by the rest of the team and he does not “fit” the organisation.

This comes under the care criteria – rather than the growth criteria (under which are means, ability and accountability).

The care issue is that the person no longer has the trust of the team. Or, more simply put, the team is not convinced that the leopard has changed its spots or that the old dog has learned new tricks.

The remedial action in this case is similar to the capability issue. The person must be reassigned to an area where his new behavioural standards will be accepted and valued with none of the reputational baggage. If that is not possible, he must leave, again with appropriate gratitude and commensurate compensation for time and effort. The person has, after all, done a number of years’ service to a technical standard while trying to improve behaviours too. Unfortunately, it is a matter of too little, too late.

COMMENT BY WENDY LAMBOURNE, LEGITIMATE LEADERSHIP:  The Legitimate Leadership framework is, first and foremost, about cultivating relationships of trust between the parties in the relationship – be that managers-employees, colleagues within the organisation, or between customers-suppliers. In all instances, the primary concern is trust. Trust happens only when the one party in the relationship is convinced that the other party has her best interests at heart. When this is not the case, then the relationship cannot succeed. Typically this means that the person/party who has not succeeded in gaining the trust of the other person/party has to leave. This is sometimes very unfortunate but nevertheless true.

Wendy Lambourne
Josh Hayman

Getting Management Visibility Right

Josh Hayman

Wendy Lambourne

September 2021 – Question Of The Month

Wendy Lambourne

Wendy Lambourne

What Accounts For Trust In Management

Wendy Lambourne

The Daily Stoic

Marcus Aurelius Did Not Come Out Of The Womb A Leader

The Daily Stoic

Wendy Lambourne

August 2021 – Question of the Month

Wendy Lambourne

Ian Munro

Right Now! That Is The Right Time To Start Building Trust With Your Team

Ian Munro

Wendy Lambourne

Reward – It’s Not About The Money!

Wendy Lambourne

Angela Donnelly

The Role Of The Coach Is To Watch The Game

Angela Donnelly

Wendy Lambourne

July 2021 – Question of the Month

Wendy Lambourne

Ian Munro

Leading Remotely? Spend Less Time Managing, More Time Enabling

Ian Munro