Are My People Responsible Even When No One’s Watching?

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Responsible, caring, self-motivated and loyal; these are the kind of people you need to deliver the amazing service and value you wish to provide to others. How are such high-integrity people developed?

“Integrity is doing the right thing even when no one is watching.”

S. Lewis

For years, I have been spitting in the soup of leaders using control models whether in homes, schools, community organizations or businesses. Engaging in control models is choosing extrinsic motivation to get people to do what you want. This is never good; it weakens the intrinsic motivation in your people and causes them to disengage. However, if you sufficiently and intentionally develop personal responsibility in your people, they will be as high-performing when working from home (without anyone watching) as they are when in the office. A silver lining of the Covid19 pandemic is that you get to see how well-developed and personally responsible your people behave and how well you are at developing them rather than controlling them. The four control models to dismantle are:

Autocratic: this is when authority figures believe they must manage and police people because they don’t trust them otherwise. This leads to a command-and-control way of operating from leadership to direct reports. One outcome is that your people resentfully comply, doing mediocre, C- work, while often looking and feeling like a victim. Another outcome is that they rebel and resist, becoming angry and mean-spirited.

Incentives: this is also thought of as dangling carrots to get people to do what you want. When you use this method, you believe it’s your job to motivate your direct reports and that without an inducement, your people are basically selfish and lazy. The outcome of this method is that your people become competitive, rush past quality, develop a ‘gimme’ attitude and worst of all, their commitment to the desired behavior (that you want them to care about), is diminished.

Judgment: this is when an authority figure bestows either praise (which is much different than encouragement; something we all need), or criticism. Bestowing is only possible in a power-over dynamic. The belief you hold about people is that they are less deserving than you or others with leadership titles. As praise, this sounds like, “Go out and get me that sale. Make me proud.” As criticism, this sounds like, “I’m so disappointed in you.” If this method ‘works’ it is cultivating people-pleasers, yes-men and women, brown-nosing and loss of authenticity and creativity, all to keep the boss happy. In more confident people, they think, “who died and made you God?!” and rebel.

Pamper and Spoil: this is when an authority figure hovers, nags, reminds, does something for someone they can do themselves. It’s when people are rescued, exempted, or pitied by leaders. It is when a blind eye is turned on low performance and when overcompensating for them happens. An example is the celebrity parents who paid to get higher SAT scores so their kids could make it into ivy-league schools. Pampering and spoiling sends a message that you don’t have faith in someone’s capabilities. This leads to under-performance and an entitled attitude.

The reason all of the above control methods are so popular is that they seem to ‘work’. They DO some of the time, but not without a costly and terrible price tag.

Responsibility Instead: this is when leader develop their people. You train them and mentor them to be personally responsible and support them until they are able to own their tasks; they manage their relationships, their productivity, their engagement and a progress plan.  This takes time upfront but pays huge dividends! You help your people to be fully engaged and accountable from love rather than fear.

Love is not always thought of as a politically correct word or skill in the workplace but it should be. What else would you call it when leaders take time to develop people and give them the kind of support that leads them to be caring, competent and collaborative members of your workforce? While they are at home, not being supervised, don’t become angry if their output goes down. Instead, take this as a cue for you to take more time to help them to be responsible. I’m here to help if you decide to do so.

This article is published in St. Louis Small Business Monthly in the column The Extraordinary Workplace, August 2020.

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