50% Chance Your Direct Reports Think You Aren’t Tough Enough

November 10, 2012 § 2 Comments

According to research posted this week in an HBR blog, 50% of managers don’t hold their people accountable.  While upper-level managers talk the talk of performance evaluation, follow-up, and follow-through, they don’t walk that talk.  At least half of them don’t.

Darren Overfield and Rob Kaiser’s database of more than 5,400 managers found that across all regions of the world, 46% of these managers were rated as below par on holding their people’s feet to the fire when it came to confronting their direct reports on what executive coach Alan Fine calls “SAY-DO-CO” behavior (say what you’ll do, do what you’ll say, communicate when there’s a problem). The ratings were from bosses, peers and direct reports. That’s right, 1/2 of direct reports say their managers are not tough enough.

Most of us view upper management as tough minded, goal focused players. Apparently this is not the case as much as we may believe, or want to believe.  Overfield and Kaiser hypothesize that too many managers have succombed and over-reacted to the pressures of the human relations movement and are too focused on their popularity which these managers believe increases when they don’t hold their people accountable. The researchers add that this trend has continued and perhaps intensified as the workforce has grown younger with the assumption that Gen Y’ers become indignant in the face of criticism, and the fear that as managers, they will lose the talent in their teams.

This indignant thing is not my experience, and I challenge you to think of your own experience.  In my work with hundreds of managers and direct reports every year, I see that people thrive when managers tell people what’s expected, help them get there, and then hold them accountable.  Just think of any sport. How would you like to play it if you never found out your score or whether you were qualifying or not? If your coach never had “the talk” with you?  The problem I do see is that too often, managers get fuzzy on expectations (goals and rules unclear), and then the accountability discussion, rightly so, gets contentious and  both managers and direct reports collude to avoid confrontation.

Take away:  Look yourself in the mirror and ask:

  • Would my team say I’m clear and upfront in my expectations of goals and behaviors?
  • Would they say I provide the right amount of support and tools to get there?

If the answers are yes, don’t be afraid to have the talk. Even if your direct reports feel uncomfortable, in the long run, they will respect you.

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