It is very natural for parents to take responsibility for their children. At a young age kids don’t know how to be responsible for themselves, but the goal of every parent is to slowly show and allow their children to be responsible for themselves. Certainly, after one becomes 18 they should be mostly responsible for themselves. Upon being hired for a professional job they most definitely should be fully responsible. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. Most managers at some point in their career have encountered individuals or groups of employees that make them feel as though they are running an adult day care facility.
The fact is, individual employees alone are responsible for having the required knowledge and skills to fulfill their job description, understanding the context associated with it, making good decision’s while fulfilling it, and performing well within the scope of it. In all these areas employees are responsible for initiating and obtaining what they lack. Managers may choose to help in this and they may also offer grace in specific situation from time to time, but ultimately it is the responsibility of the employee.
However, sometimes the environment of an organization doesn’t allow for growth in its employees. Some managers are acutely distrusting of his employees’ ability to make decision and perform at a specific level of competence. They hover over employees giving direction and monitoring their actions. Some managers like this because it puts them in the powerful position of being the expert that knows everything and supervising the underlings that know nothing. In fact, they may specifically hire people too junior for a position so as to never be threatened. Again, some managers enjoy this type of relationship with their employees but can at times get overwhelmed and angry with constantly having to give direction.
Then there are the employees that play helpless and seduce managers into constantly intervening in their work, giving direction, and performing their quality control function. They do not want to be empowered and take responsibility. They want to be a follower. Another childish behavior is exhibited when employees screw up and want someone to rescue them from the situation. Often they will manipulate others to take over the crises and fix the problem for them.
Managers carry at least 50% of the blame for these bad behaviors. Either they instigate the bad behavior with their actions or they allow employees to get away with not taking responsibility. The best way for you, the manager, to change this behavior is to learn to play the role of a professional coach.
- The focus within the organization should never be on you; it should be about your organization, department, or project and its performance. This is what coaches do. They focus on creating the best environment for their players to succeed. They find the best talent and could care less if the players perform better than he ever could. Coaches realize they cannot play in the game and must let their players do so without constant intervention. They look for teachable moments from the bench to help players get better.
- Do not let employees get addicted to your constant help and guidance. It would be unthinkable for a player to constantly seek direction and approval from their coach while in a game. Coaches would get rid of any player who did. Managers should wean employees from this behavior by forcing them to work independently.
Susan was responsible for putting on the department’s yearly dinner. She got the menu from the high end restaurant and needed to select a family style offering for the employees to choose from. She was scared to make the decision on her own and repeatedly asked her manager to help her. He told her the decision was hers and that people would enjoy anything she picked. Then she started asking the employees what they wanted and there was no consensus. Finally her manager sent out an email telling people that Susan needed to make the decision on her own and not to help her any more. With the deadline approaching she reluctantly chose the items from the menu. People loved the food and the dinner was a success.
- Do not rescue employees from predicaments they get themselves into. You may know the best way to get out of the situation while incurring the least amount of pain, but if you rescue them they will avoid the sting that makes sure they never do it again.
Alex was notorious for promising things to clients and putting the operations team in a bind to meet them. Finally the VP of operations, Becky, got fed up and told Alex and his manager they were not going to be rescued anymore. Alex and his manager plead with Becky for her help as it was a major client that would be very upset if things were not delivered as promised. Becky told them “it was always a major client and her team in the past had always felt manipulated into making it right for them. From now on her organization would not rescue Alex.” He was the one who promised it and he needed to work it out with the client. Operations never had this problem with Alex again.
- Help your employee only as much as they help themselves. Coaches help players only when players take the initiative to help themselves; they have to be coachable to receive any attention. Players that resist external input and don’t strive to get better get cut from the team.
Wil was always below the mean when it came to his performance. As a result, he received little to no raise in each of the last three years. Wil finally decided to meet with his manager, Reid, and asked how he could get better. Reid told him the areas he could improve in and Wil then asked for specific steps to follow in those areas. Reid knew Wil did not want to put in the effort to get better but just wanted better performance handed to him on a silver platter. Reid finally told Wil to figure it out on his own as had the top performers in his organization. Wil never improved and eventually was let go.
Shifting from a manager who parents their employees to a coach is very difficult. It is best accomplished with group support, encouragement, and advice. Role playing and reviewing past situations in the group is invaluable. It could take a few years to make the transition depending how deep you are into parenting your employees (which actually isn’t that long if you plan on being in management the rest of your life). So, find or put together a group and make it happen. It’s your responsibility.