I loved that TV game show, “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” emceed by Drew Carey from 1998-2006, featuring masterful comedy improv artists like Ryan Stiles, Colin Mochrie, and Wayne Brady.
In each episode, the performers were given surprise, off-the-wall situations to enact, making up dialogue off the top of their heads. They had to take on peculiar roles and follow weird rules. The pace was frenetic. Their creative antics were hilarious. And the winner, that Drew selected, was the comic who did the best job meeting his unstated expectations.
Supervisors assign performance expectations. Employees act on them. There’s feedback along the way to make sure everyone is on the same page.
But then things break down and supervisors find themselves:
- Catching careless employee mistakes and fixing them
- Double-checking work before it gets released
- Answering endless how-to questions on routine tasks
- Uncovering neglected office procedures
- Facing push-back on performance feedback
Many supervisors struggle with holding employees accountable for their work. When it’s time to address weak performance, they feel bad about doing it.
Whose work is it anyway?
When employees don’t deliver what’s expected, they shouldn’t be able to win. But they do win if their supervisor:
- Does the work for them
- Catches their mistakes for them
- Answers all their questions
- Coddles them when their work is slipping
When supervisors are doing work that belongs to their employees, in whole or in part, the company is paying two people to do the same work. No business model survives that way. Boundaries help everyone succeed.
Gotta know your lines!
Unfortunately, boundaries can blur easily. It starts with incidents that seem so innocent, so minimal, and occasional. But they creep up on you.
So you have to keep your guard up and your “lines” ready. Here are typical scenarios that most supervisors face:
Situation 1: Martha comes to your office (in fact, interrupts your work) to ask you the latest information on a company policy while her customer is on hold. She’s been trained on the policy and how to access the company’s on-line FAQs.
Your lines: “Martha, you have access to that information. Please tell the customer you will find it and call him back in 15 minutes.”
Situation 2: John is responsible for ensuring that there is sufficient inventory to cover monthly demand. He failed to meet that standard again this month. In his own defense, he told you that his suppliers were not delivering on time.
Your lines: “John, this is the third consecutive month that inventory has not met demand. I need to review the initiatives you will put into place to deal with suppliers? Please prepare a written plan for me to review and discuss with you before noon on Friday.”
Situation 3: Sylvia’s performance has been declining in two areas: meeting monthly internal communications deadlines and launching a social media marketing team. During your feedback session, Sylvia argues with you, defending her performance.
Your lines: “Sylvia, I have described my expectations for these areas of your performance. I have just given you specific examples of work that has fallen short. I hear the justifications that you are giving me but that doesn’t change my expectations. I want you to succeed here and am willing to support the efforts you make. I would like to meet with you again tomorrow and talk about what specific steps you will take to improve.”
Let your boundaries propel accountability.
As a supervisor, you are accountable for the collective output of your work group. But each employee is accountable for his/her own work. Your job is to ensure that accountabilities are being met by being supportive but without taking on their work. Being business fit means staying focused on what needs to be done and by whom. When your employees know whose job it is, your job is a lot sweeter!
Were you ever in a situation where someone tried to off-load their work to you? What were your lines? How did everything resolve itself?