The Effects of Accepting Bad Work

“Leadership is not a title. It’s a behavior. Live it.” – Robin Sharma

As career people, we have all had a bad manager likely in our career. Those that utilized command and control, meddled in the lowest levels of work, micro-managed or did not really understand what the crux of leadership really should be doing.

I have a very general treatise when it comes to those that I lead and manage.

  1. My staff have the freedom to challenge anything I say. – I do this because there is no possible way I can know everything nor can always be right. I can determine a course of action and lead with conviction but without the ability to hear the potential problems I might not see, I could be “the blind leading the lost”.
  2. Don’t push people out the door but don’t stunt their growth to make them stay. – Keep people learning and growing and work to ensure that you are not setting yourself up for failure through starving the group while feeding one individual.
  3. The culture and environment should inspire people to want to come to work. We spend far too much of our lives doing work to be in an environment that does otherwise. I have worked in those cultures where it was a real battle everyday to come to an environment even if I still appreciated the work that I was doing as was paid well to do it.
  4. You should constantly look for “bright spots” in the people that are a part of the culture and cultivate them however possible.  I want to be aware of people who are growing and encourage that growth through stretch assignments and opportunity. I would rather have a great team member leave my organization and go on to greater things than to have a mediocre team member stay and hold back the overall growth. Give you team members the ability to regularly learn and grow!

One of the things that I see in some leaders, and I have been guilty of as a leader myself early in my career, is allowing myself to accept bad performance from someone far longer that possible and not guide the situation either upward or outward.

After reflection on this situation, I really got to thinking about what the ramifications of leading in this way really do. I began turning over the idea and looking at it from more aspects than just leader and team member.

The potential affect of accepting this bad work

What this communicates to the team member

When a leader recognizes poor performance or work product on the part of a team member and allows this to continue, they often set the stage for a couple of things:

  1. The outwardly communicates that this level of work is the accepted norm to the team member and as a result they may never stretch themselves to do more or make think this is all that is ever expected from their job. This could lead to complacency on their part of push them out the door as they are bored.
  2. Leaders often become frustrated over time (likely from the guilt of not addressing the issue itself ) and are often reactive to the situation in the future without giving the employee insight into actually doing something to improve their work. This can be coupled with a lot of emotions around having the conversation about the work, which have compounded if left unaddressed over time..

What this communicates to the teams

  1. This shows a lack of care towards the teams themselves. Most teams that are self-organized will adapt to ensure that they still hit the mark of delivery even if they have to compensate for a bad team member. But they will begin to resent a leader who places them in this situation long term.
  2. It communicates that leadership is not really connected to what the teams do (or perceived that way) and is not really supporting them. I am not talking about micro-management here, I am just talking about the team feeling that they are drowning and no one  cares.
  3. It begins to communicate an expectation that the quality of work doesn’t mean anything to the culture.
  4. This can again breed with it a strong amount of emotion that makes it personal towards the underachieving team member or towards the leader or the organization.

So what to do to address this issue?

  1. Have an open conversation. Not tomorrow, not later, not when it “might feel easier”. As Nike says, “just do it”. Having a conversation over bad work performance is terrible.. Accept this and move forward. No amount of time will make it “less worse”.
  2. Understand what the impact is to the work and the team and be able to clearly articulate why the work is a problem. Don’t fish for words or try and make it sound “not that bad”. Just be honest and indicate the problem. Maybe this person is unclear of expectations. Just be able to state what the problem is exactly. And if the person needs to vent or rant or defend, allow them some space but do not try and soften it by discussing it to death.
  3. Be able to clearly articulate what the expectation of work is for them. Don’t leave them guessing. Do not give them micro-management but give them clear end goals and restate the team impact when not meeting the goal. Help them understand what success looks like.
  4. Provide a follow-up plan with clear checkpoints. Ensure that they know whom they can speak with if they have problems and ensure them that these checkpoints will ensure if the situation is getting better or worse and allows them a definite point in time to “pivot or persevere” in how they are working.

Overall, just be aware that the acceptance of bad work has impacts far beyond the work just not getting done right. Accepting this can eventually erode foundations of a good culture and a good team.

Until next time live well, lead well and stay agile!