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Hard Truths: Accountability – Achieving More Clarity by Giving More Feedback

On this week’s episode of Hard Truths with Dave Anderson, Dave continues his conversation about accountability, particularly about clarity. Once you have clarity as a manager, you need to communicate it well. You’ve got to give more feedback. You’ve got to eliminate the gray areas.


Hi. Welcome to the Hard Truths show with Dave Anderson, the show where we talk about the things that need to be talked about but that people don’t want to talk about because of our sensitive, politically correct times that we happen to be living in. I want to continue in this episode to talk about accountability.

Last two episodes, I talked about accountability. I fact, I left off last time talking about you have to have clarity before you can hold people accountable, and I went over four key aspects of clarity. You have to have a clear mission, clear vision, clear performance standards, and clear core values. Otherwise, the question is accountable for what?
Now, once you have that clarity and you communicate it well, I want to pick up where I left off with the last episode. You’ve got to give more feedback. You’ve got to eliminate the gray areas. Poor performers love to hide in gray areas, and so feedback … Ken Blanchard called it the breakfast of champions. Great people want to hear it because they want to be coached. They want to get better, and if they’re off track, they need to know it. Poor performers don’t appreciate it as much, but they need to hear it. You’ve got to eliminate that gray area as well, so here’s some rules of feedback.

First of all, it’s got to be candid. Listen, we’re so afraid today of hurting somebody’s feelings. Let me make a suggestion to you. You got to start becoming more concerned about their future than their feelings. Now, being candid doesn’t mean you’re a jerk. It doesn’t mean you’re disrespectful, or get personal, or raise your voice, or become profane. That destroys the effect of feedback. It causes people to tune you out, okay, but you’ve got to tell the truth. You’ve got to tell the truth.

We don’t tell the truth anymore in society because we’re worried about telling somebody what’s really going on and having them scurrying off to their safe space, sniveling, speed dialing mama, calling their therapist looking for medication so they can make it through the day because someone had the guts to tell them what’s really going on in their life, but if you care about people, they need to hear the truth.
Okay, so feedback has to be candid. That also means, when they’re doing well, you let them know that. Don’t worry about it hurting someone else’s feelings. In a strong culture, you give your best to the best and less to the rest, and so if this one’s great and this one’s not, this one needs to hear they’re great. This one’s not going to hear it until they’ve earned it and deserve it, so give candid feedback. Listen, it’s all about the right way of doing it. Use the right style. Otherwise, you destroy the effect.

Secondly, it’s got to be quickly after performance. The longer you wait to either give good or constructive feedback, the less it means. Delayed consequences lose their impact, and so as soon as you can give the feedback after a good performance, the more likely you are to see that performance again. At the same time, though, if someone’s off track, the longer you wait to give them the feedback, the less it means and the more likely it is to happen again, and it’s going to happen again and again and again, and so you’ve got to shrink the distance between action and your feedback, which means you need to get up off your rear end and spend more time in the trenches and see what the heck is going on in your unit. You’ve got to see what’s going on out there or you can’t give feedback. Aloof leaders are terrible at feedback. They’re not even in touch with the behaviors of their people, so they’re always getting there too slow to reinforce what’s good and to confront what’s not so good.

Think about this. I like to use the term shovel the piles while they’re small. If somebody’s off track, don’t let them do it again and again and again and become a big issue. Shovel the piles while they’re small. Get there faster. I’ve done entire courses on feedback, on accountability. I have a two-day class on it. I’ve written chapters in my books on this. It’s such a big topic, and most managers, they still fumble feedback. They wait too long. They’re not specific enough. They tiptoe around the tough issues.
Remember this. Behaviors, this is part of behavioral science, that get rewarded and reinforced get repeated. Behaviors that get rewarded and reinforced get repeated, so if somebody’s doing something good, if you want to see more of it, give them that candid feedback quickly. If they’re off track and you don’t want to see it again, give them that candid feedback quickly.
Keep those thing in mind. It’s got to be fast. It’s got to be candid. It’s got to be specific. Telling somebody, “Hey, you did a great job,” well, that’s better than noting, but if you can mention something specific about the job they did, a particular behavior, they’re more likely to do it again. At the same time, telling somebody, “Hey, you really screwed that up,” that’s not really helpful either. Point out something they could have done better. Show them what good performance looks like and tell them you expect to see it happen that way again in the future, so be candid, be fast, be specific. Use the right style.

Just remember this. Part of behavioral science also says this. The absence of a consequence serves as a reinforcer, so part of a consequence is feedback. You’ve got to give feedback. That’s the consequence. It could be a good one or a bad one depending on the behavior, but the absence of a consequence serves as a reinforcer for that person who’s not behaving well, and so if you don’t confront it, you’ve actually reinforced it. If you don’t talk about it, it’s more likely to happen again, and so practice this discipline.
In our next episode, we’ll actually talk about consequences, and I’m going to talk about some specific things you can do to apply consequences that make it more likely that the behavior you’re seeing that you don’t want to see any more of goes away, so we’ll talk about that on the next show. Look forward to visiting with you then.

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