“We tried it but the staff went back to doing it the old way.”
“Nobody does what I ask them to do!”
These are common complaints I hear from consulting clients. In many cases, when I follow up by asking, “What are the consequences for not doing what you instructed them to do?”… Crickets!
Before we move the conversation to accountability for insubordination or failure to meet job expectations, let’s take a few steps back. Without having all the details, I’ll usually give the employee the benefit of the doubt until I better understand the situation. Too often I’ve heard from leaders in an optometry practice, typically the owner or manager, complaining of a poor performing employee only to learn that the employee has not been given adequate training and feedback to competently perform their job. While there is certainly such a thing as an employee failing the practice, there is also such a thing as the practice failing the employee.
Before assuming you made a bad hire or an employee is unwilling to make improvements, make sure employees have been given adequate support from management. Ask yourself the following:
• Have my employees been given clear expectations regarding responsibilities, objectives and deadlines?
• Have my employees been given adequate training and coaching?
• Have I involved my staff in decisions?
Sometimes employees have valid reasons for not meeting job expectations. To cite the examples above, it’s possible they are unclear on expectations or priorities, need more training to competently perform their job, or simply do not like your ideas. Before you label that last point as an unacceptable reason for not doing what you want them to do, it’s important to remember that we are dealing with human beings and not robots. As human beings, we’re wired to prefer having some control and involvement with matters that affect us. Research has shown many employees perform at a much higher level when they are involved in decisions and have some autonomy in how they perform their job. This doesn't mean staff will always get their way, but you’re effectively giving them a voice – which is very empowering. People like to see their own ideas succeed. A work environment that dictates people’s jobs to them and discourages staff involvement often results in employees becoming resentful and resistant of management decisions, especially those they don’t agree with. In the book Why Employees Don’t Do What They’re Supposed To Do and What To Do About It, this was listed as one of the top reason employees don't do what you want them to. The #1 reason, if you’re curious, was failure to set clear expectations.
Accountability starts with communication. It starts with learning why the employee is not meeting job expectations. Explore the reasons mentioned above to learn if there’s a valid reason that management can assist with. I’m a big advocate of having frequent one-on-one meetings with employees. In many practices this happens annually at a 1-year review. To make sure everyone is on the same page and knows what is expected of them, I believe one-on-one, high-level communication has to occur more frequently than once every twelve months. It’s an opportunity to both give and get feedback. If the employee is facing challenges or obstacles preventing him or her from meeting job requirements, this provides a private setting to discuss. It’s also an opportunity to restate goals and objectives and provide corrective feedback when necessary. In many practices, one-on-one meetings only occur after a problem has developed. I think a better approach is to schedule regular meetings with employees, perhaps monthly or quarterly, and get in front of these problems before they develop or continue to blossom.
It’s not me; it’s you!
Let’s assume management is not the issue. Your staff has been given the tools, training and resources they need to succeed. As a client recently asked me, “What do I do when they still won’t do what I ask?”
This brings us back to the topic at hand – accountability. One of the best descriptions I’ve heard for establishing accountability in the workplace is “getting people to perform in a manner in which they know in advance they will have to ‘account’ for their performance at a later date”. The aforementioned one-on-ones provide a forum for this. Accountability often falls through the cracks because owners or managers provide instruction but fail to hold employees accountable for outcomes. People will not maintain accountability if they never have to answer for their failures. If employees know in advance they will have to report on their performance and outcomes on a regular basis, this establishes a mechanism for accountability. If the reason is not a failure of management but rather noncompliance or insubordination, the conversation moves from “How can I help you succeed?” to “If you continue to perform at this level I will have to consider replacing you”.
Since most people will not want to keep explaining to a boss or superior why they continue to fail at their job, it’s likely that many underperforming employees will either show improvement or leave on their own. Not all turnover is bad.
Dr. Vargo serves as Optometric Practice Management Consultant for IDOC. A published author and speaker with more than 15 years clinical experience, he is now a full-time consultant advising ODs in all areas of practice management and optometric office operations.