Why staff can let you down and what to do about it

From time to time, everyone misses a deadline, forgets an obligation or fails to live up to meet a commitment. We’re human, and it happens. For most of us, failure is followed by an immediate effort to right the situation.

Problem solved, right? Not so fast. “Most of us” excludes a special cohort: those who chronically disappoint and routinely fail to meet their obligations. They say one thing and do another; they agree to deadlines they have no intention of meeting, and they commit to deliverables that never materialize.

If we’re lucky, once we identify members of this tribe, we can put a healthy distance between ourselves and them. We can’t always do that with staff or other people who may be on our team. There are some proven strategies we can use to retake control, push for greater accountability and regain our sanity.

Accountability strategy No. 1: Confirm a shared understanding

Be sure you and the other person have a shared understanding of your expectations. Does the person understand what’s required? If so, how do you know? Did he say yes in a way he’d hoped you would figure actually meant no? Did he agree because you are in a position of authority, and he didn’t want to disappoint you in the moment? Did he know that you meant today and not just sometime soon? Before taking other action, it’s important to make sure you and the other person have a shared understanding.

Accountability strategy No. 2: Look for roadblocks

Once you are sure that you and the other person have a similar grasp of the requirements, look for roadblocks. Does the person working on the project have someone or something else demanding his time? Take the time to do a little digging. You’ve got to focus your effort on changing the underlying belief and make a case for your point of view.

Accountability strategy No. 3: Break steps into smaller pieces

Even with a shared understanding and no obvious roadblocks, sometimes people don’t follow through because they get overwhelmed. When this happens, it may make sense to break the task into smaller pieces. Bobby, do you think you can have the first part of this done by 1 p.m.? Great, I’ll check in with you then to see where we are. It’s important that we meet our deadlines because our clients count on us to live up to our promises. When we meet this afternoon, we can see where you are. How does that sound?

Accountability strategy No. 4: Make use of upfront contracts

If there are no roadblocks preventing the other person from following through and small steps aren’t solving the problem, it’s time to explore upfront contract language. If you can get this done by 3 p.m. today, I can mark your work as complete. If your team can meet the deadlines we’ve agreed to, we will have what we need to move the project forward. The pattern is simply, “If you/your team can, then I/we will.”

Accountability strategy No. 5: Add a next step

If the upfront contract doesn’t yield results, it’s time to add an else component. If you can get this project done by 3 p.m. today, I can mark your work as complete. If I’m unable to do that, we can set up a meeting with Brian to let him know that the deadline won’t be met. If your team can meet the deadlines we’ve agreed to, we will have what we need to move the project forward. If we can’t move forward, we’ll have to escalate this.

Accountability strategy No. 6: Consider cutting your losses (if you can)

From time to time, you may encounter a team member who fails to follow through no matter what you do. When that happens, you may decide to cut your losses. John, when we spoke about deadlines, I explained that if you could make deadlines, you could continue your employment. For the last two weeks, you’ve missed half of your deadlines. For that reason, we’re going to let you go.

Accountability strategy No. 7: Take back control

What if you’re not in a position to fire someone or walk away from a relationship? In these situations, it’s important to realize you are making a choice. I’m going to continue to work here because it’s close to my house and the schedule is flexible.I need a job, and this is the one I have now. I choose to work around this instead of walking out of the door and having nothing.

And that’s the lowdown on the letdown. Few people enjoy disappointment or appreciate someone who chronically drops the ball. Sometimes better communication can fix the problem. Sometimes upfront contracts paired with consequences can make things right, and if all else fails, a little positive self-talk can help.

Kate Zabriskie is the president of Business Training Works Inc., a Maryland-based talent development firm. She and her team help businesses establish client service strategies and train their people to live up to what’s promised. For more information, visit businesstrainingworks.com.

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