My kids do this thing which we’ve all done in our time. “But I can’t tidy up, daddy, I’ve got a mosquito bite on my ear.” I love it. It makes me laugh and I have to play along with it.
Then I see adults doing the same thing. “But I can’t possibly do that piece of work, I’ve got an email to respond to.” Or, “I’ve got so much work to do, but sure I’ll walk with you to the kitchen and gossip about something on the telly.”
Adults. Who’d have ’em eh?
There’s this concept in psychology called attribution theory. Essentially it says if something good happens to me it’s because I made it happen. I attribute my skills to making it happen. If something bad happens to me it’s because of some external reason and has nothing to do with me. I attribute my misfortune to other circumstances.
Variants of this theory also exist. My team member did a great job of succeeding in their project because of my leadership and management ability. Or, my team member did a really poor job because they lack the capability to do the job well. I believe that men are better at manual handling tasks than women because of their build. Or, I believe that men are no good at doing the ironing because the iron is designed for a woman’s hand. (This is just an illustration yo, I don’t believe this).
So when we’re faced with this
shit nonsense at work, what do we traditionally say? Oh they just need to be performance managed. Or they need to be coached. Or they need counselling. Or they need to go through a disciplinary for poor capability.
Well just hold on a cotton picking minute there. This also is a variant of that attribution theory. We are attributing the poor action of an individual on some external factor. Who’s actually owning the issue?
Let me repeat that question – Who is actually owning the issue?
You want to know how to engage with your staff? It begins right here. You want a better score on your satisfaction survey, get this right. You want to be better at diversity and inclusion activities, then this is where you need to focus.
The issue is systemic, it is personal, and it belongs to all of us.
I start from a place of trust – in everyone. Even those who have done wrong, I give them the continued benefit of the doubt. Because I believe that we can all do the right thing given the right environment for it to happen. I cultivate that trust wherever I go, and whomever I talk to. (Yeah, I used the term ‘whomever’ correctly)
The issue is systemic. That is, it’s in the culture of the organisation to allow that type of behaviour to happen. It’s in the management structure, it’s in the leadership, it’s in the trust placed in staff, it’s in the poor handling of that staff member.
The issue is personal. That person needs to realise this is happening because of them. Their situation is because of them and no-one else. But very few people care to notice that. Most don’t care at all about the impact they’re having on others, they just care about themselves. Some are deluded in thinking they are aware, yet they still do the same things.
The issue belongs to all of us. Those of us in HR, those of us in management and leadership positions, those of us as team members. It’s all about how we play a part in this set of stuff. We choose to either endorse the behaviour, or we don’t. But, people will only act if the environment is the right one for it.
What can you do about it? Make sure your environment operates from a place of trust. “I trust you to do a good job, because that’s what I hired you for. If there is something stopping you from doing so, I need to know so I can remove it, or try my best to mitigate it. But I believe in you, and your ability to be the best you can. Together we’ll make it happen.”
No, those aren’t the words you need to say. But they sure as hell convey the intent you should have in your heart.