Organizational Accountability Warning Flag 4 – Taking Care of Employees

StrategyDriven Organizational Accountability Warning Flag ArticleAt first glance, warning against taking care of one’s employees appears contradictory to what most would believe is an important function of every manager. Context is important here. Too often, managers ‘take care of their employees’ during the performance review process. Backdoor deals, playing favorites, bending the rules to either artificially inflate or deflate an individual’s performance score. Seemingly less nefarious but equally damaging are managers’ commits to ‘taking care of an employee’ when assigning an activity or role that would in some way diminish the individual’s ability to achieve assigned goals rather than updating those goals to meet the new assignment. None of these practices has a place in an accountable organization.

Taking care of employees in this manner is an extremely dangerous practice. First, it eliminates a great deal of accountability as employees are never sure what their goals are, what standard they, their peers, or their seniors are being held to, and come to believe that the politics of favoritism rules the day. Second, managers frequently over promise what they have legitimate authority to provide. In many cases, their offers are contrary to policies requiring exemptions from more senior managers. Third, the lack of documentation leaves employees unsatisfied that they will really be taken care of in the long-term; fostering feelings of betrayal and disenfranchisement resulting in lower productivity and higher attrition.

Taking care of employees leads to a breakdown in organizational alignment and accountability. While not all inclusive, the four lists below, Process-Based Warning Flags, Process Execution Warning Flags – Behaviors, Potential, Observable Results, and Potential Causes, are designed to help leaders recognize when they are inappropriately taking care of their employees and diminishing their organization’s effectiveness. Only after a problem is recognized and its causes identified can the needed action be taken to move the organization toward improved performance.

Process-Based Warning Flags

  • No real or in practice policy for peer and senior reviews of employee performance appraisals
  • Lack of procedurally driven rules regarding the updating and refining of individual performance goals
  • No ombudsman or employees concerns program for individuals to address ‘I’ll take care of you’ practices
  • Lack of a grievance program allowing employees to express concerns when performance attribution policies are unequally applied

Process Execution Warning Flags – Behaviors

  • Managers tendency to recognize and reward those who they are personally involved with
  • Leaders focus on time, title, and/or tenure rather than performance during the performance review process
  • Lack of strong objection to the obvious application of non-performance based evaluation measures by those executives and managers participating in the performance review process
  • Lack of performance management policy reinforcement by Human Resources professionals participating in the performance review process
  • Leaders fail to question whether assignments made aligned with an employee’s goals
  • Managers favor administrative expedience rather than updating employee performance goals

Potential, Observable Results

  • Elevated employee attrition particularly among those who are not ‘favorites,’ do not have senior leadership sponsorship, and who do not work directly with their superior
  • Reduced productivity among the aforementioned employees
  • Employee surveys indicating unusually high levels of distrust for organization leaders
  • Growing lack of organizational alignment and accountability that diminishes overall results achievement

Potential Causes

  • Overindulgence in favoritism by executives, managers, and supervisors (being in the ‘ole boys club’ or ‘the boss’s pet’)
  • Organizational culture values non-performance based employee attributes
  • Managers belief that employees within a non-performance based grouping (e.g. tenured employees) are entitled to a greater measure of available rewards
  • Leaders are incapable or do not develop relationships with those outside their immediate work sphere
  • Leaders show deference to those with whom they work in order to avoid conflict
  • Managerial laziness resulting from a false belief or excuse that administrative work such as employee performance reviews offer little or no value to the organization
  • Leaders fail to recognize that individuals preferentially act to their own benefit and that it is their responsibility to align the employee’s and organization’s goals so that the employee acts to the optimal benefit of the organization
  • Leaders overdeveloped sense that they can do no wrong and/or that employees should accept their judgment as to what is good or fair rather than demand what was promised
  • Management’s failure to consider the broader ramifications of actions deviating from corporate performance assessment policies

Final Thought…

Whenever you hear yourself or someone else say, “I’ll take care of you,” you should recognize that something is seriously wrong. Philosophically, no employee should ever require taking care of. Employees should be hired for a very specific value contribution to the organization and should provide that value or be reassigned or terminated. If an employee truly requires taking care of, either the employee is not providing the value or, and more likely, the manager has made an assignment inconsistent with the value metrics of the organization. This practice and the practice of taking care of employees should simply not occur.

Nathan Ives, StrategyDriven Principal is a StrategyDriven Principal, and Host of the StrategyDriven Podcast. For over twenty years, he has served as trusted advisor to executives and managers at dozens of Fortune 500 and smaller companies in the areas of management effectiveness, organizational development, and process improvement. To read Nathan’s complete biography, click here.

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