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The Vital Attitude of Co-Responsibility in Performance Dialogues

The Vital Attitude of Co-Responsibility in Performance Dialogues
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This article was originally published on Coach U Insights on July 26, 2021.

We ask groups of leaders, "Do you think your manager is co-responsible for how you show up or for how successful you are in your role? Does your performance depend on what he or she does?" They quickly and assertively answer, "Of course."

Then we ask, "So, then, are you co-responsible for the performance of your direct reports?" They almost always hesitate, and then agree. From my perspective, this reasoning shows that evaluating your employees by giving them a "report card" on how they're doing isn't the best approach.

How do you evaluate performance? When it's time for yearly or biannual evaluations, do you give report cards (i.e., rate employees on whether they exceed expectations, meet expectations, need improvement, etc.)? Or are you one of those rare, higher-capacity leaders who understand that you're evaluating an "us" rather than a "you"?

Higher-capacity leaders are those who are more effective at leading during times of VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, ambiguity) and rapid change. They understand that evaluation is always about how we are doing, rather than how you are doing; they are not separate from the performance of their direct reports, and they, therefore, embody the vital attitude of co-responsibility.

Which one are you when you sit down with one of your direct reports?

With an attitude of co-responsibility, you understand that many factors impact the performance of your direct reports. One, of course, is what they bring to the game, both in terms of skill and attitude. But is this the most important factor? In general, I believe the answer is a resounding "no." Your contributions are at least equally important, as well as the contributions of the greater context (e.g., organizational culture, current business environment, etc.).

How do you evaluate your contributions to their performance? Here are a few questions you can (and should) ask yourself before going into a performance dialogue:

  • How effectively have I provided guidance and coaching, and am I actively building my coaching skills? Am I providing the support they need?
  • How regularly do we meet? When we do meet, how much is about my own agenda, and how much do I ask what is most important to them?
  • To what extent do I create a context of safety, trust and openness?
  • Do I take time to really understand their perspectives to see how they view the situation and to collaboratively discuss how they can increase their effectiveness? Or do I quickly revert to telling them what to do because it seems to take less time?
  • How often do I ask them to step back and identify their current role-related strengths and challenges and to develop plans for becoming even more effective?
  • How often do I notice my impact on them, whether it's positive (which leaves them more motivated, engaged and hopeful) or negative (which leaves them stressed, anxious and frustrated)?
  • Do I run my team in a way that encourages them to support one another, or do I run my team as a collection of individuals? Do I encourage competition or collaboration? How would I know?
  • To what extent do I protect them from unreasonable expectations that come from above me? Do I push back, or just accept what's unreasonable and then demand it of them?

What is the impact of your organization as a whole?

Once you answer these questions to see how you are contributing to an individual team member's performance, think about the impact of your organization as a whole. Think about what it's like to work at your company and the behaviors modeled by senior leaders. What do they pay attention to?

Which qualities are valued, and which negative qualities are clearly tolerated? This is what creates organizational culture. A few other things to consider are:

  • Expected behaviors of those who would like raises or promotions.
  • Whether a work-life balance is supported or ignored.
  • If employees feel safe to challenge or disagree with senior leaders. Alternative perspectives should be welcomed, not punished.
  • If market conditions truly support the targets to which your team is being held.
  • Whether people are often blamed for results that are out of their control.

Adopting an attitude of co-responsibility isn't easy. It requires you to be vulnerable and look at your own accountability for results. You must look at your own challenges, as well as your own strengths. Imagine if you started your performance dialogues with something along the lines of, "Let's see how we have been doing?" Although it might be scary, can you also see how freeing that would be? How much your direct reports would welcome it?

And, perhaps most importantly, wouldn't you love it if your boss started all performance dialogues in the same way? If that's what you'd want for yourself, you have the obligation to offer the same to those who are in your care. Have courage. Be and act co-responsibly.

Originally published by Forbes Coaches Council

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