The Not so Fun Part of Management: Confrontation and Accountability

March 4, 2009

I was going to title this post Compassionate Management, but I think I want to go bigger than just this one aspect.  Confrontation. Most people hate it.  A small number love it, while a much larger number work diligently to avoid it.  Contrary to what people may think, this is not a part of being a manager that makes our year.  We do not relish in it, and it can be an extremely uncomfortable interaction.

A while ago I wrote a post about Giving and Receiving Feedback.  It is one of the most popular posts on this site and it is extremely applicable in this discussion. Rather than re-hash it, I want to expand on it a bit.  As managers we have a responsibility to our superiors, our employers and most importantly, our staff to provide performance feedback and guidance.  Ignoring under performers and claiming blissful ignorance, or covering for those whose work is not up to standard helps no one and hurts a heck of a lot of people.  I come to work each day and have to look each of my staff in the face and tell them I am working hard to help them.  If I chose not to address blatant performance issues I would be lying to them.  I don’t like lying or liars.

Confronting someone about their performance or behavior is not a fun or easy task.  There have been many books written about how to conduct a performance discussion and/or review.  All give solid advice and I have used many of the tips and strategies.  The important thing to remember is that a person needs to understand and accept responsibilty for their performance and behavior.  They need to know how they will be evaluated and that they will be held accountable when issues arise. As managers we need to work with staff to correct or improve performance. We need to provide our feedback in a constructive manner, clearly and concisely.  And most importantly, set expectations and deadlines if necessary.

This is not a joyous or fun part of being a manager.  Confrontation is a part of life – work life, home life, personal life.  At work, it is just abou that.  It’s not personal and should not be taken that way.  No one likes to tell someone something that they don’t want to hear.  No one likes firing anyone.  I would not want to work for someone who enjoyed these types of interactions.

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3 Responses to “The Not so Fun Part of Management: Confrontation and Accountability”

  1. kittent said

    You just wrote what I wanted to write, and better.

    Thank you.

  2. I’m glad to have read this (having finally reached this part of my Bloglines backlog) and been reminded of the Feedback post I read before. I’d go so far as to say confrontation (done well) is beneficial. Having been confronted with a problem I had at work when I was young gave me a chance to realise that it was me that was a problem not the people around me. And to work on managing myself better (which was a lot easier when I discovered that I was dreadfully low in iron). Funny how much easier to get along with everyone was when my iron levels returned to normal.

    I’d quibble with one thing you’ve said though: It IS personal: when confronting a person it should always be personal. I see from your earlier post you meant this cliche ‘its not personal’ to mean that the problem is not the person’s total character, just one (or a cluster?) of the person’s actions.

    My performance is part of me, that’s personal. If my hand is wounded, the doctor doesn’t get away with saying ‘it’s not you, it is just your hand’. When taking issue with my performance then I hope my boss handles it with me person-to-person with careful regard to my personality, my self-esteem and my desire to improve professionally.

    The tactics described in the both posts are all consistent with respecting the person whose performance must be addressed so I think that my quibble is just with the the trite phrase “It’s not personal”. I’d recommend managers not use the phrase… by using it to escape the uncomfortable feelings in confrontation it can easily become an excuse/justification for ignoring (if ever so slightly) the person in the confrontation.

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