Thursday, March 17, 2011

Taking Responsibility

Employee evaluations are due again at the University of Florida. I’ve always enjoyed talking to my staff. I enjoy seeing them move ahead in their careers. I even enjoy watching them move on to bigger and better things. When I cannot provide them with the opportunities they deserve I can’t be anything but happy when they find those opportunities elsewhere.

But, there is something judgmental in a formal evaluation that I do not enjoy. Giving advice as a friend carries completely different connotations than advice as a manager. A manager’s advice always seems to carry a bit more menace. Not only can I discuss the consequences of improper behavior but I can bring them to bear as well.

I am not a naturally cheerful person but I am a bit of pushover sometimes. I truly believe that proper behavior rewards itself.

This brings me to the point of this blog post. I’m finding that a number of my evaluation and workflow discussions revolve around a simple idea: responsibility.

Most people address responsibility by enumerating the tasks that a person can be held culpable for not fulfilling. Current legal systems and HR systems seem to support this notion and the idea filters into almost any conversation about a new task. Yesterday, I enjoyed watching a conversation between our networking and facilities managers. One of our buildings had a plumbing problem and they were debating who should be responsible for following up on the work order with our physical plant departments. No one wanted to be responsible for following up. Our facilities rep kept dodging the question until finally our networking manager asked if anyone thought networking should be following up on plumbing problems in our main building. The issue was tabled.

I tend to think of responsibility as empowering. I think any project manager worth their salt believes the same.

A project manager for a new construction project will never lift a hammer. They will never lay drywall. But, they know that they are responsible for every facet of that project. While that responsibility carries culpability, it also carries status. That project manager can intrude on any tradesman, any inspection, and any schedule associated with the project. That responsibility justifies almost any action that may be necessary to complete the project. Except for regulatory restrictions, almost any process can be set aside if it interferes with the progress of the project.

We have all dealt with staff that like to say “That’s not my job” or “I can’t do my job because John won’t do his.” In a situation like mine, we’ve dealt with them for years. If you accept responsibility for a task, people like this are not the roadblock they appear to be. It is your job to find a way over, around, or through them.

There’s a speech I often give my staff. I’ve asked them to repeat it back to me when I need it.

Whenever they begin to claim that they can’t continue a task because of someone else I ask a simple question.

Was this person a responsive in the past?
Did you expect them to be a better employee today?
Is the sky blue?
Is water wet?

Then tell me, who is the smart guy for expecting things to be different today? Did you expect the rain to not get you wet because it’s not fair? No, you carry an umbrella. Be the smart guy in this exchange and adapt. We all have our responsibilities and roadblocks. Responsibility means finding a way past them, not finding a way that absolves us of blame. Get it done. Move forward.

I can’t count the number of times I have done things that were not my job in order to move a project forward. Sometimes others don’t approve but the project keeps moving. No one complains when the project is a success.

The good employee, the good manager, is the one who finds a way to get it done. Keep moving things forward. And that is what I mean by taking responsibility. Those that take responsibility don’t just accept culpability; they take that power that comes with it. They take that culpability and transform into an empowering force to get things done.

They don’t accept responsibility, they take it.

1 comment:

  1. Calls to mind a certain Manager saying in the heat of passion many years back "I don't pay you enough to think." and then having to retract that statement very quickly after that.