Results by John Austin, PhD

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The Screamer

I had a boss once who was a screamer.

…It was like those letters from Harry Potter, except he was right in your face.

It would usually happen when he thought people had agreed to complete something and they didn’t. Although it didn’t feel good, I don’t hold it against him – he was seeing something concerning and was trying to act on it to get things back in order. He cared about the company, and I think he cared about me, too.

How he showed it was stressful and painful for everyone involved, and it might have been worth it if it got him the results he wanted…

…but it did not.

It did deliver all kinds of other things though…

…people stopped telling him bad news if they could avoid it

…people started avoiding him when they could

…they tried to always be prepared when in a meeting with him, but they never knew what was coming next…or who would show up… the nice boss…or the scary boss.

…eventually, people started jabbing each other when he was around. His aggression was contagious.

What could you do if faced with the same problem?

Get their attention. My boss was correct on this one. It doesn’t have to be through yelling, but you will have to make sure they are paying attention to you when you bring this to them.

Define the problem. Very clearly define what happened and what you would like to see happen instead. Put it in observable and pinpointed terms, “more professionalism” is no good. Too vague. “Showing up 15 minutes before every scheduled client meeting” is much more clear.

Explain why it’s important. Tell them why you think it is important that they do what they agreed to do.

Ask if they think it’s important. You could ask if they also think it is important, and then listen carefully to the answer. You could ask follow-up questions to be sure you understand their perspective and the situation.

Ask what’s getting in the way of completing the tasks. This is important! We all want to do what we agree to, but there are often 100 things getting in the way of doing it, or perhaps we don’t see it as a high priority as the boss does. This is a chance for the leader to see what is really driving their behavior, and help problem-solve to remove the barriers or help them reprioritize tasks.

Now, HERE are the most important parts, if you’re struggling with problems like the one above:

  1. Measure completion of the agreed tasks on a daily or weekly basis…you can have them measure it, you don’t have to do it yourself. What I mean by measurement is that you and they put a number on it.It is usually NOT the case that agreed tasks are either 100% completed or 100% not completed. Therefore, saying “we didn’t do what we agreed to” is not technically correct.
  2. Discuss the results of the measurement at least once weekly. If the number is higher than the previous one, then you praise the team for getting better.If the number is lower than the previous one, then you ask what we need to do differently to improve next week. “Trying harder” is not acceptable. Doing something differently needs to be some observable action, like “schedule time in my calendar”, “get clarification from Joe on how to add items”, etc.

Most leaders will never do the last two things above, because:

…they think they don’t need data – that they can see plainly what is going on, and people just need to do their job.

…it requires time. Most will set the expectation, react when it is missed, forget about it for a while, and then a month later get frustrated when it is still missed.

On the other hand, I have seen thousands of leaders solve tough problems and create millions in savings or income by following the steps I laid out above.

Don’t be a screamer. Be a thinker. Do the right things to create a more positive environment for your team.

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