They Care, Now What? A Human Factors Approach to Accountability


Over the past several months we have been proposing an approach for holding others accountable for failed performance that is grounded in a “contextual” diagnostic model. This model allows you to determine the “real” causes of failed performance prior to determining the “best” approach for improving that performance going forward. Last month we talked about how to effectively motivate an individual who is failing due to either a lack of intrinsic (self) motivation or a need for extrinsic motivation. Fixing the Motivated

This month we will explore how to improve performance for individuals who are motivated but for some other non-motivational reason are failing to perform in a manner that is acceptable. We can fail for a variety of reasons as we discussed in our May Newsletter (A Causation Model for Poor Performance), so determining the “real” cause is obviously required before a sustainable fix can be put into place. The key to finding and implementing an effective fix requires commitment on the part of the other person and the best way to get this commitment is for the person to come up with the fix himself. In other words the objective is to help the person determine the best fix himself so that he has ownership of the plan and thus more commitment. This means that you have to be a “facilitator” and not a “dictator”. To facilitate simply means to make it easier for something to happen. In this context it means to make it easier for the person to find a fix for the reason behind his own poor performance. Facilitating is really rather simple and only requires a few skills for success. You start by asking for their ideas about how to fix it by using a simple open ended question like…..” What is something we can do to fix this?” or “Do you have any ideas for fixing this?” Asking a question such as…..”Do you think we should send you to training?” is not an open ended question because it suggests a specific solution that is your idea and not the other person’s. Remember, the objective is to get his ownership and if the plan is his then he owns it. Be careful not to criticize or belittle ideas or the person will most likely become defensive and stop offering ideas. If the person offers a fix that won’t work, explore why it won’t work. Don’t just say, “That won’t work”. Ask them to think about the natural consequences, or outcomes of their plan to help them see why it might not be the best approach.

Dealing with Complexity

Remember, failure can be due to more than one reason and fixing only part of the problem will most likely not lead to sustainable success. For example, let’s assume that the person does not have the knowledge to perform successfully and they are experiencing pressure from you to perform quickly. Providing the person with training will only solve part of the issue and will require that you determine how you are creating the pressure that is effecting performance. This may require that you “drill down” by asking additional questions to determine exactly why the person is feeling undue pressure and how that pressure is helping to create failure. Remember to monitor your defensiveness here because that could stop the facilitative process in it’s tracks. One additional skill that is required is to “listen completely”. Listening is more than just “hearing” what the other person is saying, but rather is “understanding” both the words and the underlying meaning of how they are saying it. Watch for signs such as facial expression, eye contact, body posture, etc. that could indicate that the person is not saying exactly what their words are saying. Saying “that sounds good to me” while smiling and looking you in the eye is not the same as saying those same words while looking down with a “flat” expression on their face. Always ask questions to determine the real meaning of their words if you think you could be misunderstanding their true intent.

Finally, provide help in executing the plan that has been designed through facilitation. Your role as supervisor (or parent if you are applying these skills to your children) is to help the person achieve success, so following up and providing support and feedback are crucial to maintaining success going forward.

What’s the Point?

Performance issues usually stem from multiple and varying human factors. Rarely is motivation the only cause of poor performance. When we find that the performance is lacking due to factors that don't include motivation, we simply need to brainstorm ways to fix the causes. Avoid the temptation to motivate the already motivated and find a way to fix the other causes of their poor performance.