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accountability, who's job is it anyway. Asian business man

Balancing Accountability and Empathy in a Post-Pandemic World

Are employees not hitting expectations? Do you or your managers beg individuals to just do their job? Is it a struggle getting everyone back on the same page now that you’re all in the office again?

It’s something that most business owners, managers and even families deal with every day.  The world is changing. We all need a perspective on 2 major areas of interpersonal relationships.  The following will give you an idea as to WHY this is happening and WHAT you can do to change it.

accountability, who's job is it anyway. Asian business man

I’m talking about effectively working with others and navigating the intersection between Empathy and Accountability.

When defined each of the words are very simple to understand.

According to Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary…

Empathy is the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitve to and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner.

Accountability is the quality or state of being accountable or answerable.

Each of these are easy to have individually for most leaders.  The challenge comes into play when you are working on balancing the WHY things may not achieve expectations and how to ensure that there is growth that takes place in order to avoid the short fall the next time.

If you’re anything like me or most human beings, this could be a struggle for you, especially with the next generation of staff, employees and overall individuals are aging into the workforce as the ‘old-school BOOMERS’ are exiting.

This balance of walking the tight rope of listening to the rationale from the individual responsible as to why something wasn’t accomplished, it’s late or overall misses the mark is this major layer of leadership many of our clients are facing RIGHT NOW.

The Chicago Cubs as an Example

The Chicago Cubs at one point were supposed to have a team that would dominate and be in each of the world series from their first win in 2016 after 108 years of not winning.  If you know me, the Chicago Cubs are probably my favorite sports team that I follow.  Here’s why…

In baseball, you can build a team from the ground up. Much of the way the game works is based on a 1 v 1 statistical comparisons that allows you to measure the level of success and compare it the rest of the potential athletes who could fill that position. 

Also, it’s a team sport, which means that you can have all the best statistical players across the entire team and still not win. There are so many opportunities for statistics to go against the grain (as life tends to go). 

There is also a human element to the game that makes it very mortal even for the superhuman professional athletes that seemingly don’t let the outside world bother them.

Yet, after 108 years and bringing in the mastermind of Theo Epstein who brought the Boston Red Sox a championship after 85 years (the second longest drought), the Cubs only came away with a single world series win.  Theo Epstein’s version of Moneyball Science leveraged worked, but only once for the Cubs

The Chicago Cubs, on paper, each year, were the best team in the National League Central and were typically ranked in the top 3 to 5 teams to win the World Series each of the 5 years following the 2016 World Series Championship.  They had some of the best up and coming players that had played the game, setting early career personal and historical records.  

Yet, why only the single world series win?

Was Joe Madden too empathetic with the players when life happened?

In the wake of empathy, was accountability lessoned?

Did teamwork not pick up the slack?

Did this cause a diminishing returns on hunger of winning?

Why does this matter?

The Cubs may not be the right example for some who are not sports fans, but I think you get the idea. Often, we put together what we feel is the best team we can to achieve the goal at hand. Sometimes we miss the mark. Or for most of you reading this, you end up taking charge fully. Delegation seemingly goes out the window.

Sound familiar?

It should.  And it’s a problem of misalignment, mismanagement and misunderstanding.

Statistics from Gartner state that employee voluntary churn will increase 20% in 2022 due to a variety of reasons AND that this will lead to significant challenges to companies of all sizes.

It is said that when a company has to replace a productive individual at a company, it costs almost 3x that person’s salary to find, recruit, train and eventually reach the previous productivity.

And this is all happening post-pandemic where most of the world was already in a slump.

And it’s not just at work… there have been significant drops in memberships of civic volunteer organizations and non-profits.

All of this states that there is a great re-shuffling happening.  And if you do the math, that equals high costs for not only the leaders, but also, the employees.

The Balancing Act of Empathy and Accountability

During the global pandemic the most interesting stat was an increase in Labor Productivity, according to some sources.  This boils down to some key facts and figures that most experts and lay people in the world have observed.

  1. In times of disaster, humanity tends to unite to work towards normalcy or community as a show of support.
  2. The shift to remote work caused an increase in focused work hours and increased output
  3. The shift also caused a decrease in working hours, especially for smaller companies.

Basically, people said we need to work together to get through this and gave it there all to maintain some sense of normalcy and to hit lower expected goals for their organizations.

Lower expectations. Higher Empathy… And greater mutual accountability because everyone wanted to WIN the crisis in their own right.

The balancing act was simple because the comradery created by crisis caused team based accountability where the team picked up the slack. If they didn’t, the team wouldn’t have made it through the uncertainty of the crisis.

We’ve seen situations like this throughout time.  And there are short term wins each time.

The balance happens organically due to an outside force.  The leader can focus on accountability and care and the team can help hold everyone else accountable because THERE IS A CLEAR GOAL AND EXPECTATIONS from top to bottom.

The nice thing, is that the expectations do not have to manufactured.

What does this say about how accountability and empathy are working now?

Now that there is no OUTSIDE CRISIS, the challenge most leaders are facing includes managing the adjusted expectations of being back in a ‘Normal World.’

But the thing is, there is nothing normal about it.

Do the following statements feel like something you’ve said or had to deal with?

  • Why do I have to beg people to do the job they signed up for?
  • It feels like my staff has gotten lazy and won’t do the bare minimum.
  • I feel like there’s no reason to set process in place because our team doesn’t even follow the SOPs anymore.

This is the new hurdle that leaders are facing.

The natural balance of empathy and peer-reviewed accountability is over as we’ve entered the next phase.  The phase where the world is taking us further from normal.

Stats tell us team turnover is increasing

Employee turnover is increasing at rates that were faster than expected even with more perks being included in hiring packages. It doesn’t make any sense.

According to there are at least 14 reasons why people voluntarily leave their jobs.  I don’t want to get into all of them, but a couple that I want to touch on have to deal with this loss of peer-reviewed accountability and where it stems from.

Lack of growth and progression (number 1 on the list) tend to be a huge struggle for legacy businesses.  This has become even more challenging in an increasingly technological world where new hires, just out of school, feel they are just as valuable as the 30 year veteran.

This leads to the inefficient management (number 3 on the list). Most managers do not have the management skills, let alone the leadership skills, to communicate and navigate the differences in values and work styles.  And they definitely struggle with massive generational gaps.

This causes stress amongst the staff and eventually leads to absence of camaraderie (number 5 on the list). Our working life, community life and home life used to intersect consistently throughout the week and year.  You grew up with your friends, who you ended up working with in some way and joined together to do things in your community.  Eventually with kids and family along the way, the kids went to school together… and so on.

This doesn’t happen as frequently in a remote global economy. This leads to a struggling workplace culture (number 11 on the list). The gossip ensues and entire working structure begins to break down. Whether it’s a shift to unwillingness to do the basics or someone else becoming resentful because they have to pick up the slack leading to overwork (number 12) and feeling underappreciated (number 13)… or something else.

There is a break down and an imbalance of accountability and empathy as it pertains to the organizational and team goals. AND there is a clear lack of clarity for each individual’s expectations.

If you’re the leader or manager… What do you do?

The first step to take is to rebuild the human connections you had with each individual you had on your team when you brought them on.  Odds are their life goals and direction has shifted. Make this a priority and see what that brings.  You may find that there just needs to be a reinstatement of clarity in their role.

There are a variety of other things you can do as well. Some are listed below.

Build an employee or team engagement survey. This will help you discover gaps in your company and is a great source of feedback for companies big and small.

Take time to reinforce the CLEAR SMART GOALS for the company. You can do this in weekly meetings or in 1-on-1s.  It’s a simple way to ensure there is at least communication on what everyone is working towards.

Another idea is to executed a deep dive and run an internal program with a consultant or an internal coach.  One of my favorite books on Teamwork is The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni. This book will help you to understand where there are gaps in your teams working structure.

I am also a huge fan of working with coaches.  The Accountability and Strategy Coaches at SPEARity are invaluable to navigating this exact challenge.  Michael Rampolla and I have had many conversations on this topic alone, creating clarity on how to best move forward for me and the teammates I work with.

Concluding Thoughts

There is no silver bullet right now.  This is a moving target for me, but I wanted to share some different ideas as to how we got here.  Right now, we are working with a variety of clients to navigate the blend of remote and in-person work, helping them to reset and build back the foundations that they had pre-pandemic.

Take some time and reflect on the costs of this for you and your teams… and even your family.  I think you may realize that by taking a breath, you can find how to bring your team back together.



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