Tag Archives: accountability

Putting an End to “Slackers” (Guest Post by Dawn Lennon @businessfit)

We’re all supposed to pull our own weight. That’s how organizations are set up. Whether it’s for a paycheck or a grade, we’re supposed to do the work. Some do and some don’t. The “don’ts” create a problem for us. “Slackers’ are people who know they could be much more productive but make a conscious decision not to be,” writes by Adrienne Fox, in her HR Magazine article, “Taking Up Slack.” 

It’s frustrating when we see capable coworkers and fellow students not delivering. We’re quick to call them lazy and chalk it up to poor family values. It’s never as simple as that. “Slackers are made, not born…,” says Carol Dweck, professor of psychology at Stanford University in the Fox article. Her research found that: “People who grow up being rewarded solely for natural intelligence are more susceptible to slacker behavior because they give up when things get hard…And organizations that reward smarts and natural talent more than commitment breed ‘slackism.’”

 Are you smarter than a slacker?

 Slackers show up everywhere—as classmates, teammates, colleagues, instructors, and even bosses! 

 They “slack” because they are often unsure how to “win” at their work. They want to know how to advance, get interesting assignments with people they enjoy, and be rewarded. But when their expectations aren’t met, they decide to “fake it” rather than make a committed effort.

 Ducking work is only successful when no one can tell. Organizations often create perfect playing fields for slackers by:

  • Team assignments that reward group results rather than individual contributions
  • Performance goals without metrics or academic assignments without rigorous grading  
  • Vague job descriptions or unstated course participation standards
  • Lack of controls to ensure quality results, achieved deadlines, and ethics

Slackers can be crafty by:

  • making it look like they’re working long hours by scheduling documents to be emailed late at night
  • getting appointed to important sounding teams, appearing more important than they really are
  • making straight-forward assignments appear to be complex by the way they report on them

“Slackers become really good at manipulating their bosses or team members to keep up the impression that something takes longer than it should or invent barriers where none exist,” says Meagan Brock, HR specialist at the University of Oklahoma in Fox’s article.  I guess so!

Slackers can’t win if someone’s really watching.

Slacking is a consequence of weak oversight by a supervisor, advisor, or instructor. Employees and students under-perform when they believe it won’t be noticed or really matter.

So here’s how to foil slacking:

  • Pay attention to outcomes you see and don’t see; ask piercing questions and expect specific answers about work progress. Don’t accept excuses.
  • Make sure your expectations are clear by validating them with coworkers and/or students
  • Give clear direction and hold everyone accountable for their part
  • Require status reports on specific assignments  
  • Understand the technology being used, how, and to what effect
  • Ensure that access to needed resources and support is available
  • Require feedback on the contributions of team members
  • Use coaching to build awareness and reinforce expected behaviors

If a coworker or student doesn’t have to work hard to maintain employment and some reward, they are at risk to become a slacker. We owe it to them and our organizations not to let that happen.

Make hard work the measure

“The worst course of action is to do nothing, allowing slackers to fly under the radar,” Brock warns.

When your performance system rewards results achieved through hard work over the appearance of busyness, “slackerism” will decline.  This means we all need to be vigilant, recognizing that by helping to turn the slacker around we help ourselves and our organizations. It’s not the bells and whistles that matter in life and at work; it’s our grit and commitment to push ahead, tackle the difficult, and turn things around on schedule. That’s how we build the self-confidence and self-esteem we need to achieve the success we want.

Dawn Lennon has a Master’s degree from Lehigh University. She is the author of the book Business Fitness: The Power to Succeed—Your Way and the Business Fitness blog. She spent over 20 years in senior manager positions in consumer programs, HR, customer service, and change management at a Fortune 500 energy company. She is currently president of her career & small business coaching/consulting practice, Big Picture Consulting. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn

Team Accountability Activity: “The Jar”

It shouldn’t strictly be the responsibility of a team leader or supervisor to hold everyone on the team accountable. Staffers and team members actively holding each other accountable can lead to better communication, increased productivity, and better team cohesion. As a residence hall director on two different university campuses who had supervised over 20 staffers at one time, I wanted to instill and develop a sense of staff accountability with my student employees. So I created a staff meeting tradition called “The Jar.”

What is “The Jar” and how does it work?

At the beginning of every semester, I brought a jar to the first staff meeting. Every staff member was given three pieces of paper. On each paper they were to write something they wanted purchased for them (under $5.00) or an activity accomplished for them under an hour of time. Only one request was permitted on each slip of paper. The requests had to be appropriate and in good taste (hazing or any acts of humiliation were not permitted). Examples included everything from purchasing coffee, fast food value meals, and donuts to doing laundry, helping to study, and getting a ride to go shopping. The slips of paper were all folded and placed into the jar.

The jar was brought to every staff meeting. If a staffer neglected a particular job task or failed to keep a promise related to work, they had to pick one of the slips of paper from the jar. Examples of reasons a staffer would have to pick from the jar included everything from being late for a desk shift or meeting, forgetting to lock the lobby office, and failing to meet a deadline. The staffer would then read aloud whatever was written on the slip of paper and perform the task or make the requested purchase prior to the next staff meeting. If they failed to submit to the request before the next staff meeting, they would have to pick from the jar again. They would still be responsible for fulfilling the previous jar pick in addition to the new pick.

Because a team member’s mistake or failure to meet expectations effects the entire team in some shape or form, the staffer picking is, in essence, making it up to the team. Therefore, all team members have an equal chance of having one of their slips of paper picked.

Recommended Tips for Success:  

1. Staffers and team members should NOT be permitted to write down any job responsibilities on the slips of paper for the jar; they still have to perform their job and assigned responsibilities.

2. The team leader or supervisor should also include their own slips of paper in the jar and also be held accountable to pick.

3. The jar should not be a substitute for normal team member disciplinary procedures, including potential termination.

4. Team members should not use the jar exercise as a “witch hunt” searching for every mistake of fellow team members.

5. Be mindful of the financial situation of all of your team members so a “purchase-related task” may not be inclusive nor appropriate for your team. You can have them vote by secret ballot and only include this option if it’s unanimous. (My particular staffers wanted the purchase option and all agreed upon a $5.00 limit.)

I have found the jar exercise to be very positive. The regular practice started with staffers even owning up to mistakes themselves during meetings (without being prompted) and requesting their turn to pick from the jar. Additionally, staff members that normally wouldn’t interact with each other in a social capacity were able to do so and started to make  relationships over a cup of coffee, during a study session, or over a meal that was initiated by a jar pick. Lastly, there were many weeks that would go by where no one would have to pick from the jar.

How do you encourage team members to hold each other accountable?