Missing deadlines happen within change projects for a variety of reasons. How we respond to the miss has implications for the culture we create. We can hold people accountable for missing the deadline by asking why in a way that communicates policing, anger, frustration, and blame. However we can also hold people accountable by asking why in a manner that communicates frustration, but also learning and wanting to understand where things went wrong.
The policing and blame approach communicates the assumption the accountable person or team is incompetent, defective in some way. The learning approach assumes people and team are competent and missed deadlines are the result of a series of issues, not one. It may seem a subtle difference, but it has huge implications in the long term.
When we regularly use the policing approach, our teams become toxic. They lose motivation, quickly beginning blaming each other and other teams, follow the letter of ‘checklists, instructions’ not the spirit, and become individuals viewing everyone else as a threat. Over time, we only share information when asked to; ownership in the project outcome does not exist.
When we use the learning approach, we listen to our teams, we seek to understand and we seek their input. And this creates ownership of incorrect assumptions made during the project, the mistakes made as well as recognition of the complexity of change. Most importantly, over time, it creates a culture of proactively sharing information, experiences, and what isn’t working. It does not weaken accountability; it grows it.
The old adage of Francis of Assisi, made popular by Stephen Covey “Seek first to understand, then to be understood” is relevant when we deal with deadline. While life might be viewed as a series of tasks with deadlines, it must never be assumed that anything happens in an isolated vacuum.
We create our culture drip by drip by drip, how we respond to missed deadlines is a big drip in this.