Want Improved Job Performance? Accountability Isn’t Enough

No one likes to feel let down. In fact, few things are more frustrating than someone not doing what they said they’d do.

So, why do people disappoint us? And worse, why do we disappoint others?

The reason people miss your expectations is simple: it’s an issue of motivation and ability.

Motivation — they don’t see it as a high priority or don’t enjoy it.  

Ability — they can’t do it.

Often, it’s a combination of both.

If we’re honest, we’ve all let someone down and we’ve all been let down. But when it happens at work, it becomes more than a disappointment — it becomes an issue of job performance. And the best way to solve the problem is to look at the causes — the big WHY behind a behaviour.

We group these causes into what we call The Six Sources of Influence.

A Quick Look at The Six Sources of Influence

Should I do this? we ask ourselves before starting a task. With this question, we’re actually evaluating our ability and motivation. See, we’re really asking, Can I do it? (Ability) and Will it be worth it? (Motivation). Our decisions to act begin with motivation and ability. And with every choice comes personal, social, and structural influences.

So if we’re wondering why we do (or don’t do) certain things, one of these six sources of influence could the be key.

1. Personal Motivation

This is your passion for and interest in your work. Why did you go into the field? Do you still care about your work and enjoy what you do?

2. Personal Ability

Here lies your skill set — your training, knowledge, experience, and expertise influence your personal ability.

As leaders and colleagues, we make a big mistake: if a person has enough personal motivation and ability, we assume they’ll do their job well. But personal motivation and ability aren’t enough.

3. Social Motivation

Without social reinforcement, personal ability and motivation won’t lead you to do your best. Warren Buffett says, “When a management with a reputation for brilliance tackles a business with a reputation for bad economics, it is the reputation of the business that remains intact.”

You might have great motivation and ability but if you’re in an organisation where the social environment (your boss, your peers, customers) doesn’t want you to do the right thing, you probably won’t.

4. Social Ability

Sometimes, you don’t get the support needed from your organisation to be effective. Maybe you have a plan but you can’t get tools from other departments to carry out that plan. If your organisation doesn’t support your role, you’re the one who’s likely to change and under-perform.

5. Structural Motivation

Think of structural motivators as The Four P’s:

  • Pay
  • Promotions
  • Perks
  • Punishments

Structural motivation concepts are nothing new. We’ve heard the sayings before, “What gets rewarded gets done” and “You get what you pay for.”

6. Structural Ability

Structural ability happens when the workplace environment makes right stuff easier and the wrong stuff harder. In other words, how do we logistically equip people to do their jobs well?

If we want people to succeed in their jobs, we have to remove obstacles. But, often on the path to improved job performance, we see these obstacles in all six sources of influence.

To illustrate, let’s look at this young physician.

Here’s her problem: She can’t seem to get in the lab hours she’s supposed to log. Now, let’s look at the WHY. There are obstacles in each of the six sources of influence.

The Source of Influence: Personal Motivation

The Obstacle: I get immediate fulfillment from working with my patients but working in the lab provides fewer immediate rewards. I know it’s important, but I don’t like it.

The Source of Influence: Personal Ability

The Obstacle: By the time I get done with my patients, I’m exhausted. I don’t know how to reenergise and refocus. Since I spend six hours of the day with my patients, I’m worn out when I go to the lab.

The Source of Influence: Social Motivation

The Obstacle: My partners discourage lab time. They want me to take on more patients. They see that as the main way I support the team daily.

The Source of Influence: Social Ability

The Obstacle: Colleagues disregard my lab schedule. They reschedule department meetings at the times I’m supposed to be in the lab. How do I handle that?

The Source of Influence: Structural Motivation

The Obstacle: I have to maintain productivity at work. I have a large volume of patients to see. That’s how I’m paid. If I don’t see enough patients, I could lose my job.

The Source of Influence: Structural Ability

The Obstacle: The lab is across campus. How am I going to get there?

Where Accountability Falls Short

If you look at obstacles in all six sources, it makes sense why we can’t always do what we say we want to do. Just holding someone accountable isn’t enough — you have to get inside their head. Understand WHY they’re really not doing something. Most of the time, you’ll find it’s an influence problem — not an accountability problem.

Here’s a test.  Let’s say Jordan encourages me to keep up our chart and says it’s really important, but he never gives me his numbers so I can’t do it. What kind of problem is this?

Is it an issue of motivation or ability?

Is this a personal, social, or structural problem?

It’s a Social Ability problem. Why? My colleague isn’t giving me the information so I don’t have the ability to do my job. And since my colleague is the obstacle, it’s social.

The first step in dealing with unmet expectations is finding the source of the problem. When we understand the real obstacles preventing ourselves and others from doing our best, we can learn to overcome them so we can all be at our best.

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