Leaders who want credibility with their teams won’t achieve that goal by avoiding conflict. In some ways, avoiding conflict is human nature. In fact, the path of least resistance is a law of nature. But that path of least resistance can also slide into avoidance behavior if you aren’t careful.
When I coach leaders, I find that avoidance is the number one accountability killer – especially when they are pointing out the negative. Yet when managers have the right skills and tools, they can learn to overcome avoidance and build a strong culture of accountability.
A few weeks ago I was shadowing a nurse leader on rounds. Her team members had just attended one of our hourly rounding courses refreshing their skills and reinforcing expectations for hourly rounds. When we talked with the patient, it was clear that “Joe” hadn’t lived up to the standard, not only in frequency, but in the quality of his rounds. We were six hours into his 12 hour shift and the whiteboard wasn’t up to date, and the patient reported no one had been in for almost three hours. The manager quickly updated the board, repositioned the patient, checked on pain status and emptied the urinal and checked to see what else she could do.
When we stepped out of the room, I asked the manager how she intended to follow up with Joe. She looked baffled and said, “Those were all just little things. I took care of them. Besides, he’s a really good nurse. He’s just busy.” That statement was a red alert to me about accountability on the unit, but it provided me with the perfect coaching opportunity. Were they small things? No. What we learned in that room was that the nursing standard was not being met for whatever reason. Rather than make excuses for Joe, this leader needed to step in and hold him to the standard.
Part of the leader toolkit I prescribe for overcoming avoidance is a worksheet that helps the manager prepare for a coaching discussion. The worksheet is essentially a tool to help organize your thoughts and tie the discussion back to overarching goals, point out gaps and craft a plan for change. After all, coaching conversations take practice for most of us.
There’s an art and a science to giving effective feedback and it takes preparation. Here are just a few of the preparation steps I include in the worksheet:
- Be clear about: what you want, what you are getting, and the gaps.
- Give examples (without dredging up baggage from the distant past).
- Keep the conversation “safe and blame-free” through shared purpose and respect.
Finally, it’s important to have short, face-to-face interactions whenever possible. It sends the message that the discussion is important, that you are watching and that accountability is the expectation.