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The Journal Gazette

Sunday, September 09, 2018 1:00 am

Conversing with staff key to success

LISA GREEN | The Journal Gazette

What you expect is your vision. The standard. The goal.

What you get is reality, even if it falls short of your vision.

When that happens, what should come next is a “gap conversation” with those responsible for delivering results, said Justin Hale, a manager with VitalSmarts, a leadership and organizational training firm.

Gap conversations are part of accountability, which is crucial in the workplace and any organization.

The conversations require courage, honesty and knowing how to channel emotions, Hale suggested last week during a webinar on accountability. About 1,000 people listened to the free online training.

Accountability especially needs attention when performance is an ongoing concern. But too many people shy away from the conversations.

The health of any relationship, team, or organization “can be measured by the lag between identifying and discussing problems,” Hale said.

A July study involving 800 professionals – not just managers – looked at accountability as a cultural element. It found 52 percent of employees hesitate to discuss peer performance problems, and 47 percent wait to share concerns – hoping things will improve, Hale said.

The study also found 49 percent of respondents wait more than a week to speak up when policy decisions are being made that have unintended consequences.

Delayed or avoided conversations can cost thousands of dollars, Hale said. When accountability is lacking, it leaves room for backbiting, quality issues and other problems to surface.

When leaders shorten the response time on accountability “to zero,” Hale said, “we help people become better.”

He shared three necessary skills: build emotional discipline in frustrating conversations, minimize defensiveness in the first 30 seconds and motivate change in people who seem complacent or disengaged.

It's important to focus first on the facts when accountability conversations occur, Hale said. Otherwise, there's a tendency to make judgments about people's motivations, based on our perceptions and the “stories we tell” ourselves.

Those stories, though, aren't necessarily facts, and can limit your view of information you should be considering to have an effective accountability discussion, Hale said.

He suggests sharing the facts of what was expected, restating the agreement in contrast to what happened, or the actual performance. Then, Hale said, you can ask the question: “Can you help me understand what happened?”

Facts are more persuasive and easier to agree on. They are less insulting and help build a foundation.

Although Hale mentioned motivating people toward change, he said leaders have to “make connections.”

“The good news is this: Everyone is motivated; even the 26-year-old still sleeping on your couch.”

Accountability requires making a connection between existing motivations and what you want people to do, focusing on the impact of their choices and actions.

The failure to hold people accountable results in a culture with less individual and organizational development, Hale said. When you do it with “pure intentions,” you can talk to anyone about almost anything.

First Fridays

The First Fridays events focused on networking and leadership development are back.

After about a two-month summer hiatus, the monthly sessions, usually 8 to 9 a.m., returned last week and a calendar has been set through May 2019. Individuals scheduled to speak include Wayne Robison, Marlin Stutzman, Donovan Coley and Heather Herron.

First Fridays started last year, launched by brothers Jim and Jere Johnson. Jim is a John Maxwell certified leadership coach and executive at 3Rivers Federal Credit Union. Jere is a former basketball coach and athletics director and a corporate representative with Indiana Wesleyan University-Fort Wayne. Jan Diaz, also an IWU-Fort Wayne corporate representative, is also involved.

For more information, go to

To share a thought, a favorite quote or other wisdom about leadership, email Lisa Green at Lead On also appears online as a blog at