There is a difference between trying and achieving. While the former may solicit a pat on the back, reward should only go to the latter
In a leafy jungle, a doe and a monkey became friends. The monkey lived on a tree and told the doe about the distant lands he could see from his high branch. The doe gave the monkey news about the goings on at the forest floor. The doe’s little foal played around the monkey’s tree. And everyone was happy.
Then, the doe heard that the tiger had moved to their side of the forest. She feared for her foal. One day she asked the monkey to babysit the foal while she went to drink at the river. The monkey assured the doe that he would care for her baby. No sooner had the doe left, the tiger appeared. The monkey promptly jumped up into his tree and began screeching at the top of his lungs. He jumped about, shaking the branches of the tree. He threw sticks at the tiger. Nothing worked. The tiger gobbled up the foal. When the doe returned, she was distraught. She couldn’t believe that her friend had let her down! She asked the monkey why he didn’t do anything. The monkey said, “I tried very hard. I tried my very best. I really, really tried!”
The doe made the following fundamental mistakes: 1. she blindly entrusted her prized asset to a monkey 2. she did not verify the monkey’s ability to handle a tiger-situation 3. and; she forgot that the incompetent, think only of themselves!
The monkey, of course, was just plain incompetent.
The implication of the word ‘try’ is often misunderstood because it is used interchangeably. To indicate genuine effort (aka Work in Progress – WIP) and as an excuse for work not done. Neither of which is worthy of reward.
Most of the time, ‘trying’ is a lifeline for losers. When commitments and deadlines haven’t been met. When no other excuses have worked. Like the doe, leaders very often get swayed by assurances and enthusiasm. They even pitch to reward them. Because the individual ‘really, really tried’!
It shows up everywhere! In interviews, when candidates talk convincingly about half finished projects. During appraisals, when people expect credit for results that will – may – happen sometime in the nebulous future. At exit interviews, when people feel hurt that their ‘efforts’ were not recognized!
That’s because there is a clique of leaders who take the easy path and recognize ‘efforts’ instead of results.
- Communicate expectations clearly: Right at the start, in the beginning of the year, or at the commencement of a project, agree on what constitutes completion and how credit will be given. Stick to it. Any changes need to be agreed and documented – even if it is via an email exchange. Recognize milestones and reward achievements.
- Hold to commitment: In a business environment, a commitment is not just between two people. It is a part of a sequence that goes all the way to the top. If even one stage fails, then the entire sequence gets compromised. Money, credibility and reputations can get lost. It is natural for leaders to push for commitments. Post some consideration for buffers, one must hold on to their commitments. Commitment is another name for integrity!
- Recognize Work completed: Applaud only when work has been completed as agreed. Often, in a bid to impress their bosses, people announce ‘success’ too early – only to face embarrassment later. Leaders sometimes get carried away by overenthusiastic team-members barging into their office with a “done deal!” They neglect to see the paper and promptly send out that congratulatory mail. Remember, verbal commitments mean nothing when a signed paper is required.
- Evaluate Results: If commitments are about results – as they should be – the results should be evaluated. Be especially alert for overstated ‘achievements’ that are way out of sync with the rest of the team. Which means, for example, complete documentation, necessary sign-offs, or numbers in the books as on date. Be aware, tomorrow never comes!
- Manage feelings sensitively: Be prepared for shock and tears. With the right questions, ‘successes’ often get neutralized, one by one. However, managing with facts helps manage people’s emotions. Whether it is by keeping documentary evidence of the agreements – the measures of success; factual result data – the numbers on the books; or, by probing deeper when statements and numbers start flying about.
The workplace is not a kindergarten where a benevolent teacher needs to encourage a wailing child. It is a professional environment with much at stake – profits, customers, shareholders, people and even the environment.
Trying doesn’t always lead to success. Rewarding it, instead of achievement, allows the incompetent to make a monkey out of leaders.