Is Anyone Paying Attention?

Ellen Patnaude, Patnaude Coaching

My 14-year old spent the first semester doing school through a virtual program. This meant a whole lot of self-guided study. It was asynchronous learning. While there was a mentor teacher available to him, she had 150 other students to oversee and if he wasn’t reaching out, he flew under her radar most of the time.

We weren’t paying very close attention either. I’ve been working full-time from home, and Dani went back to work full-time in the fall. Between animal care, the failing health of my mom, helping my dad out (next door), and just Life, our attention was taken by immediate demands for it.

If he wasn’t squeaking, we weren’t reaching for the oil.

He figured all of this out early on. He’s observant, my youngest. He watches. Quietly. Doesn’t say much unless spoken to. And misses nearly nothing. He decided to take advantage of the lack of adult focus on him and see just how much he could get away with.

At 14, this is to be somewhat expected. His frontal lobe is yet to be fully formed, after all. But how about those folks in the workplace who behave in a similar way?

We have many clients who have struggled with supervising and managing from a distance during this pandemic where we’re all working from home. They’ll ask, “How do I figure out what my team members are doing? How do I hold them accountable without making them feel like I’m breathing down their necks?”

For us, it started with asking some questions. Pointed ones which were specific, designed to extract detailed information. As we listened to the answers, more questions followed until we had a clear picture of what was happening (and what was not).

The next step in our process was to remind him of the performance objectives we’d laid out at the beginning of the semester. He had agreed to those objectives at the time.

All of this laid the groundwork for accountability. You agreed to do X by Y deadline, and here we are. We’ve reached the deadline and X has not been completed.

Failure to complete the objectives by the agreed-upon deadline leads to consequences. Too often, both parents and bosses back down from those consequences. It’s too uncomfortable. We want people to like us. We don’t want them to be mad. We love giving second chances. Everyone loves an underdog. (But that’s probably another blog.)

What are we conditioning people to do? Game the system.

Seriously. If no one is watching or paying attention, many people will feel like there’s less of a point to their work. “Does my work even matter? Does anyone care whether or not I get it done on time?”

Full disclosure: when I think no one is watching, I get sloppy. I miss self-imposed deadlines because I think, “Who cares if I publish that piece on time?” Even projects I feel compelled to complete usually drag on longer than they should have because the incentive of making a deadline I’ve committed to (to someone else) is missing. But when I know someone is waiting on me to deliver something, I work harder, faster, and with a lot more motivation. All that my Virtual Assistants need to do is express the slightest disappointment that I haven’t gotten something to them on time and my motivation to get my ass in gear returns.

How do you let people know you’re paying attention?

How do you hold them accountable? If they miss deadlines or fail to perform to expectations, do you impose consequences? 14-year olds and 44-year olds are different in many important ways. But there are some important similarities, regardless of age.

We perform better when we know someone is watching.


Ellen Patnaude

Ellen Patnaude

Ellen E. Patnaude has been coaching, training, and developing people to achieve higher levels of success in a professional capacity since 1997.

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