What if our employees thought we were something we were not as leaders? It turns out they attribute much of what they see to leadership.
Attribution is what we do much of the time. We observe a flower opening and we attribute it to the sun coming out. We don’t know that the sun caused it, but experience tells us that is why it opens. About 20 years ago, organizational researchers looked at attribution and realized that managers were doing this all the time with their employees. The attribution was related to why employees failed to perform, and their assumptions were leading to big problems.
Managers then and now attribute execution issues to a lack of motivation. As a result, efforts are made to motivate employees. First, managers focus on rewarding positive behaviours with incentives and encouragement. If that does not work, they increase accountability with negative feedback and limiting employee opportunities. The tragedy in this story was—and is—that employees are, most of the time, motivated to do a good job, but they lacked other important factors that prevent them from performing. (Grenny, McMillan, Switzler, Paterson, 1996)
Today, we observe the attribution error reversed. Employees are judging the motivations of senior management. Employees don’t think leaders are doing a good job, but these same leaders’ bosses, peers and direct reports say they are doing a good job through 360 degree feedback surveys. (TWI Surveys Normative Database, 2014) Most senior managers are exceptional leaders and yet employees are playing a game of karma, and attributing their negative experiences back to poor leadership.
This series of blog posts will highlight the situation based on Tekara’s original research and then offers some practical advice from those in the organizational design field supporting the leaders.