The movie “Eight Men Out” is about the 1919 “Black Sox” scandal in which several members of the Chicago White Sox fixed the World Series by losing games on purpose. They did this based on an agreement with two gamblers who promised to pay them more for losing than they would have gained by winning the World Series.
Eddie Cicotte was a pitcher on that team and had a $10,000 bonus clause in his contract if he won 30 games. When Cicotte reached 29 wins, White Sox owner Charles Comiskey ordered the manager to bench him for the remaining two weeks of the season.
And such is the world of business. People are provided incentives to reach milestones that can be manipulated, preventing them from being reached. In other situations, the carrot is set so far out of reach that few, if anyone on the team can reach them.
This can create a competitive atmosphere that can hurt morale and overall performance.
For example, let’s say that you are responsible for a group of people you don’t manage. Your performance is directly related to their performance. Yet, you have little control over them with limited authority.
This is often the case in consulting where you have a project with some members from your own firm, some members from other consulting firms, and some members from the client. You may have some authority over your own firm’s employees (but not always). You have little to no power over the other two groups.
This calls for a creative mix of creating incentives to make people want to complete tasks you want them to do, and working in cooperation with the people who do have authority over those people.
When is it unattainable?
That doesn’t always solve the problem. Like with Mr. Cicotte, there are times when individuals are held accountable for activities well beyond their control. This may be a devious approach by management to get rid of someone.
More often, it is management going too far to obtain a quota. You sold $1 million last year? Sell $3 million this year. One should be able to increase production year over year. But there may be limits on what that increase can be.
There are some individuals in some industries who will tell us to stop our whining. Farmers are held accountable for their crop output, but they have no control over the weather. Entrepreneurs are held accountable for revenue or they go out of business.
True, yet they accepted the risks of their industry.
These days, all employees are expected to be entrepreneurial. Yet it is still difficult to be held accountable for impossible outcomes.
What to do
A manager needs to use issue management to notify his management if things are not moving in the right direction. If and when the desired outcomes do not come to fruition, at least top management has been notified.
If they still hold the manager accountable, it depends on the consequences. There could be a number of possibilities in that. There may be no consequence at all if they realize that it was out of reach. The individual could face losing his job if they want to play hardball and make an example out of him. Somewhere in-between, the manager could be passed by for a bonus or a promotion.
Depending on the consequences and the manager’s options, he will then have to make the decision to stay and try again for the next cycle. Or, he could move on.
Sr. management that creates these out of reach goals must be aware of the “consequences of their consequences.” To do nothing indicates that you don’t hold people accountable and may not be taken seriously in the future. However, everyone makes mistakes. To come down hard indicates that you are unreasonable and inflexible.
Each side needs to determine diplomatically how they will deal with unreasonably high expectations.
How have you dealt with unreasonably high expectations?
As always, I welcome your comments and criticisms.
If you would like to learn more about working in consulting, get Lew’s book Consulting 101: 101 Tips for Success in Consulting at Amazon.com
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