Failure & Motivation: General Managers

What Good General Managers Do

This is third article in my series of What Good General Managers DO.

Aritlces in the series so far:

Listen: Stay Connected to Reality

The Gap Between Committed and Done
Failure & Motivation (today)


Delivering on time

Many organizations struggle to get things done, as promised, on time.

Clearly tracking execution, which I talked about last time, is the critical first step to even knowing if you are are getting things done or not.

The question is, once you know what is slipping, what do you do about it?

What do you do when your team fails to deliver what you want? When they fail to execute on what you all keep talking about?

Conflict and difficult conversations

You can’t be a good General Manager and avoid conflict.

Great leaders know that part of the job is providing honest, fair, feedback to people, and enforcing consequences when deadlines and commitments are not met.

Motivation requires consequences.

Every time you avoid addressing an issue with someone who is not delivering, you destroy some trust, especially with your high performers.

In addition to degrading trust, an environment with no consequences offers no motivation or reward for performing. People think:

Why bother? Nothing happens if you don’t deliver on time, so why knock yourself out?

Lack of consequences is actually is de-motivating because people need their work to matter.

A good general manager will use every tool in the box to get people to personally care — to get people to emotionally invest in going the extra mile for the business.

Without measures and consequences, anything else you do for motivation is hollow and pointless. The work has to matter. If failing to get it done on time doesn’t matter, the work doesn’t matter.

Enforcing Consequences

So how do you do it?

Many managers get uncomfortable with enforcing consequences because they don’t know what the appropriate “punishment” should be.  When someone does something wrong, what do you do?

Do you fire someone for missing a deadline?
Do you fire someone for being late to a meeting?

Have the difficult conversation

You don’t need to fire people every time something goes wrong.  But you do need to address it. Don’t just accept this behavior.

I see leaders think, “Well this isn’t enough of a problem to fire the person…”, but because they are not comfortable having a difficult conversation, they do nothing.

You may not need to fire the person, but you do need to confront the poor behavior.


Late to the meeting:

What part of “this meeting starts at 8am” did you not understand? This meeting starts at 8am and I expect you to be here at 8am. It’s 8:04. What makes you think it’s OK for you to be late?

Believe me, you only need to say this one or maybe two times, everyone in the room will be cringing, and no one in the room will want to hear it again. Your meetings will start on time.

(You need to be on time too.) Leaders who want their team to deliver on time, but don’t show up for their own meetings on time are sending a mixed message about the importance of commitments, and the standards of execution they find acceptable.

Missed deadline:

Acknowlege it.

This is unacceptable. You did not deliver. What happened? Do you realize the downstream problems this causes? What is your proposal to recover? How do you propose we now get this finished AND address the customer/sales/market issue this has created? How will you ensure this does not happen again?

Improve habits

Next time the person will try harder. The quality of execution will improve.

If you don’t do this, missed deadlines become a habit, and personal motivation to deiver on time will decline.

Will you become a tyrant?

I have had managers that were tough with consequences, and I have had managers that were bullies. These are completely different things.

You do not need to worry about becoming a bad person by calling out poor performance.

As long as you put the business outcome as the motivation for the conversation, and at the center of the conversation, you are not attacking the person as a bully would.

As long as you can ask yourself, “Is this conversation moving the business forward?” you are on high ground.

You can be kind to people and tough on results.

Move the business forward

Avoiding the conversation does not move the business forward.

Having the conversation does move the business forward.

Most likely your choice to NOT enforce consequences is creating bad habits, reducing motivation, degrading trust, and generally slowing you down.

A good general manager will realize that addressing missed deadlines and failures will build and organization that:

1. Builds trust, especially with high performers
2. Can learn from its mistakes
3. Will deliver on time, more predictably
4. Develops higher performing individuals
5. Creates products and services that hit market needs better and sooner

As a general manager, as in every leadership role, your job is to ensure that your team not only delivers, but that they become more capable over time.

Enforcing consequences and having the difficult conversations is an important tool to accomplish both.


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Influence Difficult People
The Gap between Committed and Done.