April 5, 2018
By Jacki Hart CLM
Prosperity Partners Program Manager

Jacki HartI was speaking at a conference in Calgary, Alta., last fall and had a lively discussion in one of my seminars about falling into the role of ‘babysitter.’ The topic of the seminar was about effective delegating. The vast majority of the 60+ contractors and supervisors in the room unanimously agreed that much of their time was spent ‘minding’ the actions and attitudes of their staff or team.

So here’s how I responded to that all-too-familiar lament: What a waste of energy, and value to the business. Last time I checked, babysitters are paid around $15/hr. They’re responsible to work unsupervised, make decisions for the safety of others, ensure things go smoothly, that everyone is busy, and nothing gets broken. So help me to understand why the owner of the company or the highest paid team members are distracted from achieving their best every day, at their rate of pay, by the choices and behaviours of the marginally-interested and lesser-engaged, who are likely in that $15/hr. range?

Defining the standard

I believe the ‘babysitting syndrome’ is as much a cultural issue as it is an issue of accountability and leadership. We stepped back a bit in our seminar discussion. Back to when employees apply for work with your company: “They do it of their own free will. They choose to come to you. They choose to ask for a job. They choose to accept the one you give them. You chose to offer them the job. It’s up to you from there to ensure they understand clearly what is expected of them, what’s acceptable, what isn’t, and what happens when the line gets crossed. It’s up to them to align with the company standard, NOT the other way around.” My audience fell silent.

So, why does babysitting happen? I suggest it’s because you’ve managed to unintentionally build a culture that expects leniency, and that allows poor accountability. Your team can only rise to its lowest common denominator. The person who needs to be baby sat is the one who undermines the concept of self-accountability, and accountability to team mates. And is also the person who proves they won’t get fired if they misbehave.

‘YourCo 101’

Let me share a statistic with you: of our industry-based businesses that I coach, zero per cent who come to me for help with managing people, behaviour and retention have either a structured hiring process, or onboarding program or clearly defined company culture. Zero.

Do you agree there’s a ‘cause and effect’ here? To me, it’s clear that in order to shift the company culture from one that requires babysitting to one that has no time for it, there are processes and consistent messaging to put in place: a clearly defined company culture, credo and vision. Processes that outline the steps from first interview to first day, to second day, week, month, etc. And it requires the ever-evil ‘Job Description’ and its parallel ‘Performance Review template’ to be a part of the company dictionary.

Job descriptions should have four components: a short list of qualifications, required skills, accountabilities and physical demands, preferably on one page. They shouldn’t list tasks. The relevant job description should be in the hands of every foreman/supervisor, and be referred to often. My famous accountability question always starts the conversations in the right direction: “Help me to understand how the choice you just made reflects what you committed to deliver? (i.e. coming in late, not showing up, mouthing off, being careless, working unsafely, or some other breach of policy).

No exceptions, no kidding

If you frequently complain about your staffs’ attitudes, effectiveness, compliance to rules – then you might be a big part of the problem. Bad behaviour becomes toxic quickly, failing to reprimand or act on it is worse.

If the babysitter lets the kids get away with bad behaviour, it’s going to be a long night. That means it’s going to be a long summer once again in the babysitting department if you don’t improve your culture of self-accountability and clearly communicated standards of behaviour.

My advice is to take a step back and think about the experiences your employees have from the first time you shake their hand. Do you show that you care about them? Are you interested in ensuring they succeed? Can you be their best boss by teaching them the importance of teamwork, alignment and stepping up? How well are you managing their experience of your company, your brand, your expectations and of working for you?

A great place to start is to ask the staff whom you intend to hire back what their experience was last year, and how they can contribute to improving the onboarding and communication of expectations. Engage your team to build your team. They are a valuable resource, and will be able to help you to understand what you should be doing to improve onboarding and setting the standard.

Jacki Hart may be reached at info.peertopeer@landscapeontario.com.