Achieving Accountability

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From the first week of his employment, there was something about Chip (not his real name) that just wasn’t right. Chip was qualified for the position and was a good technician. He had the experience, certifications, and skill level. But the “chip” on his shoulder was so large, it closed his mind to accepting any help or advice. Every problem was someone else’s mistake, never his. It got to a point where Chip became unapproachable, which never creates a good work environment.

The first week with us, Chip damaged a control arm during the installation. When the manager approached him to ask what happened, Chip replied, “I told the service advisor not to buy that brand. It’s not an exact fit. Go talk to him about it.”

Two weeks later, Chip was rebuilding a Jeep rear differential. He damaged two pinion bearings while installing the pinion shaft.  Chip’s excuse? “I told the advisor to get OE bearings, not aftermarket bearings.” At this point the foreman stepped in and offered to help Chip rebuild the differential. Chip’s reaction was, “You don’t trust me?” The foreman replied, “We have two destroyed bearings. I just want to make sure this rear differential goes back together right.”

The foreman watched as Chip began to install the bearings. He could clearly see that Chip was struggling.  The foreman stepped in and said, “Chip, let me help you.” With the foreman’s help the rear differential was finished in about an hour and a half. With a feeling of accomplishment, the foreman said, “Chip, it’s all done. What do you think?” Chip replied, “It’s not the way I would have done it, and it’s because we used the OE bearings that it got done at all, like I said.” Chip was spiraling downward and he was distancing himself from the rest of the team. 

Then one day, a change occurred. I could clearly see that something was bothering Chip. I walked over to him and asked if everything was OK. He hesitated for a few seconds and then said, “Well, I’m not OK, my uncle died over the weekend. We were really close.” I immediately replied, “Chip, I am so sorry for your loss. There is nothing more important than family. What are you doing here? Take time with your family.” Chip replied, “I will take time, but for now I’d rather work to get my mind off things.” I replied, “Whatever you need, please let me know.”

Later that day, Chip walked up to me and asked if we could talk in private. I said sure, and we headed to my office. Chip sat down and was quiet for a few seconds. Then, with his head down, he said, “Joe, I need to apologize. I have not lived up to my expectations, and I know I haven’t lived up to yours. I will leave if you want me to.” I could only imagine how hard it was for Chip to tell me that. I replied, “Chip, you are an important part of the team. Let’s work together to make our team even stronger.” I saw another side of Chip that day. It would take a lot more bumps in the road, but Chip eventually became a valued team member.

My forty years in business have given me a pretty good understanding of people. There are some that find it hard to hold themselves accountable or admit they made a mistake. The bigger issue is that people with this behavior tend to be loners and isolate themselves from the rest of the team. They usually end up jumping from job to job, always blaming their misfortune on their previous place of employment.

We also need to understand why some people develop that chip on their shoulder. It could be that they’ve never worked in an environment where they were recognized and praised for their contributions. Combine that with a work environment when the only time the boss speaks to you is to reprimand you, and some people shut down and create a hard-emotional shell around themselves.

The takeaway here is to not give up on people. We don’t always know why people act the way they do.  We don’t always know what will make a change in them; and in some cases, nothing we do will make a difference. In Chip’s case, I want to believe that I reached him emotionally when he told me his uncle had died. My hope is that he realized that my culture was not all about business and that I did my team and what they do for the company. But, in truth, I don’t really deserve any of the credit. You see, the only person who was able to knock that chip off his shoulder was himself.

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