When does your consideration for a subordinate’s or colleague’s feelings, as a trade-off for being honest about their poor performance or behaviour become counter productive?

When does tolerance for small performance shortfalls as a trade-off against a positive attitude, become a liability?

The simple answer to these questions is, ‘Most of the time”, if not, “Always”.

The useful answer is more complex.

Most people take some comfort from having known work boundaries. People appreciate knowing what constitutes “good” performance and behaviour.

Work boundaries are set one of two ways.

One is by means of written standards, the “what” of the boundary. The standards are sometimes accompanied by a work instruction, the “how” of the boundary.

The other is by means of formal or informal on-the-job training and some additional “policy” documents, “values” statements and checklists.

When supervisors set the boundaries of performance and behaviour but do not enforce them they set off a number of unintended consequences. These consequences make life more difficult for individuals and less productive for the organisation.

A significant assumption is made when supervisors trade-off their consideration for people’s feelings over the breaching of performance or behaviour boundaries. Supervisors assume they know how people will feel about bringing the crossing of a boundary to their attention.

Consequently, supervisors choose to deal with what they think will happen rather than what has happened. Their behaviour smacks of ignorance and arrogance at the same time. Ignorant because they do not know what may have happened. Arrogant because they assume the individual will not be professional in their response.

Further, the individual will be led to believe that the boundary is not really important. They will continue to breach it until the supervisor advises them differently, perhaps in exasperation. The individual concerned is then likely to question the legitimacy of other boundaries too.

Others watching the interaction may well be convinced that either the boundaries are unimportant or applied within a framework of individual favour or mood.

Most organisations have countless examples of boundaries which are set but not enforced. Examples include late arrival at work, late completion of performance appraisals, lack of attention to quality or safety standards and lack of compliance within budget limitations.

When supervisors tolerate breaching of boundaries which have been set for the good of the organisation and individuals they also set in train unintended consequences for people in their growth as a person. An example is being able to take accountability for their actions.

When we are called to account for breaching boundaries we have two options. One is to use our own skills and knowledge to determine how to comply with the set boundaries. The other is to ignore the call to account.

The vast majority of people choose the former. Those who choose the latter deserve counselling, not excessive tolerance and consideration.

Worse than not calling people to account, many supervisors take on the responsibility of fixing the error themselves. In doing so, they rob themselves of time to do their own job. It is not uncommon to find supervisors who repeatedly tolerate poor performance and behaviour regarding themselves as poor time managers.

Often supervisors’ tolerance for not sticking to standards is related to their desire to be liked. In a business it is not the role of the supervisor to be liked. It is their role to lead and to be fair, empathetic and professional. In doing so, they usually find that they are not only liked but respected.

By letting go of perceived reactions to being called to account over the breaching of set boundaries of performance and behaviour, supervisors will free up time, create a more productive workforce and grow competence in their people.