The situation has been going on for years. John is not holding George accountable for his mistakes and lack of performance. John is four years from retirement and George has two years before he can cash out, though neither show any sign of budging when the time comes. There is no mandatory retirement age.

It is well known that John and George hunt, fish, and motorcycle together. Their families are close and both have children graduating high school in the next year. They live blocks from each other.

Several people in the department are sick and tired of picking up the slack for George when he does not do his work. Some of the mistakes George has made have caused additional work for everyone. The most recent of George’s mistakes was so blatant that a few people close to the situation thought for sure John would be forced to put him on administrative leave during the investigation. There was no investigation and no leave.

WhenAccountabilityGetsPersonal

A series of consultants had been through the department over the last five years with what employees referred to as “program of the month”. The latest was another “teambuilding” guru. “We don’t need teambuilding,” one frustrated employee muttered, “We need George to be gone!” The newest employee to the department overhead that remark and said “I’ve been wondering why George is never in trouble, even I can see his work is bad.”

As they finished the spaghetti and marshmallow tower building exercise the trainer bellowed “Times up!, let’s debrief.” The “team” George was on won the bag of candy and monogrammed cups for highest spaghetti tower. “Good planning and communication!,” the trainer declared. “Tell the rest of us what you did that worked.” George sat silent chewing on a Starburst while “his team” enthusiastically talked about everything except how they worked around George who made no contribution at all.

Do you have a George and John in your workplace? Here are a few things to do to lessen your frustration.

1. Own your choice. Acknowledge that the benefits and pay level you have achieved are primarily for putting up with the likes of George and his boss John. No shame in that. Accountability gets very personal in these situations. When I see very talented people putting up with this junk I know they are choosing “security” over full utilization of their human spirit. If you are making a conscious choice the stress of the situation goes down.

2. Focus on you. Yep, time to be selfish. Never use clowns like George and John as your excuse not to develop. You are going to have to put in your own time and money. Your best bet will be to take classes or trainings outside of what the organization provides. If you don’t build your skill, knowledge, and network on your own you won’t be ready to take another position and get the heck out of there.

3. Don’t gossip. Never, ever talk about the situation to others who can do nothing about it. You come off like a victim. If you want to talk about something talk about the last time you brought the problem directly to George’s boss, John, and what you learned from the interaction.

4. Take the problem directly to someone who can do something about it. Here’s an example of what to say, “John, I’m frustrated and concerned about my experience with George and I need input on how to handle it. The last three projects he’s worked on with me were delayed because of his mistakes. I don’t have the authority to hold him accountable. It’s not clear why he isn’t being held accountable. I want to understand what I can do so this does not keep happening. I have spoken to George directly and his response is that I am not his boss.”

5. Stay out of “we”. If someone starts up about George do not contribute to the conversation. Remove yourself. Or, say “Have you taken your concern directly to George or John? I did. Maybe if John hears it from each of us individually, as we ask for input on how we are expected to handle it, John will be forced to deal with George. No guarantees, but it has to be better than what’s going on now.” Talking about how “we” all feel is a dead end. Go in and speak for yourself.

6. Take it to the boss’s boss. Now here is where things can get interesting. If it’s an environment of retribution you need to be ready to go. If it’s not and you can take the venom once the boss’s boss starts getting involved, be ready to live with the fact you just ruined George’s life, and maybe John’s too. (Not really, but that’s how it might look and feel.) Who wants to be the one to do that?!

7. Start looking and leave. It’s a gigantic inconvenience to be the one to go while the George’s of the world get taken care of. But do you really want to spend the rest of your work life being torn up inside by resentment and frustration watching this silliness go on each day? If the answer is “I just put in too much time to throw it all away” see #1.

I wish this scenario was rare. It’s not. I can tell you the “friend” scenario is common. I can liken it to “the canary in the mine of accountability.” The canary is feet up dead when you see the boss protect a friend. Your air has been cut off; what are you doing there?!

Remember, there is no right or wrong in what you choose to do. The act of choosing and owning the outcome of that choice is where accountability lives. Are you alive inside?

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