You are a first-time parent. Your little darling is now 22-months-old and, so far, when you want a night out, you have always called the grandparents. You realize that you are wearing them out and your “baby” is now a lot for them to handle.
The time has come to use a real babysitter. You have been afraid to do it, maybe a little overprotective, but you are ready.
You ask around and quickly find out that the girl down the street has just completed the babysitting course at school, so you arrange for her to babysit the following week while you two go out for dinner and a movie.
She shows up on time and listens half-heartedly to your instructions for snack and bedtime. You head out, hoping things will be okay.
You find out later that shortly after you left, her new boyfriend came over. They both played with your child for a while, but eventually got a little more interested in each other and decided that your child’s bedtime could happen early. While the babysitter put your kid to bed, the boyfriend decides to check out what kind of grub you have in your kitchen. He checks out the snack cupboard and does not quite reset the child lock when he is done. Later, with the two teens back on the couch and not paying much attention to anything else, your child gets up, gets into the snack cupboard, and starts choking on a big gumball. The babysitter hears the child drop to the floor choking and saves the child using the Heimlich manoeuvre she just learned in the babysitting course. The child is fine, but the babysitter is traumatized and sends the boyfriend home and then calls you. When you get home, she admits to everything that happened.
A few months later you get over your fears and try again. This time you seek out the most highly rated babysitter you can find. Several parents you know love a certain one and trust her. You must wait a few weeks to have your date on a night she is available, but you don’t care. You want things to go well. When she shows up early, asks all kinds of questions, and clearly shows that she loves children, you get a good feeling. She asks if it is okay to play in the backyard with your child, since the weather is so nice. She asks what books to read and what activities work well, and she has brought along some of her own kids’ games and art supplies. What a star! You go out feeling things are in good hands.
An hour later you get a call from Emergency Medical Services that you need to get home right away! You get home as fast as you can and find blood on the door, blood on the floor, blood on the phone, and paramedics tending to your child and the babysitter. Within a few minutes, things become clear. The neighbour’s new dog had jumped the fence and attacked your child who was running away from the babysitter in a game of tag. The babysitter succeeded in getting the dog off the child, and in the process got attacked herself. With the neighbours nowhere in sight, she literally threw the dog over the fence, grabbed the child, and ran into the house. The blood everywhere was from her grabbing towels to stem the serious bleeding on you child’s arm and calling 911, all the while bleeding herself.
The question is, who is the better babysitter?
Most people would agree it is the second one. But when you think about it, the first one saved the day with no injury to the child. In the second case, the child was seriously injured, needed many stitches, and will likely be afraid of dogs forever. Does this make you reconsider? Likely not, but how do you explain why the second is better? What is the principle at work?
The principle here is judging performance vs. judging results. We often place blame for bad results when the person did nothing wrong or, conversely, give praise for great results when the results were really a fluke. As leaders, we need to be hyper-aware of the difference.
Both babysitters saved the child. In one case the results were better (no injuries at all and the child was not traumatized); and in the other, the results were bad (stitches and trauma for the child). The performance however is where our analysis needs to happen. In the performance of their duties, the first babysitter had a guest over without permission, put the child to bed too early, did not make sure the child stayed in bed, and let her friend rifle through the kitchen. Her only saving grace, performance-wise, was acting heroically once the worst happened. Had she been more diligent about her duties, the incident would never have happened. The second babysitter was conscientious about her duties and made a truly heroic effort to save the child from further harm, but harm did happen. Much better performance for babysitter number two, and it is performance that matters.
The point of this story is to highlight the difference between performance (the actions that lead to a result) and the result itself. When coaching staff, we need to focus on their actions more than the actual results. Bad things can happen despite best efforts, and good things can happen despite mediocre efforts. Great leaders understand the difference and judge and coach accordingly. Of course, we all love it when great performance leads to great results, but we need to be aware that things don’t always turn out that way.
Many thanks to author and leadership trainer Linton Sellen for bringing the understanding of performance vs. results to the IBEX Payroll leadership team.