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18 January 2019
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Accomplishments and credit

9 June 2014  

“It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit”

These words are attributed to Harry S Truman, the 33rd president of the United States of America and there is an obvious logic to them.

My pal Down Under, Ian Berry, passed them on from one of his pals on social media and our own FM space guru Tony Knight added to the sentiment, pointing out that they reinforce the principle that there is “no I in Team”.

Concern over who gets the credit often starts long before any credit might be due and in poorly led organisations the clamour can emerge as soon as there might be a sniff of success. I can remember situations in corporate life where the clamour to claim credit resulted in things not happening as they should or could have, and in some cases not happening at all. On the other side of the coin in such organisations there is often the stampede of people trying to distance themselves from anything that looks like failure and that alone can put success in jeopardy. It’s a bit like the odd bad word that starts a run on the banks; I still wonder if the prophets of doom like [BBC economics editor] Robert Peston hadn’t banged on about a financial crisis we might not have had one.

Although Truman’s quote makes a very good point, I think that it also misses one. Because not caring who gets the credit is a leadership slip that any good leader needs to avoid. One of the big problems of not caring who gets the credit is that it can open the door for the wrong people to claim it, and that can have a massive effect on the motivation of the people who should be recognised.

If you are lucky enough to be in one of those rare teams where no one cares about credit as long as the team gets results, then Truman’s proposition is fine. But one of the things that motivates people is giving them a pat on the back when things go well. Giving credit where it is due is an important part of leading, and a good leader will ensure that he rewards success appropriately and recognises how the individuals are contributing to the team achieving its goals.

There is a balance to be kept because another way poorly led teams fail to make giving credit for work is through reward and recognition schemes. Offered as a panacea solution and dearly loved by HR teams, reward and recognition schemes are one of the most divisive things you can bring to an organisation. A well-led team will not need them, and so they are almost always introduced in an environment where they have more chance of failing than succeeding – and here I am in full agreement with Truman.

Like many, I’d love to operate in a Utopian world where we all lived by the type of thinking that such quotes promote. But I recognise that the world that we live in is not like that. There will always be people who do not want to walk on our side of the street, and while that will not stop those of us who do believe promoting what we see as the right way, we also have to accept that there are people who are having to work in environments that are not as we think they should be.

What we can do is to spread the message and to try and persuade – and that is what this blog is all about. 

John Bowen is an FM consultant