“Everyone on a team knows who is and who is not performing and they are looking to you as the leader to see what you are going to do about it.” – Collin Powell, former US Secretary of State
Last week, in a two-day culture and leadership development workshop with a group of executives, one of the leaders made a fascinating statement: “I’ve been a positional leader for almost thirty years, and I’ve never learned an actual process for holding people accountable.”
I find this fascinating. We talk about “holding people accountable” all the time. We all know we need to be doing it, and we all think we know what we talking about. But do we? Far too often, tasks are assigned to employees in a haphazard way, hoping that the worker will ‘figure it out’ and deliver an adequate, even superior, performance. If this is your accountability process, you will soon realize that ‘hope’ is a better strategy for frustration than it is for results.
I have observed three reasons why managers don’t hold people accountable:
- They aren’t clear about how to do it. There isn’t a clear accountability process in place.
- They don’t want to be the bad guy. A recent Harvard study showed that many managers, hoping to get promoted, refrain from holding their people accountable because they want to get good performance feedback and stay in line for promotion.
- It’s too hard. Let’s face it. It’s tough holding people accountable. It takes courage. Leaders must be prepared to put in the time and to have the tough conversations.
Seven Steps To Holding People Accountable
- Build Trust – Accountability without trust is compliance. Make the connection. Be trustworthy. Keep your promises. Be accountable. Make the connection.
- Discover the Reason – Accountability without a vision – without purpose and passion – is drudgery. If someone lacks accountability in their work, it usually means that haven’t found a reason to be accountable. They don’t have a why. Before you talk about results, if at all possible, help your employees discover a fit – between what they are passionate about what is expected of them. Even if you find out that their primary passion lies outside of work, at least you are supporting them. Fit people; don’t fix people.
- Clarify – Ambiguity breeds mediocrity. People need to be clear about what is expected and how success is defined. Clarify expectations, including what kind of attitude is required and what results are promised. People also need a clear line of sight between how their contribution makes a direct impact on the success of the organization.
- Get an Agreement – I define accountability as: The ability to be counted on. Accountable people never make a promise they can’t keep. But we need to get better at making promises. A request is not an agreement. If you want to hold someone accountable, you must get their full 100% agreement. Before you make an agreement, be sure the willingness, the resources, and the capabilities are in place. If you don’t get an agreement to a required request, then go to Step 6.
- Support Requirements – To be committed, engaged, and ultimately accountable, people need to feel that they can talk openly about the support they require to achieve their accountabilities. What support is needed? Your employee’s negotiated support requirements will be your accountability to them. The support requirements of your employees will be their accountabilities to you.
- Consequences – With no consequences there will be no accountabilities. Always start with positive consequences (motivators). Motivators are the internal or external results of delivering on your accountabilities. Motivators are meant to inspire you to achieve your accountabilities. If these don’t get the job done, then go to negative consequences.
- Follow up – Follow up means a clear understanding of a plan for follow-through, including how often we need to meet and with whom, to ensure that you hold yourself and each other accountable for honoring the promises you have made to each other. If you end up getting to negative consequences, then follow up means you must now be accountable to follow through on the consequences that were put forward to your employee.
If accountability remains a challenge for you or for your organization, I’d like to hear from you. Perhaps I can be of some assistance. http://www.irvinestone.ca/contact
I recently overheard a manager talking with a colleague about how he was being sent to a “Respectful Workplace Program.” I couldn’t help but interrupt and ask him about it.
“Yes,” he explained. “Everyone in our company is required to attend a one-day training seminar on how to build a respectful workplace.”
Be assured that I am respectful of whoever might, with good intentions, be running a workshop on building respect in an organization. And even without any knowledge of what will be presented in the workshop, I’m sure that this program will undoubtedly bring valuable information.
But with all due respect (pun intended!), respect can’t be taught like mathematics. Building a respectful workplace, like building respect in your home or community doesn’t come from a training program. Respect isn’t about speaking to each other nicely or holding hands or hugging each other. While we could all use a refresher in good manners, respect goes much deeper than techniques or even behavior.
If you want improve a disrespectful workplace you have to get to the root cause of the problem. A respectful workplace is achieved – and sustained – through one critical element: respect for yourself. When you have self-respect you won’t tolerate bullying, inappropriate, disrespectful comments, or people acting unprofessionally. You have the same standards for yourself as you expect from others. When you have respect for yourself you don’t demean others or act in ill-mannered ways. You have better things to do with your time, and you have no interest in being disrespectful to others. You won’t find yourself entangled in hurtful, useless and hurtful arguments. And you won’t let others disrespect you.
Here are four strategies for increasing your level of self-respect. Just as anyone can be a leader, anyone can put these into practice, beginning today. As you do, notice the positive impact and benefit to your workplace by increasing the respect around you.
- Never make a promise you aren’t prepared to keep. Self-respect, like confidence, is an outcome of right choices, not a prerequisite. Learning to keep promises, whether it is to your child to attend his baseball game or to yourself to keep up good health habits, results in personal integrity. Keeping promises to yourself and others, even in the face of discomfort and the tendency toward complacency, gives you confidence to get through the hard times. As the late Stephen R. Covey used to say, private victory precedes public victory.
- Create focus in your life. Clarity around your highest values, a sense of purpose, daily disciplines around your health, and an ongoing personal development plan are all ways that contribute to how you feel about yourself. People who respect themselves take care of themselves. And they spend their time being of service to others. When you start paying attention, you will notice that people with focus and clarity in their lives aren’t part of the gossiping crowds. They don’t have time for complaining or blaming others or being a part of disrespectful conversations. They are too busy focused on being useful in the world.
- Take the high ground. If you are wondering why people yell at you or degrade you or act in disrespectful ways, it’s simple. Because you let them. You don’t have any obligation to tolerate disrespectful behavior. You don’t have to become lazy even if the people you work with are lazy. You don’t have to get involved in ill-mannered arguments. A leader I have high regard for told me once, “Never argue with an idiot because they will bring you down to their level and beat you with experience.” Live on the foundation good principles, even if the people around you don’t appreciate it. Do the right thing, because the right thing will make things right inside of you.
- Be a light, not a judge. The disciples of a Hasidic rabbi approached their spiritual leader with a complaint about the prevalence of evil in the world. Intent upon driving out the forces of iniquity and darkness, they requested that the rabbi counsel them. The rabbi’s response was one that can help us all come to grips with the malevolent forces of darkness that at times seem to surround our world. The rabbi suggested to his students that they take brooms, go down to the basement, and attempt to sweep the darkness from the cellar. The bewildered disciples applied themselves to sweeping out the darkness, but to no avail. The rabbi then advised them to take sticks and beat vigorously at the darkness to drive out the evil. When this likewise failed, he counseled them to again go down to the cellar and to protest against the evil. When this failed as well, he said, “My students, let each of you meet the challenge of darkness by lighting a lamp.” The disciples descended to the cellar and kindled their lights. They looked, and behold! The darkness had been driven out.
Self-respect doesn’t guarantee that others will treat you with respect. What it does do is guarantee that you won’t tolerate disrespect. When disrespect is no longer tolerated, it will soon cease to exist.
I’d love to hear from you about some of your organizational challenges if you are working in a disrespectful workplace or relationship. Send me your thoughts on my contact page. I’d be glad to schedule a complimentary ½ hour session to discuss your situation.
Last Thursday I had the good fortune of attending a one-day Lean 101 course, hosted by POS Bio-Sciences in Saskatoon. The Lean approach has been integral to their success, and I wanted to learn first hand how the tool of Lean is used to help build the “POS Way.” POS has inspired me over the years by their leadership, innovation, and customer driven entrepreneurialism.
I also had another reason for attending. Being passionate about accountability, I wanted to learn how the Lean management approach can help strengthen the accountability process I help organizations implement.
What I learned about Lean
Lean is a philosophy, an approach to business, and a set of tools designed to eliminate waste while adding value for the customer. At its core, business is a set of processes for delivering results. And Lean is a mind-set for continuously improving these processes. Lean turns employees into leaders by encouraging and empowering ownership and better contribution at every level.
But Lean isn’t just a business philosophy. It’s a philosophy for life. Who, after all, doesn’t have waste in the way we do our work and live our lives? Life is a series of processes, whether it’s doing the laundry, finding your keys, managing stress, or improving a relationship. Whenever you are systematic about improving these processes, you are practicing Lean.
As a novice to Lean, I am making it comprehendible by breaking it down and outlining a five-step approach. Below is a process you can use for applying the Lean philosophy to any aspect of life.
Take a look at anything in your life that is frustrating to you. It might be as simple as finding your keys in the morning or as complex as an under-achieving sales team.
Do a Value Stream Map of your process:
- Define your goal. Your goal can be as simple as having your keys in your pocket as you walk out the door – with zero frustration, or, in the case of your sales team, having achieved a specific sales quota.
- Clearly identify all steps in the process to achieving your goal. For finding your keys look specifically at what you do with your keys when you come home right through until you need them the next morning when you leave for work. On your sales team, break down the sales process from the time a salesperson enters the door to the end of the month when celebrating your team’s success. It is best if you do this with everyone who is involved in the process. With your keys, you might do it with your spouse, who experiences the impact of a stressed marriage partner in the morning. With your sales process, get the whole sales team to help you identify all the steps it takes to make it a successful sales division.
- Identify each step as value-added or non-value added. Value-added means it moves you closer to your goal and decreases frustration of everyone. It’s also what the customer is willing to pay for. Non-value added is waste: anything that doesn’t add value to the customer.
- Identify and remove waste. It’s a waste to hang your pants up in the closet with your keys still in the pocket because you’ll have to run into your bedroom the next morning when you can’t find your keys. It may be a waste for your sales team to be coming in to the office and returning emails unrelated to sales when they need to be spending time following up on leads.
- Focus on process execution. Once you have identified and removed waste:
- Decide who will own the process (one person needs to be accountable for the accomplishment of the process).
- Identify the most effective step-by-step process to accomplish your goal.
- Ensure everyone understands the process and their part in making the process a success.
- Get agreement on people’s contribution to the process.
- Monitor for success. Lean has a term called, “Hansei,” which means, essentially, “Looking back with critical eyes.” Self and group reflection is critical to process improvement. You will likely decide to hold regular meetings to see how the process is working. Above all, make it safe for anyone to identify waste and make suggestions for improvement at anytime. Always question. Don’t just accept what’s there. The only failure is failure to learn ways to improve.
- Don’t hold people accountable for results. Hold people accountable for following the process. If the results aren’t there, don’t blame the people. Instead, change the process and ensure that everyone understands it.
I am aware that this short summary from my rookie mind-set of Lean is incomplete and overly simplistic. I look forward to learning more and continually improving the processes that run my own organization and the processes that help me manage my life with the greatest ease. I also look forward to continuously learn about how to use the Lean philosophy in helping foster accountability in organizations – without blame.
Over the winter, my wife, Val and I took time to transplant trees and repot houseplants. It’s been good for me to slow down and spend some time working with soil, getting my hands dirty and connecting to the land, reminding me of the value farmers bring to our culture. I’ve been learning from Val, our resident plant expert, that a healthy root system is necessary to ensure a robust plant. Through their natural intelligence, plants know this and develop extensive roots before their energy is transferred into growing foliage. You’ll see this in a houseplant that will get root bound in a pot before they flourish above the ground. The root system is first developed in the dirt, thus enabling the plant to support its growth above the surface.
Leadership is like that. The source of what is manifested in the world is not seen by the world. Like a plant, whose strength and energy come from its roots, the strength and energy of a leader comes from within. A good life – through a person’s roots – precedes good leadership. Below is a short list of what a good life means to me, and the roots that will sustain and support you to do the work that you are called to do.
- Clarity. Clarity is about living your life by design rather than by default. Living without clarity is like embarking on a wilderness journey without a compass. Any way will get you there if you don’t know where you are going. Creating a life that reflects your values and satisfies your soul is a rare and precious achievement. You’ll be told in a hundred ways what is expected of you and what is needed of you to be a success. The real discipline in life comes in saying no to the wrong opportunities.
- Courage. If you have ever walked through something that frightens you, and you grew through to the other side, you know that courage is inspiring. It inspires you and it inspires those around you. Courage is not the absence of fear. Courage is facing fear and walking through it. There have always been courageous men and women who have been prepared to die for what they believe in. What do you care enough about to give your life for?
- Character. If you want to attract others, you must be attractive. Strong character demands that you shift from being the best in the world to being the best for the world, to strive not for what you can get, but what you can give, to endeavor not for what you can have, but for who you can be. A job title, the letters behind your name, the size of your office, or your income are not measures of human worth. No success by the world’s standards will ever be enough to compensate for a lack of strong character.
- Calling. Calling is a devotion to a cause beyond you. It is inspiring to be around people who have a dedication to a cause they care about. When you feel an internal calling, a deep sense of pursuing what you are meant to be pursuing, you take a step toward completeness in your life. “A musician must make music,” wrote Abraham Maslow, the famed American psychologist, “an artist must paint, a poet must write, if they are to be ultimately at peace with themselves.” Whether you are paid or not to express your calling, a good life requires you listen and respond.
- Contribution. When we come to the end of our days on this earth, we take no material thing with us. It’s not what we have gained for ourselves but the contribution we have made to others that makes life meaningful. It’s not what we get from life that has the greatest most lasting reward. It’s what we give. A good life requires a generous spirit and a giving heart. A life of contribution is a good life.
- Connection. After three decades of observing and learning from thousands of leaders in hundreds of organizations and in every walk of life, I finally understand what my parents tried to teach me more than forty years ago. In an interdependent world, everything is about relationships. It’s not all about models or strategies or programs or the latest technology. Whether you are a CEO building a company, a middle manager leading a division, a supervisor ensuring results on your team, a front-line sales person, a customer-service representative, or a parent attempting to develop capable young people, leadership is all about making contact and building connections. And caring is at the root.
- Centering. “Dwell as near as possible to the channel in which your life flows,” wrote Henry David Thoreau. For me, a good life is built around a spiritual center that I constantly seek and return to. From this foundation I find security amidst uncertainty, serenity in the middle of success and failure, stability among the fleeting emotions of happiness and sadness. It is this center that sustains me and provides connection in loss, humility in achievement, perspective in chaos, strength in weakness, and wholeness in fragmentation.
It’s an exciting time to be living in this wondrous world. What concerns me is the possibility that our efforts to continuously improve and advance everything will create a society that is actually less satisfying to live in. Every day we have an opportunity to invent a new world through the choices we make. Not just in a narrow economic sense, but also in a broader human sense: for ourselves and for our children and for our children’s children.
What does a good life mean to you, and how does living in accord with what matters to you make you a better person and a better leader?