- Clarify your expectations. Ambiguity breeds mediocracy. It also breeds frustration. Clearly communicate the measurable results you expect, including the kind of behavior that demonstrates your values.
- Create a compelling WHY. People need to understand how what you expect from them makes a meaningful impact toward the overall success of the organization and the people you serve.
- Assess fit. Be sure that people are passionate about what you expect from them, and that it lies in their wheelhouse of strength. Accountability without an element of passion is drudgery. Leaders are accountable to ensure that you have the right people on the team.
- Aim high. Expect high standards, both for yourself and others. Challenge yourself and those under your care with lofty goals, a commitment to results, and high expectations so everyone will grow and feel great about themselves at the end of the project.
- Get an agreement. A request is not an agreement. Be sure to get a clear yes to your request to deliver expected results. Every defined expectation needs to end with, “Can I count on you?”
- Clarify support requirements. Aside from a lack of understanding the expectations, people fail to perform as expected when they lack the required skill or capacity. Leaders are accountable to assess workplace competencies and ensure adequate resources are available. Ensure the person you have expectations of feels supported.
- Identify consequences. Clarify what the results will be for delivering on your promises – to the individual and to the organization. What’s important to the individual? What’s important to the organization? Negotiate a win-win relationship. And sometimes, especially if you’ve made a mistake around fit, help people make a career decision and move on from their role.
- Have an evergreen plan. Map out a process for keeping your agreements to each other current and useful. How often do you need to meet to review expectations? Be sure to have a clear process for tracking and measuring success and how you will discuss it when your expectations of each other are not being met.
- Care enough to stop blaming and criticizing. Life is more than simply growing old. It means growing up. Growing old, any animal is capable of. Growing up is the prerogative of human beings. Once you decide that all criticism and blame are a waste of time your life will change forever. It’s far easier to be a critic than to be a player. That’s why there’s always more critics than players. In an NHL game, for example, you’ll find eighteen people on the ice at any one time if you include the referees and the linesmen. What do you have in the audience? Eighteen thousand critics. 1000:1. That’s about the proportion of critics to players in our society.
- Take ownership. One thing I’ve learned is that no one will ever think less of you for raising your hand and saying, “I’m responsible for that.” Explaining his error in judgement over a photo taken eighteen years ago, our prime-minister initially blamed his privileged upbringing for blinding him to the offensive reality of such images and how they are viewed as racist. My response is, “What’s wrong with simply fessing up to a mistake and misjudgment?” Take ownership. A leader’s responsibility is to model maturity and display what ownership looks like. And as citizens, it is our responsibility to take ownership by expecting from ourselves what we expect from our elected officials. It’s a whole lot easier to see the shortcomings in others – particularly if they are as visible as politicians – than it is to see our own blind spots and deficiencies.
- Don’t wait for your leaders. Another way of expressing ownership is to give what you expect from others. Waiting, as most of us know, is not a good strategy if you are after results. Indeed, we often wait for, or expect, our elected officials to legislate policies and practices that suit our own interests and in the process abdicate personal responsibility. What we expect from others, especially those placed in a position of leadership – contains a seed of opportunity to bring that to the world. If you want a visionary, benevolent leader with strong character, start by developing these qualities within yourself. If you want politicians to have more integrity, bring greater integrity to the world. Wanting your political leaders to be accountable starts with you being accountable.
I grew up in a day and age well before “employee engagement”. I had five different jobs before I finished my university education: I worked on farms and ranches, survey crews, a cement company, a geriatrics unit in a psychiatric hospital, and as a janitor. I learned a lot in those jobs. I learned the value of education, to value people who were skilled at a trade, and the value of hard work.
I remember when, after pouring concrete for ten straight hours, the foreman over heard me complaining about how much I hated the work. He took me aside and said, “Son, we don’t have complainers on this crew. They call this thing work because you get paid to work. You don’t get paid to sit around. If you want to sit around, stay at home and don’t get paid. We pay you well to work, but we don’t pay you to complain. Do that on your own time.”
If I would have talked my bosses in those days about “employee engagement,” I believe they would have thought I had beans for brains. I can picture the foreman on the concrete crew saying, “My work is to get the job done; not to motivate you.”
I know we have supposedly come a long way and are now purportedly smarter in how we manage people, and allegedly are more skilled in the practice of leadership. While everyone agrees than an engaged workforce is beneficial, all of the insights and leadership efforts haven’t moved the dial much on getting them there. In all our efforts to create an engaging environment in our workplaces, I’ve never seen more entitlement.
Like children, the more people do for us, the more we expect. When I was a family counselor, I noticed an intriguing phenomenon: the children in a family that are the angriest at their parents are often the children who have been given the most.
Don’t get me wrong. I think it’s wonderful to learn to communicate with our staff and create an engaging, inspiring work environment. There is lot of research that says happier, more engaged employees are more productive.
Here are five responsibilities of a boss that will help engage employees:
- Help create a clear vision. People largely change for one two reasons: inspiration or desperation. Great leaders create a powerful why, a clear and compelling shared purpose or cause that inspires.
- Hire the right people. (I know, many of you had no choice over the employees that work on your teams; you are already behind the eight ball).
- Be clear about what is expected. Ambiguity breeds mediocrity. You need to provide clarity as to the operational accountabilities as well as the kind of attitude that is needed to do the job, and build a link between each employee’s contribution to the why.
- Support your team with a servant mind-set. Service leadership doesn’t mean pleasing leadership. Service leadership means understanding what supports are required for your employees to get their job done, and that you have their back to do whatever you can to give them the resources and capabilities to do what is expected. What your job isn’t, is to make them happy.
- Hold them accountable by following through on the consequences. “Everyone on your team knows who is and who isn’t performing, and they are looking to you as the boss to do something about it.” said Colin Powell, the Former United States National Security Advisor. There are consequences to actions, both negative and positive. You don’t build a great place to work when you have low standards or when you let people off the hook. People need to see courage in their leaders, not coddling.
There is, no doubt, a need for caring in the workplace. We absolutely have to support and encourage people and create a place where they can feel safe to be honest and who they are. But let’s be careful because too much support and not enough demands can breed a culture of complaint and entitlement.
What I’m saying is that I’m not convinced that it’s the boss’s responsibility to get an employee engaged. If you can, that’s great. And if you can’t, don’t lose any sleep over it. It’s not your responsibility. Either people want to get their heart into the game or they don’t. You can still be a great leader even if you don’t get everyone on board. Relax and enjoy leading. Who knows? Maybe we’d be better off if bosses got back to what their ultimate job is: to make sure the job gets done and gets done well.
A participant in my leadership program this week, Al Brown, President of Industrial Scaffold Services on Vancouver Island, shared a great quote with me:
These require zero talent:
- Being on time
- Work Ethic
- Body Language
- Being Coachable
- Doing Extra
- Being prepared
Al gets it. He’s built an amazing organizational culture around some timeless principles of personal accountability.
How are you, as a leader, modeling the way?
The title of this blog came from an executive at Nordstrom Department Stores when I asked him about his hiring philosophy. “We hire for character; we train for cashiers.” Far too often people get hired on the basis of competence, and fired on the basis of attitude.
I am often asked, “So how do we hire for attitude? How do we ensure that the right people are hired? How do we ensure that just because a potential employee has technical competence, that they are the right fit for our culture?”
Here’s a five-step process for hiring the right people in your organization.
Step 1. Clearly define the kind of culture you are committed to create and the kind of attitude you need from your employees. Be sure you have an answer to the following questions:
- What values do you need your staff to exhibit?
- What behaviors do you expect from your employees that will demonstrate the kind of attitude you expect?
- What behaviors do you expect from every employee that will demonstrate your espoused values?
Step 2. Be committed to take your time in the hiring process. The management guru, Peter Drucker, had a favorite saying: “Hire s-l-o-w-l-y; fire quickly.” Depending on the position, the best organizations are prepared to take up to several hours getting the right people on the bus.
Step 3. Bring the right questions to the interview process. Note that accountability is described as:
- The ability to be counted on
- The willingness and ability to take initiative
- Taking ownership for the environment you work in
- Taking responsibility for the mistakes you make
- Seeing all blame as a waste of time
- Choosing service over self-interest
- Choosing gratitude over entitlement
Here are some sample questions for the interview to help you assess if a candidate is accountable. You can adapt these questions to any of the values that you are hiring for.
- What does accountability mean to you?
- Why do you feel that accountability is important in your work and in your life?
- Where did you learn to be accountable? How was accountability instilled in you?
- Tell me about a time in your work when you took initiative, ownership, and personal responsibility. What was the result?
- Tell me about a time when you weren’t accountable. What was the result?
- Tell me about a time when your accountability was tested under pressure, or when it was easier to be lazy and complacent or have a sense of entitlement instead of being accountable? How did you respond? What were the consequences?
- When have you had to stand alone from the crowd in order to live this value?
- How do you anticipate living this value (e.g. accountability) in the job that you are applying for?
Step 4. Be sure that all stakeholders – or as many as possible – in the organization who will depend on this person have an opportunity to ask these questions. Be sure that the questions are asked and answered from a variety of perspectives.
Step 5. Observe the candidate in action under pressure, if at all possible. Depending on the role, a probationary period where you can observe how they are living the value in their job, especially under stress, is recommended.
In the boiler room while you wait in line for the Tower of Terror ride at Disney you will find a sign with a rhyme, written by an American poet named Ella Wheeler Wilcox. It’s fitting to include it here, as no matter how brilliant a person can sound in a job interview, you don’t really know them until they are put under pressure.
It’s easy enough to be pleasant, when life hums along like a song. But the man worthwhile is the man who can smile when everything goes dead wrong.
After a stay at a Marriott Hotel where I experienced great service from every employee all weekend, I asked the checkout clerk if everyone gets training in good customer service. After a moment of reflection, she responded, “Well… you can’t train someone to be nice. What we do here is hire nice people and train them how to use the computer.”
A well-designed culture starts with hiring the right people. I’d love to hear from you about how you use in the hiring process to get the right people on board.