Tag Archive for: accountability

The Roots Of Employee Accountability

“There are a thousand hacking at the branches… to one who is striking at the root.” – Henry David Thoreau

Certain species of bamboo trees in Southeast Asia grow less than an inch in four years, but in their fifth year will grow over a hundred feet. An unseen root system develops below the surface that enables the plant to support its enormous growth in that fifth year.

All systems, whether they are bamboo trees or employee accountability systems, require solid roots to be both enduring and regenerative. After all, it’s not the fierceness of the storm that determines whether we break, but rather the strength of the roots that lie below the surface. Far too many employee accountability and performance management systems don’t have a strong, established root system. Tasks are assigned to employees in a haphazard way, hoping that the worker will “figure it out” and deliver an adequate, even superior, performance, or alternatively, you find yourself coerced into using a rigid, bureaucratic performance review system that is demeaning and disconnected with the needs of the human spirit. If either of these are your accountability process, you will soon realize that neither ‘hope’ nor rigidity are very effective strategies for holding people accountable.

An effective, engaging, and enduring employee accountability process must grow from good roots. After helping organizations develop accountability processes for more than two decades, I have found seven key principles that form strong roots of accountability in a workplace.

  1. Clarity. Ambiguity breeds mediocrity. People need to have pristine clarity about what is expected of them in terms of operational results as well as expected behaviors. Whenever possible, write down what you expect from each other. Visibility drives clarity. But the most important thing to be clear about is the results expected. If it’s in your area, function, or project, you are accountable. The organization is depending on a set of results. Accountability – the ability to be counted on – is about making a promise to deliver.
  2. Agreements. A request is not an agreement. Clear expectations must be followed up with a mutually decided upon arrangement. Every request needs a question, “Can I count on you to meet my expectation?” Be sure the person you are holding accountable has the resources, the capability, and the willingness to come through.
  3. Support. Accountability without support is pressure. To be sustainable, every agreement must come with support requirements. Whenever you expect something from someone, it is vital to ask how you can support them. Support requirements make the accountability agreement mutual and respectful.
  4. Connection. Accountability without connection is compliance. In the age of the internet, everybody is communicating, but few are actually connecting. You can’t hold employees accountable by emailing them your expectations. You have to get out of the office, get in front them, and make the connection. Connection is about listening, supporting, and being genuinely interested. You’ll have a hard time holding anyone accountable for long if they don’t believe you care – not just about the results they produce, but also about who they are as a person.
  5. Authenticity. Accountability without passion is drudgery. Often, if people aren’t accountable, it means they don’t have enough reason to be accountable. It’s a whole lot easier to hold someone accountable when you have helped them identify their passion and make the link between meeting your needs and meeting their own. Commitment has to be authentic in order to last.
  6. Consequences. Accountability without consequences is meaningless. But consequences are not the same as punishment. Consequences are the result of delivering – or not delivering – on your agreements. If you do what you say you are going to do, there are positive consequences. If you fail to do what you agreed to, there are negative consequences. It’s important to negotiate and clarify consequences as early as possible in the agreement process. Consequences are the some of the key motivators to accountability. Be sure to explore both the internal and external consequences of honoring your agreements.
  7. Follow up. What is the required follow up? How often – and when – do you need to meet to ensure the accountabilities to each other are met? These are vital questions in the accountability process.

You might have noticed that the fundamental principles that form the roots of an effective accountability process with others are also the principles that underlie accountability agreements with yourself. Whether keeping agreements to others or yourself, or holding others to account, be sure to take the time to ensure good roots.

Jumping Out Of Bed: Creating An Inspired Workplace

“Going to work is a chore. It’s just a job. A necessary evil. A prison sentence. Doing time. Collecting a paycheque. I hate it.” How often have you heard someone talk about his or her work in these terms? Perhaps you have spoken this way yourself on occasion. Perhaps you speak this way more often than you’d like.

While we all may feel this way at times, what if most of your life was spent hardly waiting to get to the office? What if your workplace inspired you rather than depleted you? What if you jumped out of bed to get to work because you were so excited about getting there?

My passion is to make this world a better place to work. Work is so vitally important to our well-being, and life is far too short to spend these  hours in misery. We will all spend thousands of hours at work so why not have a great workplace culture?

So whose responsibility is it to make your workplace great? It is my notion that organizational culture starts with you, not your boss or your boss’s boss. While bosses set the tone, create the environment, and establish the culture, you are the one who actually creates the culture. Every employee is responsible for the culture within and around them. You make the difference.

And just how can you create a great culture in your workplace?

  1. Be authentic. Engagement comes from being who you are. Bringing your values, your aspirations, your passion, and your unique talents to work lights a fire inside you. Work is a tool to create and express what matters most. When you have a purpose for coming to work and clear values with a commitment to serve others through your role at work,your energy will soar.
  2. Build trust. Trust is the foundation of every relationship. Without trust, work will be a miserable place. And trust starts with you. Start by identifying your “Significant Seven,” the top people or groups of people you depend on or who depend on you, and make trust your number one priority with them.
  3. Be accountable. Accountability is the ability to be counted on. Being dependable with others starts with being dependable to yourself. Do you keep commitments to yourself? Do you see yourself as a person who is accountable?

What is your way of ensuring that  you jump out of bed in the morning to get to work? How do you create an inspiring workplace for yourself and others you work with?

Where Did Accountability Go Off The Rails?

Somewhere down the line, something horrible happened to accountability. In the words of David Weinberger (a research fellow at Harvard Law School’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society), it has become,  “accountabalism,” the “practice of eating sacrificial victims in an attempt to magically ward off evil.”

Recently I worked with a sophisticated, seasoned group of senior leaders in the federal public service. Due to the regulating of the expense account process, they were not allowed to budget for a lunch for their group, but instead had to bill it to their separate room accounts and claim for it individually. Under the guise of “accountability” their judgment and trust has been relegated to a set of bureaucratic rules and regulations.

Such an emphasis on accountability is an understandable response to some terrible scandals in the private and public sectors. But the notion has grown to an extreme, suggesting that there is a right and a wrong answer to every question, and eliminating the possibility of good intention. Accountabalism bureaucratizes accountability, takes away individual choice, and drives out human judgment. Accountability – the ability to be counted on – the foundation of labor and life – has been relegated to an organizational buzzword at best, and, at worst, a hammer to control and punish people. While claiming to increase individual responsibility, accountabilism actually drives out trust. For example, when a sign-off is required for every step in the work-flow, a process is broken down to its smallest parts and the vision of the whole and the ability to see the big picture is lost. It sets up finger-pointing and blame when something goes wrong. And something will inevitably go wrong. No system works perfectly. But it doesn’t mean that the system is broken and needs fixing with more rules. If one employee cheats on an expense claim, there’s no need to distrust everyone and set up a whole new time-consuming, inefficient reporting process.

What’s needed is the return of a common sense approach to accountability that builds trust, ownership, and a renewed commitment to the greater good. Not more extremism of accountability or “accountabilism.”

Accountability: How One Person Can Transform A Culture

Ron Bynum was the leader of a training organization that used a former summer camp as one of its facilities. One night his phone rang with horrific news. One of the buildings at his training center had caught fire and burned down quickly. Someone had left a towel near a heater in a dormitory where some of the staff lived. The old wooden building had gone up in flames like a pile of dry sticks.

When he got to the center the staff of nearly one hundred was in an uproar of finger pointing, criticism, trying to find who was to blame for the fire. As the furor began to subside, an accountable employee stood up and said, “I’m responsible.” Dead silence filled the room. “Wait a minute,” someone said. “You weren’t even here this week. How could you possibly be responsible?”

“I’m responsible because I’m claiming responsibility. That’s all that really matters. If you’re looking for details, I’ve been in that dormitory a dozen times this summer, and I could have noticed that the towel rack was too close to the heater. But I didn’t. So for that one reason I’m responsible. The details are irrelevant. How about if we all took responsibility rather than blaming ourselves or somebody else? Then let’s find out what needs to be done.”

The atmosphere in the room shifted in that one brief moment. Blame and recrimination transformed into searching for constructive solutions. Stepping into accountability got everyone heading in a productive direction. Now that’s leadership, and he didn’t need a title, only a decision to be accountable.

Thanks, Gay Hendricks (The Corporate Mystic), for this story.

What are you doing to inspire others around you with the courage to be accountable?

Is It Time To Change Your Change Management Plan?

he problem with most change management plans in organizations is that they are doing just that: they are managing the change, not leading people through the change. To illustrate the limitations of most change management plans, think about the last time you relocated with a new job. What was your change management plan? Your plan may have been: 1) Call a realtor, find a new place to live; 2) Sell your house; 3) Purchase a new house or finalize a new rental agreement; 4) Schedule your movers; 5) Schedule cleaners for after the move.

Your unique plan could be quite different, but if your list looks anything like this one, there is one key point missing: leadership. Creating and implementing a plan like this is all about management: Defining, prioritizing, and executing. Leadership, on the other hand, is very different. Authentic leadership is about connecting with people: supporting and guiding them through the change. Change occurs outside of a person and requires management, while transition occurs inside of a person and requires leadership. Transitions are the reorientation that people go through as they come to terms with change. Organizations make a huge error when the two are confused or if they neglect attending to the leadership.

Leading people through the transition gets to the impact of the change on people and relationships. For example, what are you letting go of in the move? What’s going on inside you as you make this transition? How are you handling resistance, which always accompanies change to some degree? How is the change affecting your relationships?

“It’s not so much that we’re afraid of change and uncertainty or so in love with the old ways,” wrote the late Marilyn Ferguson, American author and philosopher, “but it’s that place in between that we fear… It’s like being in between trapezes. It’s Linus when his blanket is in the dryer. There’s nothing to hold on to.”

We’ve all heard that when “one door closes, another one opens.” What they don’t tell you is that it’s hell in the corridor. Here are a few pointers to get you through the corridor. In leading change, you have an accountability as a leader to ensure that every change management plan incorporates the following:

  1. Give people a clear rationale for the change.
    Why are we changing? How will we be better off because of the change?  While change is necessary, not all change is good. If you have no solid reason for changing, you have no business initiating change.
  2. Give people a vision.
    Asking people to step into the corridor of uncertainty is a part of leading people through the transition to a new reality. If you are always certain, you aren’t changing. Uncertainty is an essential ingredient to growth. But in responsible leadership, uncertainty should not be about where you are headed. Change always starts with an inspiring vision of the future.
  3. Give people dignity and respect.
    In order to build a strong and civil high performance culture, every right must be accompanied by a subsequent responsibility. You have a right to make changes, as leaders. You have an accompanying responsibility to inititiate change in a respectful, honest way. For example, if you are going to move, don’t dump the move onto people. Give people the dignity and respect they deserve to understand and come to terms with the change.
  4. Give people compassion.
    It takes time to adjust to change. People usually bitch before they build. Get out of your office. Be connected. Listen to people’s concerns. Allow people to grieve. Give them time to let go. While the corridor of change may not be a time of productivity, it’s a great time to build community. Leadership through transitions is about caring for people, not manipulating them. While you may be able to control things, you can’t control people.
  5. Give people information.
    Tell people what you know. Tell them what you don’t know. Be honest. Be transparent. Be real.
  6. Give people boundaries.
    People need some structure to get through the corridor of change. They need to know that there are both accountable and unaccountable ways to handle emotions. It’s okay to grieve, to vent, to express resistance in constructive, contained places and respectful ways. It’s not okay to complain incessently, tear down others, and undermine the change initiatives. There’s a difference between constructive venting and destructive bitching.
  7. Give people a decision point.
    Similar to boundaries, people need to know when it it’s time to move on. They need to know that while venting, grieving, and expressing concerns are all valid emotional responses to change, eventually you have to build a bridge and get over it. Eventually you have to get through the corridor to the other side. And if you stay in the corridor too long, you’ll start to rot. If you seeing indicators of low morale, resentment, cynicism, resignation, bitterness, or indifference, it means you’ve been in the corridor too long.
  8. Give people a compass.
    If you’ve ever been lost in the wilderness you know that road maps don’t always work. What you need when you are lost is a compass, a set of values and guiding principles that remain constant and reliable during uncertainty and upheaval. A compass with a clear calibration pointing toward your destination will keep you on track in the transition.
  9. Give people your trust.
    Change creates all kinds of opportunities. The most important of these is the opportunity to extend trust: trust that people will come to terms with change in their own way and in their own time. Trust that with a clear vision you will get there together. While you care about people, you don’t have to carry people.
  10. Give people your courage.
    With every change you develop new resources. After all, this is one of the primary the purposes of the human experience: to grow and learn. Courage will naturally emerge when you have the courage to face and come to grips with change in your own life. Change is the courage to step off the cliff and grow wings on the way down.

Are some of these strategies for leadership in transitions missing in your change management plan? What can you do to improve on your current approach to change management? How can you bring a more human quality to your change management approach? Is it time to change your change management plan?