Tag Archives: accountability

Team Member Contract for Accountability

From the Ask Tom mailbag – related to the post on Reprimands and Individual Accountability vs Accountability for Output.

Accountability for output travels down levels of work, with each manager accountable for the output of their team. Individual accountability travels up levels of work, with each individual accountable for bringing their full commitment and discretionary judgement to do their best.

The emphasis on the last comment was on Output, which is typically an end measure. Where is the emphasis on Input? The Input of each member of the team (the level of tasks and work) directly correlates to the Output measurement. What about having each be accountable to not only measure their daily input of work but also use those metrics to improve upon their own performance? That will impact everyone’s Output.

There is appropriate discretionary judgement at every level of work. Meaning, there is appropriate problem solving and decision making at every level of work. Most decisions relate to pace and quality. The work product related to pace and quality turns out to be output.

Let’s blow apart full commitment and discretionary judgement related to Elliott’s contract.

  1. The team member is accountable (individual accountability) to come to work everyday, with their full commitment, using their discretionary judgement, to do their best.
  2. If the team member’s output is behind schedule (pace), they should inform their manager ASAP.
  3. If the team member’s output is ahead of schedule (pace), they should inform their manager ASAP.
  4. If the team member’s output is below the quality standard (quality), they should inform their manager ASAP.
  5. If the team member’s output is above the quality standard (quality), they should inform their manager ASAP.
  6. If the team member is unable to do their best (that day), they should inform their manager ASAP.

Nick Forrest calls this feedback loop, “best advice.” Each team member is obligated to give their manager “best advice” related to their output.

With “best advice,” the manager is in a position, and has the authority to make adjustments to schedule, bring in more hands, authorize overtime, call the customer and delay the output, stop production to re-tool, add an inspection process, scrap out-of-spec production. The reason the manager is accountable for the output of the team is, the manager controls all the resources. The manager understands a larger context of the work, and has oversight. That comes with accountability for output.

Individual Accountability and Accountability for Output

From the Ask Tom mailbag – related to the post on Reprimands

I am unclear how a CEO can run a company without an alignment of accountabilities. Your description that the manager is accountable for the output of the team just gives the people below the manager a pass. This changes nothing. It just moves the dynamics up to between manager and superior. It’s a fractel of the same pattern grounded in a paternalistic paradigm. “Hey I’m not accountable, the team, as an entity, isn’t accountable – the manager is.” In a company of grown ups we hold ourselves accountable. Where does this accountability come from? Accountable to whom?

Indeed, how does a CEO run a company without an alignment of accountabilities? At Stratum V, the CEO holds the S-IV executive team accountable for the output of the S-III managerial team. In turn, the S-III managerial team is accountable for the output of the S-II supervisory team. In turn, the S-II supervisory team is accountable for the output of the S-I technician team. This is accountability related to output.

Here is the shift.

The S-I technician team is individually accountable, for themselves, according this contract. The S-I technician is individually accountable to show up for work each and every day, with their full commitment to do their best. That’s it.

This individual accountability then travels all the way back up to the CEO, each person, at every level of work, individually accountable to do their best. This is the alignment of accountabilities, individual accountability to do their best, with the accountability for output resting with the manager at each level of work.

Replace the Reprimand With This Question

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Our culture is the worst. It is based on fear. Everyone walks around here on eggshells, tip-toeing around the CEO. We try our best, but there is always something wrong. We can take the truth about the screw-up, but the load that comes with it makes the person feel small and worthless. Even if I am not the target, I stand by and watch a co-worker on the receiving end of a scathing reprimand. It just makes me feel bad.

All crumbs lead to the top. Always. You have an accountability problem that shows up as a culture problem.

Many managers tell me they have to hold their people accountable. If an output goal is missed, the manager feels the need to bring it to the team members attention through a reprimand, warning or a scolding write-up in the employee file. (Oh no!) If the manager can muster an emotional, red-faced dressing-down, all the better. The manager must have truly held the team member accountable.

Understand, in all this froth, nothing changed. The output didn’t change. The behaviors that created the output didn’t change. Oh, wait. Something did change. The manager feels powerful and effective. But the only effect is that the team member feels bad.

People don’t perform better when they feel bad. Their breathing becomes shallow. Fear drives them into four unproductive responses –

  • Fight (the boss is an asshole)
  • Flight (I will hide, I will hide my work, my contribution will no longer be detectable)
  • Freeze (Paralysis that freezes all decision making, including appropriate decision making)
  • Appease (Sycophant behavior that never questions anything, the perfect “yes man”)

Accountability for output is misplaced. If an output goal is missed, it is not the team member I hold accountable. It is the manager. I hold the team member accountable for this one thing. I hold the team member accountable to come to work each and every day, with their full discretionary attention to do their best. That’s it.

It is the manager I hold accountable for their output. It is the manager who controls all the resources. It is the manager who selected the team member for the task. It is the manager who trained the team member in the necessary skills. It is the manager who provided the tools and equipment necessary for the task. It is the manager who controlled the working environment, the start time, the end time, the quality of raw materials. It is the manager I hold accountable for the output of the team member.

And, most often, it is the CEO I hold accountable, for the CEO is accountable for the output of the entire organization.

A reprimand is counter-productive to output. Output is made up of a number of variables –

  • Who?
  • Skill-level?
  • Tools?
  • Equipment?
  • Working environment?
  • Target completion time?
  • Quality of raw materials?

Replace the reprimand with this question. What could we do differently to get the output we want? This is the only question that impacts output.

And, now, I am talking directly to the CEO. Your people can take the truth, not the load. Replace the reprimand with a question.

How to Destroy Development Opportunities

“You will never, ever get what you want,” I was calm. “You will only get what you focus on. How will you focus? You think you can determine your future, but you can only determine your habits and your habits will determine your future. How can you build focus into a habit?”

Meredith replied. “I know what my business plan lays out. My goals are well defined. There are three. I will print those out, on card stock, tape them to the bottom of my computer screen. So, when I feel compelled to get buried in my email, those objectives will stare me down.”

“And what is the first of those three goals?” I asked.

“It’s funny,” Meredith smiled. “Develop my two lead technicians to take over supervisory tasks so I can focus on our system of production. And, every time I follow-up on a project detail, I destroy a development opportunity for my lead technicians to follow-up.”

How Will You Focus?

“Quick breakdown,” I pushed. “What are the three things you have to get accomplished this year?”

“Well, that’s easy,” Meredith replied. “Those three objectives come from my business plan.”

“And, you have your three objectives for the year broken down into quarterly goals?”

“Yes,” Meredith nodded.

“So, how do you keep those three objectives in front of you when you stay buried in your email, handling all the traffic and details of your projects?”

“It’s tough,” Meredith shrugged.

“I know it’s tough, but if it wasn’t tough, how would you do it? How would you focus on your top three priorities each and every day?”

“One thing is for sure,” Meredith smiled. “I won’t find them buried in my email.”

“You are correct,” I agreed. “For many managers, email is counter-productive to focus. Email is efficient, it is self-documenting, but it can also be a distraction. How will you focus?”
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Which Details Demand Attention?

“Those problems come to me because I am the manager,” Meredith protested. “Being a manager is a big job and I take it seriously. That’s why I am so busy.”

“That is why you are so busy, or that is why you are so distracted?” I wanted to know.

“These are not distractions, these are important details,” she continued to push back.

“Don’t you have people on your team to handle these details?” I asked.

“Yes, but I am accountable. Sometimes, these details demand my attention.”

“How can you tell the difference, between the details that other people should handle and the details that demand your attention?”

Meredith sighed. “I don’t know. I guess that’s why I stay buried. I am trying to handle all the details.”

“Meredith, when you were a supervisor, you WERE handling all the details, but you are a manager now. We expect you to take a step back and look at the patterns in your team, the patterns in your work flow. Yes, there are some details that demand your attention. The way you lay out your system should surface those details that demand your attention. But, your system should also allow for most detail to be handled and tracked by your team. There is appropriate decision making at every level of work. Let your team be busy, so you can look at the pattern of work.”

Progress Measured by the Inch

“Quick breakdown,” I interrupted. “What were the top three things in your email this morning?”

Meredith’s hands dropped off her keyboard.

“You know,” she shrugged. “Details on a project. Someone had a question about how something should be done. Did we finish a step on another project. I am pretty busy around here.”

“And what are you going to do, today?” I continued.

“More of the same. I have a meeting in about an hour, following up on some details, tracking some materials that got misdelivered.”

“Let me change the question,” I shifted. “What are you planning to achieve today?”

“Achieve?” Meredith muttered. “You mean like something bigger. I don’t know. I measure progress around here, inch by inch. Lots of things grab my attention. I know you think I should be focused on longer term objectives, but there are so many other things that seem important.”

“Why do those other things seem more important?”

“You know, they are right now. What am I supposed to do, ignore them. Problems don’t go away by themselves.”

“Why are those problems going to you?”

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Stop Being So Busy

“What are you working on?” I asked.

Meredith looked up from her computer. “Just answering some emails,” she replied. “You know how it is. If you let them stack up, you will never get through them all. Besides, you never know when something important will pop up that needs immediate attention. If you can nip it in the bud, it won’t grow into a bigger problem.”

“Sounds like that could keep you really busy?”

“Oh, yes. Sometimes, I could spend the whole day.”

“How do you ever get anything else done?” I probed.

“I know, I know,” she finally nodded. “It’s a constant tension, in my own mind. I should be out walking the floor, checking on my team, but then I feel drawn back to my email, like I will miss something.”

“So, how do you ever get anything else done?”

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If Not You, Then Who?

“This is all spilt milk, anyway,” Melanie snorted. “I know I have to step up, get out there, put an ad in the paper. I have gone through this before, third time this year.”

“I know,” I nodded. “I read the exit interviews. Did you know that two of the three supervisors that left you this year graduated from night school?”

Melanie’s eyes got wide. “Well, I knew they were going to school at night.”

“Did you know they had new jobs lined up three months before they graduated?”

“Well, I thought that was all talk. I didn’t pay attention to that.”

“I know you didn’t pay attention. If you had paid attention, you would have three months advance time to make a different move, prepare a new supervisor to take over. Now, you have to scramble. Melanie, the only reason you still have a job, here, as a manager, is that you are a pretty good scrambler. But, one day, you won’t be able to scramble and you’ll get sacked for a loss.”

A Little Compromise, Give and Take

“What happened?” I asked.

“It was amazing,” Sean described. “We changed the name of the meeting from the VPs Meeting, to the President’s Meeting.”

“How was that different?”

“It was now clear that, as the president, I would be accountable for the decisions of the group. Before, the group was accountable as a group, sort of, but not really. Now, it is crystal clear. I am accountable for the decisions in the meeting.”

“What happened?”

“The tone of the meeting was completely different,” Sean continued. “Before, everyone was tactful and compromising, give a little here, take a little there. It was quite an agreeable bunch, and they arrived at quite agreeable decisions.”


“And, now, without the need to compromise, knowing that I will listen to best advice and the decision is mine, there was quite a difference of opinion. The group uncovered problems that had always been swept under the rug. Some issues surfaced that had been off limits before. The discussion was actually uncomfortable.”

“Uncomfortable?” I said.

“Yes, and whenever the discussion is uncomfortable, I know we are talking about something important.”