Tag Archives: manager

Fix Accountability, Change the Culture

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
You seem to think that when the manager is held accountable for the output of the team, it’s a game-changer. You seem to think this one idea has a significant impact on morale.

Response:
Mindset drives behavior. This is a central premise to culture. What we believe, the way we see the world, drives behavior.

When a manager believes the team is accountable for their own output, it creates a punitive, blaming mindset on the part of the manager. I often hear the refrain from one manager to another, “Well, did you hold them accountable?”

And I have to ask, “Accountable for what? And just what managerial behavior is involved in holding them accountable?”

Is it a matter of reprimand, jumping up and down and screaming? Is it a matter of volume, frequency? If I told you once, I told you a thousand times. At that point, I am convinced that I am talking to a manager who has no children.

Managers who engage in this behavior have a direct negative impact on team morale. Response is predictably fight, flight, freeze or appease.

But, when the manager is accountable for the output of the team, everything changes. A manager accountable for the output of the team will –

  • Take extreme care in the selection of who? is assigned to the project.
  • Will take extreme care in the training of team members assigned to the project.
  • Will take extreme care in the work instructions for the project.
  • Will take care to monitor the progress of work on the project.
  • Will take care in the coaching of team members who may struggle in connection with the project.

Why? Because the manager is accountable for the output of the team. The attitude, the mindset, moves the manager from blaming behavior to caring behavior. If this becomes the mindset of all the managers, the entire organization’s culture changes. We don’t need sensitivity training, or communication seminars. We just need to fix accountability.

Circumstances Out of Our Control

“What changed?” I asked.

“You had a talk with my manager. You told my manager that he is accountable for my output,” Dennis replied.

“So, what changed?”

“Before, if things didn’t go well, we would always get yelled at. I mean, not yelled at, but we would certainly get the drift that my manager was irritated. We come to work and try very hard to do our best, but sometimes, things just don’t go the way they are supposed to. Maybe a supplier would deliver late and we would have to double-time it to beat the deadline. When we try to work faster, sometimes we don’t get a chance to check all the tolerances. So, sometimes we would come up short and not all the finished work would pass QC. And, then we would get yelled at.”

“And?”

“And, it just didn’t seem fair. We weren’t late, the supplier was late. That made us late. Do you know what it feels like to have your feet held to the fire for someone else’s screw up? And, it’s not like we have any control over the supplier. We didn’t place the order. But, we still get blamed.” Dennis stopped his story.

“So, what changed?”

“You talked to my manager. You told him that he was accountable for my output. It was like magic. You know the order to the supplier? Turned out, he didn’t place the order until after hours yesterday. That’s why it was late this morning.”

“What did your manager say?”

“He apologized. He said, from now on, he was going to be accountable for the output of the team. He said he needed each of us to do our best, but no more yelling on his part.”

“So, what is different?”

“It’s like a breath of fresh air. Instead of looking to us to find fault or blame, he looks to see where he can help support us. He is a very different person.”

Team Member Contract for Accountability

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

Context:
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.

Question:
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.

Response:
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

Question:
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?

Response:
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 –

Question:
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.

Response:
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 Deal with Malicious Behavior

From the Ask Tom mailbag:

Question:

I am a young store manager of two and a half years with no previous managerial experience. Through this time, I have problem employees doing things behind my back, against the rules. I never have enough information to reveal the responsible person or the only information I get is confidential. Mostly, I do not have the time to be involved all day with rule breaking when I am not in the store. What can I do differently to improve this situation?

Response:

It is difficult to understand the nature of the rule breaking, and I see three causes.

  • Malicious, destructive rule breaking, when your back is turned.
  • Lazy, non-compliant rule breaking, when the boss is not around.
  • Fun rule breaking, light hearted, poking fun at authority, when the boss is not around.

For your part, it probably doesn’t matter. If your boss was aware of the hijinks behavior, it would reflect poorly on you as the manager. This is tricky, and the solution is likely counter-intuitive. Your efforts could easily backfire and make the situation worse.

The team members know the rules. People don’t break the rules without knowing the rules. So, this is not a training issue. This is a mindset issue, which is a bigger problem.

Changing a mindset rarely comes from the outside. A Manager cannot dictate that a person change a mindset. Those of you with children can attest. It simply does not work.

The solution will require a multiple set of meetings. I would recommend twice a week, 10 minutes per meeting. So, pick a Monday and Thursday, or Tuesday and Friday, first thing in the morning. As the Leader, simply ask these questions and flipchart the responses from your team. Keep your thoughts to yourself. Post the flipcharts in the break room and leave them there.

  • Meeting 1: How are we doing, working together as a team?
  • Meeting 2: What impact do we, as a team, have on the customer?
  • Meeting 3: In what way can we, as a team, have a more positive impact on the customer?
  • Meeting 4: What impact does our individual behavior have on the behavior of our other team members?
  • Meeting 5: In what way can we, as a team, have a positive impact, helping each other create a more positive customer experience?

The purpose of these meetings is to:

  • Get the team talking about behavior, not the manager talking about behavior.
  • Re-focus the energy of the team from misbehavior to customer focus.
  • Get the team to create its own accountability for behavior, even when the Manager is not around.

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Smartest Guy in the Room

“What do you mean, change the context?” Ruben asked.

“Jason is the smartest guy in the room, or, at least, he wants you to think that,” I nodded. “Right now, his attitude is counterproductive. So, change the context. You do some internal training, from time to time?”

“Yes, but that’s my job,” Ruben assured me.

“No, that’s what you believe. You believe that’s your job. What if you believed it was Jason’s job?”

“But, our internal training is usually about something new, not like we have a training manual, I have to figure how a process works and then determine the best way to teach it,” he protested.

“Sounds like you need the smartest guy in the room. What if you believed it was Jason’s job to teach? Change the context, behavior follows.”
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How to Change the Behavior

“Is Jason smarter than everyone else in the room?” I asked.

“On some things, yes,” Ruben replied. “But, that’s not the point. Even if he does know something the team doesn’t know, he doesn’t have to shove it in their face. He needs to share, so everyone on the team can get better. That’s what teamwork is all about.”

“What do you believe about Jason?”

“Well, he is smart, but I believe his behavior is counterproductive. He makes his teammates feel bad,” Ruben pushed back.

“If he is so smart, do you think he could be an effective teacher?”

“Not with that attitude,” Ruben raised his eyebrows.

“In what context could that attitude be different,” I wanted to know.

“What do you mean?”

“Ruben. Look. Behavior does not happen in a vacuum. It happens in a context. Change the context, change the behavior. Could you change the context?”
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How Does Culture Drive Behavior?

“He doesn’t fit the culture,” Ruben explained. “Jason’s okay, knows the technical side of the business, but he doesn’t fit the culture.”

“What do you mean, he doesn’t fit the culture?” I asked.

“He doesn’t fit the team,” Ruben replied. “Our teams work together, support each other, help each other. If someone asks Jason a question, he snaps the answer, he treats the other person like they are stupid. And, they just want to know the answer to the question.”

“What does Jason believe about the team?”

“What do you mean, believe about the team?” Ruben looked puzzled.

“You said this was a culture problem,” I nodded. “Culture is a set of beliefs that drive behavior, for better or worse. Ultimately, those behaviors are repeated and become an unwritten set of rules that guide the team in the way they work together. That’s culture. But, it all starts with what we believe, what you believe, as the manager, what Jason believes as a team member. If you want to change the behavior, you have to change the context. What we believe, what Jason believes, creates the context and drives his behavior. What does Jason believe about the team?”

Ruben looked up into his brain, “Jason believes he is smarter than anyone else on the team. Jason believes that he could do all the work better than anyone else on the team. Jason believes the other people on the team slow him down. When someone asks a question, it proves Jason is right, that he is the smartest person on the team and he wants everyone to know it.”
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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.”