Category Archives: Accountability

The First Strategic Question

Why and which?” Rachel repeated. Come the first week in January, Rachel had to present her 2020 plan to the rest of her management team.

“How did you approach this plan last year?” I asked.

“I’m not sure, seems like we just got the group together and set some goals for the year.”

“Interesting. And, how did that work out?”

“It’s funny,” Rachel said. Her eyes wandered to the ceiling. “We never really looked at the plan again, until last week when I started thinking about 2020.”

“Did you accomplish any of the things you set out to do?”

“We knocked a couple of things off the list, but I have to tell you, some of the stuff didn’t even matter. It was really kind of vague.”

“So, why did you create the plan?” I asked.

“Because we were supposed to,” Rachel replied.

“So, you never really asked the question –why-?”

“Maybe, you are right, that is the first question.”

When You Cheat

“Everyone says they have integrity, but I have to tell you, when Roger talked about how he managed to skip out on the maintenance fee in that contract, I got a queasy feeling.” Alice had difficulty even talking about this. “I know it was only a $130, but he was so proud that he was able to beat the vendor out of his money, I don’t know, it was just weird.”

Every agreement you make with other people, you ultimately make with yourself. When you cheat other people, you ultimately cheat yourself. When you break a promise to yourself, you teach your brain to distrust your intentions and your behavior. You begin to sow the seeds of self doubt. You undermine your strength and integrity.

Every agreement you make with other people, you ultimately make with yourself. When you keep your agreements with other people, you teach your brain to trust your intentions and behavior. Agreements you keep with yourself, that are invisible to others, are the most powerful because they are pure. They sow the seeds of self confidence. You build on your strengths with a foundation of integrity.

Habits of Success?

In my last post, A Level of Competence, I ended with an unspoken question.

What habits do you have that support your success? I am curious to hear from you, so post a comment or reply by email. I will collect, manicure and re-post.

Here are two of my habits.

  • Each morning, I fix a cup of coffee, and spend 60-90 minutes writing. This is where the blog comes from, as well as email correspondence with other thought leaders.
  • When I drive an automobile, I do NOT listen to the radio, only podcasts or I simply drive and think.

What are your habits?

A Level of Competence

“We all have habits that support our success,” I started. “We may have some habits that detract. It is those routine, grooved behaviors that chip away at the world. It is our discipline.

“Emily, why does a star quarterback throw more touchdown passes than others? Why does a singer perform so well on stage? Why does an Olympic swimmer break a record?”

Emily knew there was a very specific answer to this question, so she waited.

“They all do those things because they can. They spend great periods of their life creating the habits to support the skills that drive them to the top. They reach high levels of competence because they practiced, tried and failed, got better and practiced some more, with a discipline to master those skills. They perform at a high level because they can. The great numbers who have not mastered those skills, who are not competent, were eliminated in the first round.

“Those who achieve mastery are a select few. And that includes effective managers.

“It takes a discipline of habits to achieve competency. For a manager, these habits support the leadership skills necessary to be effective. And that is where we will start.”

What Determines Success?

Emily shifted to the edge of the chair in anticipation. “Okay, I’m game,” she said. “If I want my team to make changes, I have to look at myself first. So, I am willing to do that. I want to make things come out better, make my team better, make myself better. I want to make a difference. I want to change the outcome.”

“Emily, we don’t choose the way things turn out. I mean, we may think we choose our success, but we do not. The only thing we choose are our habits. And, it’s our habits that determine our success. What are those grooved and routine behaviors that chip away at the world? If you want to know how to influence others, you have to first understand how you choose your own habits.”

Causing Change in Others

“Sometimes, I think I have to force things,” Emily said. “And forcing things doesn’t last long. I want to know how I can get people to perform, to perform at a higher level.”

“You want to know how you can cause people to change?”

“Yes, that’s it. Exactly. How can I get people to perform better, to stay focused, to pay attention, heck, just to show up on time would be nice.”

“So, Emily, when you look at yourself, how easy is it for you to make changes about your own life, your own work?”

“I’m not sure what you mean,” she replied. “Things are going pretty well with me. For the most part, things are under control.”

“Interesting,” I said. “We think we have the ability to cause change in other people when we have great difficulty seeing the need for change within ourselves.”

Commitment or Compliance?

“I am not satisfied with things,” Emily said. “I know there is more to being a manager than management.”

“You have been a manager for a couple of years, now. What exactly, are you dissatisfied with?” I asked.

“There are times, when it seems, I am only able to get people to do what I want by forcing them to do it. By being a bully, or threatening. Not directly threatening, but, you know, do it or else.”

“And how does that work?”

“Not well,” she replied. “I may get some short term compliance, but as soon as I leave the room, it’s over.”

“Emily, the pressure that people are not willing to bring on themselves is the same pressure you are trying to tap into. If they are not willing to bring it on themselves, what makes you think you have the ability to overcome that?”

“But that’s my job, isn’t it?”

“Indeed.”

The Goal is Not the Next Project

From the Ask Tom mailbag:

Question:

How do you determine the time frame that a manager should be thinking into the future? Given your garden-variety project, do you figure “lead time” for the group? Example: team has to prepare documents for an audit in two weeks, we have an existing pool of docs to update. You’ve discussed this in the past, however your thoughts would be appreciated.

Response:

This question sets the perfect trap for the manager with short term thinking. Of course, this short term project has to be completed prior to the two week deadline. But here is what a manager needs to be thinking about.

What audit projects do I anticipate receiving during the next twelve months? What is the scope of those projects, how long will they take and what technical work is necessary? If I chart out a timeline of the number of projects over the next twelve months, how many overlap, or are there quiet periods in between?

Who will I need on my team to do the technical work, the research, the preparation and the review? Who will I need to perform the administrative work of tracking all of the elements and packaging the audit when the work is completed?

Who do I have on my staff now and who do I need to recruit? What impact will that have on my budget, in terms of expense to the anticipated revenue? When do I place the ads, when do I interview and when do I make the hires?

How long will training take to get these people up to speed to perform this audit work? Who will do the training?

All of these questions require way more than two weeks. These are the issues for the successful manager. The typical timespan (working into the future) for any working manager is 12-24 months.

I Can Only Expect One Thing

“Reggie, I want to clarify your language around the word accountability,” I started. “People always say they want to hold someone else accountable, when that is an impossibility.”

“You talked to me about that before,” Reggie replied. “I cannot hold any of my team members accountable, I can only hold them ‘to account’ for things we agreed to. And, in the end, as the manager, I am the only one that can be held to account for the output of the team.”

“It seems nitpicking, but the subtle difference is huge, between holding someone accountable (impossible) and holding someone to account. So, tell me, in this discussion about accountability, if you, as the manager, are accountable for the output of the team, what do you expect from each team member?”

“I can only expect them to do one thing,” Reggie concluded. “To show up each and every day, with the full intention to do their best. As long as they do their best, I can expect no more. I control the rest of the variables. I decide who is on the team, how they are trained, the tools provided to them, work instructions, project assignments and the time allotted. As the manager, I am accountable for the output of the team.”

Catch Every Package

“You see, Reggie, in the beginning, as a manager of a small team, you can take the brunt of the responsibility, because the responsibility is small. As time goes by, if you want to step up to larger responsibility, you will find that strategy will fail you. You, as the manager, can no longer solve all the problems, catch every package that falls off a forklift, fix every little discrepancy that comes roaring at you. If you try to do it all, by yourself, you will fail.

“So, you have managers who know they have to get their teams involved, to get their teams to hold themselves accountable. But they don’t know how. So, some consultant recommends a bonus program to get buy in. And you have seen, first hand, what that does to accountability.”

Reggie took a deep breath. “So, it was okay when things were small and times were good. But now that we are growing, more and more people are trying to game the bonus system.”

“And, lord help you, when times go bad, and they will. A bonus system during bad times is a sure-fire morale killer.”

“I think, the biggest lesson, for me,” Reggie replied, “is that, as things grow bigger and more complicated, I have to learn how to hold my people to account to the performance standards we agreed to. And a bonus system doesn’t substitute for that skill.”