Category Archives: Accountability

Bone-headedness

Mark nodded, head-bob up and down. “It would seem very different for us to talk about performance issues in the executive management team. I am not even sure how I would start.”

“Why don’t you start with yourself?” I asked. “I am absolutely certain there are some shortcomings in the company that you can own, where you could have made a different decision, or handled something in a different way. Why don’t you start with yourself?”

“I suppose if I can’t think of something, you will say that I am in denial,” Mark replied.

My turn to nod. “We are often in denial. The sooner we confess to a problem, especially our contribution to a problem, the faster we can get on with solving it, learning from it, avoiding it in the future.” I stopped. “So, think about a decision you made that was hasty, not thought through well enough, that now, with 20-20 hindsight, you can clearly identify as bone-headed. What would it sound like to ask for feedback from your executive team?

“I want you to think about something,” I continued. “When your team makes a bone-headed decision, it costs pennies. When you make a bone-headed decision, it can cost millions.”

Talking About Performance Issues

Mark thought long and hard before he responded. “But, bringing up her underperformance in front of everyone else is not my style.”

“You’re not talking about her underperformance in public OR private,” I said.

“You’re right, I should talk to her in private,” Mark shrugged.

“I didn’t say either way, but why are you so uncomfortable bringing up performance issues in the executive management team?”

“Well, you know, it would be uncomfortable,” Mark admitted.

“Of course, it would be uncomfortable. Do you convene your executive team to talk about comfortable issues? If there is no contention, no conflict, no active discussion, what would be the point?”

“We are just not used to that. I would like to think we treat each other with respect.”

“You can be respectful and still hold someone to account for their performance,” I insisted. “The reason you are not used to talking about performance, with respect, is that you don’t practice it.”

Under the Rug

“I had such high hopes for her,” Mark explained. “We watched her, promoted her to our executive management team, encouraged her. And, she is failing. I don’t know what to do. I don’t want to dampen her spirits if there is anything we can do to save her.”

“Have you talked to her directly, about her underperformance?” I asked.

“Well, we have been kind of waiting until the end of the first quarter, keeping our fingers crossed.”

“Have you tried to bring her underperformance out into the open?”

Mark shook his head. “No, in fact, I asked everyone NOT talk about it in our weekly management meeting. I don’t want to discourage her. Do you know how difficult it is to find someone of her caliber?”

“Just to be clear,” I replied. “Now, that you have moved from a state of denial, you are still willing to hide the problem, not discuss it or actively look the other way?”

Mark tried to speak, but he knew how any response would sound.

Accountability and Responsibility

I often hear the words “accountability” and “responsibility” used interchangeably. I have to interject, the words are different.

Accountability refers to the output, the deliverable, the objective, the goal. That output, will be judged by someone as complete, satisfied, achieved.

Responsibility, however, is an internal feeling. It is the relationship between the person and their own social conscience. In most cases, this is a positive feeling that supports the behavior engaged in pursuit of a specific accountability. So, it’s a good thing.

Moreover, in looking towards a leader, I would endeavor to find a sense of responsibility in support of the expected accountability. When I look at organizational context (culture), I look for those elements that instill a sense of responsibility toward the accountability we seek to achieve. I look for this, not only in designated leaders, but in the minds (and hearts) of team members. Not too much to ask for, from customers and vendors.

How Many Organizational Layers?

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
When you talk about context, organizational context, I assume you mean organizational structure. We have team members and supervisors, managers and executive managers. How many layers should we have? Is it best to have fewer layers, a flat organization or more layers?

Response:
As any good consultant knows, it depends. First, an organization should have no more organizational layers than is necessary, so, it depends on what is necessary. And what is necessary depends on the complexity of the problems to be solved and the decisions to be made to effectively deliver the product or service to the customer.

I watch organizations blow up into morbid obesity because they have no framework on which to base that decision – how many layers? And, who should be who’s manager? How many team members can a manager manage? What do we expect from this manager vs that manager?

Timespan.
What is the timespan of the decisions to be made and the problems to be solved? Think about this pattern –

  • 1 day to 3 months – Level I
  • 3 months to 12 months – Level II
  • 12 months to 24 months – Level III
  • 2 years to 5 years – Level IV
  • 5 years to 10 years – Level V

That’s how many layers you need, and only as many as you need. But, now you have a framework in which to make that decision.

Most entrepreneurs stay within the first two levels, with goals and objectives that rarely extend beyond 12 months. Those with aspirations for larger organizations, with higher revenues, more market clout, have to consider the impact of decisions and problems that extend two years and beyond.

There is a subtle seduction that occurs, however. Any entrepreneur with the intent to take their company to the next level, must first achieve mastery at their current level while sowing the seeds of problems for the next level.

Accountability and Authority

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
You talk about setting context, that context is the crucible in which management behaviors exist. How do you more specifically define that context and where should managers begin?

Response:
Every role in an organization exists with other roles. Individual action, more specifically, individual accomplishment is a myth. No one is an island. Every organizational behavior affects another part of the organization. Context is the way we define those working relationships.

The two most critical elements to be defined in a working relationship are accountability and authority. To be effective in any role relationship requires that each person understands the accountability (output) and authority in that relationship.

In a given relationship between a manager and a team member, who has the authority to make a decision about the way a problem should be solved? If you suggested the manager, you would be correct.

But, might that lead to autocratic decision making, where a manager might run rough-shod over the team?

It might, were it not for a specific accountability. The manager has the authority to make the decision, but also the accountability to collect relevant data around that decision, which, in many cases will come directly from the team. Theoretical conditions must be matched with actual conditions. Theoretical materials must be matched with actual materials on hand, available consumables, machine uptime, even temperature and humidity. Along with every authority, must come accountability.

Editor’s note – this is not usually the case with a government oversight committee, who would like to think they have all the authority with no accountability. Every authority comes with accountability.

Source of Laziness

“I know you can tell that I’m upset,” Justin admitted. “It’s just that I am flabbergasted with my team.”

“You are right,” I replied. “Easy to tell you’re a bit off-center. Details?”

“They think they can get together and vote on policy all by themselves. They decided on a quality standard different than what we promised the customer. They decided our quality standards are too strict.”

“And?”

“So, now, our customer is our quality control department, not a good thing,” Justin shook his head. “I think they’re just a bunch of lazy guys trying to get away with sub-standard work. It’s a lousy personality trait that has infected the whole team.”

“So, you really think it’s personality, that they all have the same personality traits?” I asked.

Justin stopped. “I knew you were going to side with the team. You’re right, it is an overgeneralization that they all have the same personality.”

“And, you think personality has the ultimate impact on the way a person behaves?”

“If I were a psychologist, I would say yes.”

“But you’re not a psychologist, you are a manager. Think. If it is not personality, what could influence an entire team of people to act the same way?”

“I guess, because they all believe the same thing is true about the work,” Justin was searching for that factor common to the team.

“What is the same about the team, is that they all work in the same environment, an environment that you created, as the manager. If you want to change behavior, change the context.”

A Goal Sits Inside

We think success is in reaching our goals, that our goals will change us and the world around us. Deconstructing the every-year process of setting goals, we may find something more important.

What is the context in which your goals reside?

It’s not the goal that changes you, it’s the context. Context is the crucible which holds the shape of you and your success. A crucible with a defect may lead your goal astray, or allow you to accept a goal that will lead you astray. Think long about the context in which you live. Change the context, behavior follows.

For an individual, context is mindset. For an organization, context is culture.

Timespan of Intention

It’s January, with resolutions, goal setting, annual planning.

Most of our intentions are short-sighted. We focus on the what, not the by-when. Perhaps this year we examine the timespan of our intention as closely as the intention itself?

Instead of how many pounds can I lost by the end of Feb (when most resolutions are abandoned), we might ask what lifestyle changes we can make to add ten years to our life. What is the timespan of your intention?

Sometimes, the most important impact is not a major initiative. Sometimes, the major impact is shifting a small habit that is insidiously killing you. Or a small habit shift that will pay off in spades five years from now.

Think about your habits that support your success, habits that detract. What is the timespan of your intention?

Management Work

Ruben was stumped. “You are right. Just because we give Edmund a new title, doesn’t mean he is going to change his ways.”

“Edmund will always be Edmund, and we have to redefine his role. It’s not a matter of giving him new rules not to do this or not to do that. You have already tried that in his role as supervisor. As Lead Technician, what will be his new goals? How will you re-direct him?”

“It sounds obvious,” Ruben replied. “It starts with his job description.”

I nodded affirmative. “This is critical fundamental stuff. It’s the stuff you ignore because it sounds so simple. It’s the stuff you ignore that gets you in trouble. Stuff like goals and objectives, performance standards and holding people to account for performance.”

“I think I have a job description around here that might work,” Ruben hoped.

“Why don’t you start from scratch. As the manager, you have time span goals of approximately one year. Your annual plan has stuff in it that you are held accountable to deliver this year, and next year. If you had a supervisor, which Edmund isn’t, you would drive some of those goals down to that level, in time span appropriate chunks. For the time being, you are going to have to step into that role, review those supervisor outputs and determine the time span appropriate chunks (goals) for your new Lead Technician.”

Ruben was quiet.

“Look, do you want to lose Edmund?” I asked.

“No way,” Ruben replied. “He’s a great technician.”

“Then you have some management work to do.”