Tag Archives: accountability

But, the Team Missed the Deadline

Lindsey had a puzzled look on her face. “I don’t understand. The team missed the deadline. We lost the project. If not the team, who do we hold accountable for the result? And believe me, this was a big deal. There was a big team bonus riding on this project.”

I started, slowly. “Who knew about the project first? Who had knowledge about the context of the project among all the other projects in the company? Who had the ability to allocate additional personnel to the project team to meet the deadline? Who had the authority to bump other project schedules to meet this deadline? Who was in a position to authorize overtime for this project?”

“Well, the Memphis team Manager,” she replied.

Who Do You Hold to Account

“I don’t see it,” Lindsey grimaced. “As a company, it is certainly not our intention to pit management against team members.”

“Yet, you feel a growing divide, and you are blaming the uncertainty in the economy,” I replied.

“Well, yes, if it weren’t for the economy, I don’t think this would happen.”

“Let’s take a look at managerial accountability. Who do you hold accountable for the output of any of your teams? They have a goal, the goal is not reached. Who do you hold accountable?”

“You’re right. Just last week, our Memphis project team missed a deadline that cost us the opportunity to land a project. It wasn’t my team, but anyone could see from a couple of weeks before, that they weren’t going to meet the time constraints.”

“Who did you hold accountable for missing the deadline?” I asked.

“Well, it was the Memphis project team.”

“Wrong, it’s not the team we should hold accountable for the result.”

Accountable for Output – Who?

Alicia was trying to make complicated sense out of this. “Each day, they are required to show up for work and do their best,” she muttered. “I don’t get it. It’s too simple. What if we are not getting the results we want?”

“If Joe’s team shows up every day and does their best, what could they do to get a different result?” I asked.

“Well, Joe could have them do something different, reassign a route, load the trucks differently to make fewer trips, double check the load for missing items.”

“Exactly, but who is responsible for making those decisions and assigning those tasks?” I continued.

“Well, Joe is,” she replied.

“So, the team shows up and does their best. It is Joe who we hold accountable for the results of the team.”

Just a Cover-up

“What do you mean, cripple my team?” Lydia protested. “I mean, I agree that I shouldn’t force my decision on the group. I need to get buy-in. But cripple my team?”

“No, in this case, buy-in is just a cover-up. This is a team decision with team responsibility and consequences for the team no matter which way they choose. As the leader, if you make this decision for the team, they are no longer responsible and the consequences are no longer theirs. Even with buy-in, when the team suffers the consequences from your decision, you will be to blame. They will take you to the mat.”

Lydia was silent.

“And your team will gain more experience and momentum in avoiding responsibility than stepping up to the plate. As the leader, you will cripple your team.”

Forcing the Issue

“I cannot believe the way people are responding to this situation,” Lydia explained. “They know the right thing to do, but they are all wimps, now that they have to stand up for it.”

“What is your position?” I asked.

“To do the right thing. I laid out the steps we need to take, who we need to contact and how we need to present the facts. I know it’s unpopular, but it’s the right thing to do.”

“How are you going to persuade the team to take the right action?”

“I’m the leader, so I could just force the issue, take the steps on my own,” she replied.

“And what kind of leadership is that?”

Lydia thought, grinned, then slowly nodded. “That would be tyrannical leadership, I suppose.”

“And if you are a tyrant and force it, then you let the team off the hook. They are no longer responsible for taking action. You cripple them from being responsible in the future.”

Excuses and Reasons

“When you evaluate his effectiveness, given his resources and his challenges, how does he stack up?” I asked.

Audrey was quick to reply. “No way. That’s the problem. We have a results based performance review system. He is obviously not getting the results we want, but there is always something, some circumstance that prevents him or his team from delivering the goal. And that something, that circumstance always seems to make sense.”

“You mean the excuse that gets him off the hook is the excuse that you believe.”

Time to Step Up

“I am ready to throw up my hands. I have come up with eight ways to Sunday for our route technicians to do a better job on their service calls. I am ready to do a Flutie drop kick and just let them deal with it.” Russell commiserated, hoping I would be sympathetic.

“Well, I think it’s a good idea,” I said.

“What do you mean?” replied Russell, still looking for sympathy.

“I mean, I think you should call your technicians together and let them deal with it. Look, the problem isn’t that your ideas are bad; the problem is they are your ideas. If you want your technicians to do a better job on service calls, the ideas have to come from them.

“One of the biggest mistakes young managers make is thinking that you have to solve all the problems of the world. You don’t. Spread the burden. You will be surprised at how your technicians will step up to the plate.”

Leadership Charisma

Leadership is a billion dollar business, yet all around us, we rarely see effective leadership. There are books, seminars, groups and programs to build better leaders (that’s the billion dollar business), yet much of that effort is wasted and fruitless.

The effectiveness of an organization is based on its structure and the role of leadership is to design and build that structure. Effective leadership has less to do with charisma and personality, more to do with building an organizational system to get work done.

Structure begins with the founder, a structure of one. There is work to be done and the founder is doing the work. There is always work left over, so the founder hires three or four people. These people do a little bit of everything. The work is organized around the scarce resources of infant structure. At some point the founder realizes the work can no longer be organized around the people, the people have to be organized around the work.

Organizing the people around the work requires that specialized roles be defined, tasks, activities and expected outputs from those activities. This is the emergence of roles.

This organization is no longer a structure of one, but a structure of many. It is not enough for each person to play their role, the roles have to be designed to work together, more complex than a structure of one, a structure of many. And, organizational structure is born.

Organizational structure is simply the way we define the working relationships between people. The two things that must be defined are –

  • In this working relationship, what is the accountability?
  • In this working relationship, what is the authority? Authority to do what? Make decisions and solve problems the way I would have them solved.

And, so the structure of one becomes the structure of an organization. I don’t care about your personality or charisma as a leader. I only care whether you can design and execute the structure, to get some work done.

Communication Problem Only a Symptom

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Hi Tom. In the seminar I attended, you said something about communication not being an issue in an organization, and I was surprised at that, as I believe communication is often a problem in organizations. Maybe I misunderstood. Will you please elaborate?

Communication breakdowns are often a symptom of a deeper darker problem.  Companies believe they have communication issues, so they conduct a communication seminar that RARELY solves the problem.  Whenever a client reports a communication problem, I start with accountability and authority.  The identified communication problem is a symptom of an accountability and authority problem.  Communication breakdowns can help us locate the problem, but not to resolve it.

Most communication problems are between two people who have to work together, but are not each other’s manager.  This is the dotted line phenomenon on most org charts.  The problem with the dotted line is the undefined accountability and undefined authority.  As managers, we hope the two will be able to figure it out, which is where the communication breakdown begins.  Technically, these are cross-functional role relationships (two people who have to work together, but are not each other’s manager).  When we define the role relationship, we have to define the accountability and the authority in that relationship.

Example –
Would it be a good idea for sales to coordinate with marketing and marketing to coordinate with sales? Yes.
But, is the Marketing Manager the manager of the Sales Manager, and is the Sales Manager the manager of the Marketing Manager?  No.  

But, do we require they work together in a coordinating relationship?  Yes.  That sounds great until one begins to complain about the other, and so, we think we have a communication breakdown (or worse, a personality conflict).  What we failed to define in that working relationship is the accountability and the authority.

In a coordinating relationship between the Sales Manager and the Marketing Manager, who each are accountable for their respective budgets, can we require they consult with each other and coordinate their budgets to leverage that working relationship?  Yes.  Why?  

Because we said so, by virtue of a coordinating cross-functional role relationship.  They are required (accountability) to schedule meetings with each other to consult, share information, resources and tactics.  Each has the authority over their respective budgets, but they are required to coordinate.  When we make the accountability and the authority clear, the communication breakdowns disappear almost overnight.