Tag Archives: accountability

What Are You Working On?

“What are you working on?” I asked.

“Just trying to finish this project,” Andrew explained.

“What’s the hold-up?”

“Things always move slower than I want. You know, getting my team to push things along.”

“And, when things don’t move fast enough, how does that make you feel?” I pressed.

Andrew smirked. “A little annoyed, impatient, anxious.”

“Anxious, about what? It’s just a project.”

Andrew nodded. “Yes, it’s just a project. But, it’s my project. I know I have to work through my team to get it done, but ultimately, it’s up to me.”

“So, it’s not just a project? It’s about you?”

“Yep, on the face of it, the project has a spec, it has a budget, it has a deadline. But the project is also a test about me. Can I organize it? Can I gain the willing cooperation of the team? Can I put a sequence together to keep us on track? If we get off track, how quickly do I see it? Will I know what to correct? Can I keep the team pulling in the same direction? It’s more than just a project. It’s more than just the team. Do I have what it takes to be effective?”

The First Sea Change

The first sea change for every organization is the way we organize work. The startup asks this question of every new team member. “What do you do well, where can you help us?”

“I can do this and I can do that.”

“Great, because we have some of this and some of that for you to do.”

We always start off organizing the work around the people. People with special talents get special work, others not so much.

Is there work left over? There is always work left over. It doesn’t take long for the founder to understand we can no longer organize the work around the people. We have to organize the people around the work. And, that is the first sea change for every organization, the emergence of roles.

Structure and Creativity

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
Enjoyed your presentation yesterday, have a question. In your model, whose job is it to balance structure and innovation? (or structure that permits innovation?) How is this implemented? Is it a time span issue vs. a creativity/mindset issue? I worry about calcification and lean against structure which prevents innovation.

Response:
Thank you very much for your questions. Remember, yesterday, we only scratched the surface of Elliott’s research. You have many questions (not just one).

Let me first talk generally about structure and creativity. You are fearful that structure will stifle creativity, when in fact, Elliott believed quite the opposite.

Specifically, organizational structure looks rigid on a chart, with its neat boxes and circles and arrows that point the way. Off the paper, organizational structure is simply the way we define working relationships. And, there are two types.

On a chart, we see managerial relationships in a vertical fashion, and we have an intuitive sense how that works. In a moment, I will attempt to shift your intuitive sense in a way that opens up the creativity you cherish (all organizations cherish). But, before that, the other type of working relationship is horizontal. People have to (required behavior) work with each other, but they are not each other’s manager. On a chart we typically represent these with a horizontal dotted line. It’s the dotted line that gets us in trouble. Again, we have an intuitive sense of this horizontal working relationship (cross-functional), but we rarely define it with any more clarity than the dots in the line that connect.

What is missing are two A words. Accountability and authority. In a managerial relationship, we get the authority part, but fail to understand the accountability part. A client of mine, Mike, owned a carpet cleaning business. Every once in a while, thankfully not very often, a technician would ruin a customer’s carpet. Who did Mike want to choke up against the wall? The technician, of course.

You see, Elliott assumed that technician showed up for work that day with the full intention to do their best. And it is the manager Elliott held accountable for the output of that technician. The manager hired the technician, trained the technician, provided the tools, the truck, selected the project and created the working environment for the technician. The manager controlled all the variables around the technician, it is the manager that Elliott held accountable for the output of the technician.

In this vertical managerial relationship, we get the authority part, without understanding the accountability that goes with it. Only when the manager understands the accountability-for-output is placed on them, that the shift takes place. Elliott was very specific, he called this an MAH (Management Accountability Hierarchy). The org chart is no longer an org chart, it is an accountability chart. And, that chart now illustrates who is accountable. This small shift changes everything we understand about management.

We casually call them reporting relationships, when reporting doesn’t have much to do with it. It is an accountability relationship where the manager is accountable for the output of the team member.

It’s all about context. It is incumbent on the manager to create the context. Remember, Elliott assumed the technician showed up for work that day with the full intention to do their best. It is incumbent on the manager to create the context in which each team member can do their best. It is in the creation of that context, that creativity flourishes. I know you have more questions, but, enough for today.

Relieved

“I spoke with John, he is going back to be a team leader,” Marissa explained. “He was relieved, said he never wanted the promotion to supervisor in the first place. He thought he was going to get fired in his new role.”

“And, what did you do about his compensation?” I asked.

“I took your advice. I am the one who made the mistake. He was already at the highest technician rate before his promotion, so there was only $1 an hour difference. I kept his pay at the supervisor rate. He shouldn’t have to pay for my mistake.”

“Most importantly, you are on the hook for finding a new supervisor, what are you going to do differently?”

Verbal Warning

Hiring Talent – 2020 will be released on Mon, Jan 13, 2020. Limited to 20, participants must be part of the hiring process, as either hiring manager, part of the hiring team, human resources or manager-once-removed. Program details are here – Hiring Talent – 2020. If you would like to pre-register please complete the form on the Hiring Talent link. The first 20 respondents will receive a discount code for a $99 credit toward the program.
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From the Ask Tom mailbag:

Question:

I am a new manager in this company, but I have 6 years experience in my field, so, technically, I am qualified and have the drive to be good at anything I do. I have 2 employees that work directly under me and consistent problems with one. I feel like she resents me, she believes she was overlooked for my position several times because she is a female. I sympathized at first, but after 4 months, it is very clear that her attitude and lack of drive to go the extra distance has been her problem. After one month in my new position without making any significant changes, I sat down with each of them and created in writing what I expect from them. They both signed, agreeing the terms were fair.

Yet, even after our talk, she has been resistant to anything I have asked her to do and continues to argue with me about the way we do things.

I verbally warned her that this behavior is unacceptable, but I feel I need to write her up so it is on record that she has been warned. She wants more money (not the opportunity to make more, but to be GIVEN more) but I am ready to get rid of her. I am a very tolerant guy, but I feel that her resentment is causing her not be able to change her attitude. I want to give her the benefit of the doubt, but I am exhausted. I want to praise her for doing a great job, but I can hardly get her to just do what I expect, much less exceed expectations…I NEED HELP!!!

Response:

I will hold my response until Monday. I am curious what my readers think. Has anyone ever had this person work for you? What were the symptoms? How did you handle it?

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.

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.”

Whose Problem is It?

“Tomorrow is Saturday,” I said. “Rachel has an 8-hour shift. For the past two weeks, she left early, with work undone. The first Saturday, you were furious. The second Saturday, you were calm, but she still left early. What will be different tomorrow?”

“Lots will be different,” Karyn replied. “I took what you said about seeing Rachel as a person, instead of as an employee. As long as I saw Rachel as an employee, her leaving early was my problem. Only when I saw Rachel as a person, did I realize it was her problem. I also realized, if I saw Rachel as a person, why would I wait until Saturday to help her, when I know that is the day of something going on, in conflict with her schedule at work. So, I asked her to lunch on Friday.”

“And?”

“At first, she thought it was a trap, but she agreed to show up. And, we just talked about her. She is in a custody battle with her ex, and she is losing. Three weeks ago, she was late to soccer practice because we made her stay over 15 minutes. So, her ex took the child and she missed the one night a week she has with her kid. She vowed to herself never to let that happen again. She was embarrassed to ask for the time off, but the tension on Saturday, knowing if she was late, that she would not see her kid for another week, it just came out.”

“And?”

“I am the manager. I control resources and scheduling. I asked Rachel, if I could schedule her to leave a half-hour early, if that would help? Turns out, Rachel’s behavior had nothing to do with me, or respect, or authority.”

“I know this conversation seems to be about Rachel and what we learned about her, but what did you learn about yourself?”

Do You Think the Race is Over?

“I changed,” Karyn replied. “But the outcome was still the same. Rachel left early and the work was still undone.”

“Do you think the race is over?” I asked. “What will you do this Saturday?”

“Yelling didn’t work, being nice didn’t work. I don’t know.” Karyn was stumped.

“Were you just being nice, or was there a more subtle shift in you? During all the yelling and Rachel leaving in a huff, how did you see Rachel? Was she a vehicle for you to get stuff done, or an obstacle in the way of getting stuff done?”

“Both,” Karyn flatly stated. “She was supposed to get stuff done, and left it all in my lap when she left.”

“And, last Saturday, you had an early conversation during her shift, when things were calm. Who was Rachel to you then?”

“Well, I treated her more like a person, then.”

“She was no longer something you were driving or an obstacle in the way? She was a person?”

Karyn did not respond to the question.

“You changed,” I said. “You made a shift in the way you saw Rachel. Who are you going to be this Saturday?”