Newsletter Series Archives

Accountability Summary and Overview

For the past 10 months we have attempted to examine the issue of holding others accountable for their performance. We began by dismissing accountability as simply “punishment” but rather defined it as involving first the identification of either failure or success, followed by an examination of the underlying reasons for the failure/success and then the determination of the appropriate consequences to help sustain the success or eliminate the failure in the future. Determining the underlying reason(s) for failure/success is arguably the most critical aspect of the accountability process. We then discussed how two cognitive biases can impact how we initially react to performance failure and thus impact our evaluation of causation. One of these is what is called the Confirmation Bias or the tendency to search for, interpret, focus on and remember information in a way that confirms our preconceptions. In other words, we are predisposed to look for causes that confirm what we expect. The second cognitive bias is what is called the Fundamental Attribution Error which says that we tend to attribute internal/motivational causes to the poor performance of others but not to our own poor performance. This cognitive bias can cause us to “jump to the conclusion” that the cause of the poor performance was due to motivation and thus interfere with our complete evaluation of other causes. We also discussed our research which indicates that much of the time we fail to even speak up because we are concerned that the other person will become either defensive or angry and our intervention will therefore not really change anything anyway. Effective accountability requires that we speak up, but do so in a way that minimizes or eliminates defensiveness. This requires us to stop committing the fundamental attribution error and stop guessing about the cause of the failure because this can lead us to blame the person for the failure and cause them to become defensive. Rather we should realize that failure can occur for a myriad of reasons, only one of which is motivation. When people fail it is usually not because they are trying to fail, rather what people do makes perfect sense to them in the moment. We call this “local rationality” because their actions make sense given the context in which they find themselves. We examined a “contextual model” of performance which includes four primary factors: self, others, surroundings and systems, and several specific factors for each (see “Diagnostic Skills for Poor Performance”). Many times we cannot see these factors at work until we discuss them with the person, so it is imperative that we ask the person questions to determine the real cause(s) of the performance failure. We suggested that you begin by respectfully (without guessing) ask an opening question to determine the general factor(s) involved and then ask drill-down questions to determine the specific factors that need to be addressed. Always remember to listen completely to their response including both what they say and how they say it. If it turns out that the reason for the performance failure is motivation, then you must determine if it is an intrinsic or extrinsic motivation issue. Often the person is simply not aware of the consequences of continued failure (extrinsic motivation) so bringing the possible natural consequences to life might be all that is needed to increase motivation. When intrinsic motivation is the issue, then connecting continued failure to their self-respect is often a good approach to increasing motivation. When the failure is the result of non-motivational factors then getting the person involved in determining the best fix is very important, so invite their ideas rather than prescribing the solution and you will get much more buy-in and probably a much better fix. When the fix doesn’t work and you discover that the person has failed again, then we suggested that you first determine if the failure is due to the same cause(s) as before. If not, then fix the new cause(s). If they are the same and the continued failure is really a motivation issue, then we suggested that you implement your organizations progressive discipline procedure. This process should help improve motivation, but also provides legal documentation should termination become necessary.

Finally, don’t forget to recognize success. Providing positive feedback for success is necessary to sustain that success going forward. In our October Newsletter (Sustaining Good Performance) we discussed the What, When, Where and How of providing positive feedback.

What’s the point?

Successful performance requires that we get feedback on how we are doing so that we know what and how to improve. Not getting feedback would be like driving blindfolded and we can just imagine what would happen if everyone did that. Holding people accountable for performance is really a process of providing that feedback and when done correctly we can eliminate defensiveness, improve motivation and get better results.

Effective Organizations Focus on Understanding and Exceeding Customer Expectations

If you work in an organization, you have customers. Your coworkers are your “internal” customers and their performance in many instances is dependent on your performance and support.

If you sell anything (product or service), the people who pay you are your “external” customers and their willingness to continue paying you is dependent on their perception of the value that you provide.

Both internal and external customers are important to success and leaders in effective organizations understand this.

Customer Service

Customer service is what you do to meet or exceed customers' expectations in an attempt to create customer satisfaction both internally and externally.

Many of The RAD Group’s external customers are in the service business and everyone of them has a stated objective of providing “service quality” to their customers. When we ask them to define their customers' views of service quality, they often hesitate and say that they really haven’t asked them.

If service quality is a significant component of customer satisfaction, then it would seem that understanding the customers' expectations in this realm would be critical to success.

"Because Knowing is Half the Battle!"

So the first step to customer satisfaction is to understand the customer's expectations, but how?

It’s really pretty simple, Ask and Listen!

The asking part can be done either informally, in conversation with the customer, or formally through surveys. I don’t know about you, but it seems that every time I buy something at a store, the cashier circles a web address for me to complete a customer satisfaction survey for a chance to win something. These organizations know that if they don’t understand what drives me to buy from them, they will have less chance of meeting my expectations and I will most likely take my business somewhere else.

How many times have you been in a restaurant and had your server stop by your table to see if you need anything or if the quality of the food met your expectations. They are simply asking to understand customer expectations. They also know that you feel valued (and consequently more satisfied) when your opinion is valued.

Don't Listen for Validation

The listening part is also really pretty simple, but many times difficult to execute. If your objective is to get validation that what you are doing is correct, you will probably stop listening to criticism and only focus on positive feedback.

Effective organizations know that the opportunity for improvement lies in the criticism and not in the positive feedback. When they get criticism, they take that opportunity to explore even deeper to determine what is causing the failure to meet expectations.

Train Employees to Value Feedback

Effective organizations don’t leave customer service to chance, but rather train employees on how to meet or exceed customer expectations.

At a minimum they teach their employees to be Helpful, Courteous and Knowledgeable. Really effective organizations teach their employees how to monitor customer perceptions through Observation and then how to Ask and Listen.

Deal Effectively with Complaints

Effective organizations also teach employees how to deal effectively with complaints.

They teach them that complaints are simply a symptom of failure to meet expectations and that exploration of the complaint is an opportunity to improve their service or product in the future. This means more success for the individual and for the organization.

What's the point?

Effective organizations don’t stop with simply meeting customer expectations, they “Go the extra mile” and, where possible, attempt to exceed those expectations. But they also understand that exceeding expectations starts with understanding those expectations in the first place.