6 Steps to Effective Accountability

“Hold them accountable for their performance!” This is an often repeated and seldom understood mantra in today’s workplace. Accountability is a critical aspect of the very best organizations, but there is a significant distinction in the way the best approach it. First and foremost, the very best do not equate accountability with punishment. But if accountability is not just punishment, then what is it?

Accountability can be viewed as a 6-step process which, if applied correctly, will create an environment where people will willingly receive feedback and see the process as constructive.

1. Set clear expectations

Never expect results that you haven’t clearly communicated to your employees. If you expect them to perform in a certain manner, you must first communicate that expectation to them. Keep in mind that almost every employee wants to please the boss and experience both organizational and personal success. They can’t do this if they don’t know what is expected of them.

2. Compare results to expectations

When possible, quantitative metrics should be in place for every desired result. These metrics should assess the relationship between the actual result and the result that was expected. If the metric shows success then positive feedback is in order. If, however, the metric indicates a gap, or failure, then move to step #3 with intentional curiosity as to why the gap exists.

3. Account for the “why” behind failure to meet expectations (Don’t assume poor motivation)

I once had a young engineer who was just starting his career ask for the best tip I could give him as a future manager. I told him that he must be curious and a great diagnostician. Human failure is seldom the cause of anything, rather it is almost always the result of something. If you have found a gap between expectations and performance, you should work with the employee to find out what caused it. The vast majority of the time we find out it is something within the work system that caused the gap to occur and not that “they just didn’t care or work hard enough”. Remember that humans work in incredibly complex and dynamic systems and often the consequence of that complexity is human failure. Examine the context (Self; Others; Surroundings; Systems) that the person was in and which aspects of that context impacted performance. Don’t start by assuming that personal motivation is the cause. If you do, you will most likely create defensiveness and fail to find the “real” cause behind the failure. Objectively evaluate all possibilities before finalizing your conclusion. Remember, accountability literally means to “take an account” of what caused the failure.

4. Find a fix so that the person can be successful in the future

Once you have diagnosed the cause of the failure, put a fix into place to eliminate the cause. This could be training or mentoring if knowledge or skill is missing, new equipment if failure is the result of not having the correct resources for success, contractual changes with your clients if there is incentive to rush or take short cuts, or a multitude of other fixes. Just remember that the fix should affect the cause of the actual gap, not just punish the person who failed. If progressive discipline (punishment) is in order, move to step #5.

5. Apply negative consequences appropriately

Yes, sometimes punishment (progressive discipline) is in order, but it should only be used when trying to impact motivation or to document repeated failure. Helping the person understand the consequences of continued failure or the impact that failure is having on how he is perceived by you and/or his team members can have a significant impact of motivation. Keep in mind that the primary objective of any progressive discipline program is performance improvement. So whether you are conducting an informal counseling session or discussing a written reprimand, care should be taken to communicate clearly and respectfully, with a focus on determining the real cause of failure.

6. Model by holding yourself accountable for your results

Employees are impacted more by what they see their supervisors do than by what their supervisors say should be done. If you want your employees to respond positively to being held accountable then you must be open to feedback from your employees and publicly admit and diagnose your own performance gaps. This shows that accountability is not something that should be feared and it also provides the opportunity to make bosses, employees, and the organization more successful.

While these steps are important, the way you communicate is also critical. Make sure you do so with respect and with the person’s best interest in mind. If you can minimize or eliminate defensiveness, you will be well on the road to helping others improve and get the results that you both want.

Effective Organizations Clearly Define & Communicate Mission, Goals, Values & Expectations

Last month we shared the 11 topics that will make up our 2013 Newsletter Series - Characteristics of an Effective Organization. Top Down When we talk about effective organizations, we are really talking about organizational characteristics that have been created through the decisions and actions of upper management and then passed down through the organization to become part of the organization’s culture. So when we talk about clearly defining and communicating mission, goals, values and expectations we are talking about something that must come from the top.

Mission Let’s start with “mission”. An organization’s mission is its reason for existing, its purpose, where it is “headed”. People need to know the mission so that they can “get on board” and help with its accomplishment. The mission is usually defined and then communicated through a “mission statement” that has been thought out and clearly articulated by senior management.

For example, McDonald’s stated mission “is to be our customers’ favorite place and way to eat.” That is “why” they are in business. That is where they want to “go” so to speak. That is their direction.

Goals & Values This mission is pursued through the accomplishment of a set of clearly articulated goals and the application of a set of “values” that impact decision making. For example, McDonald’s states their values as centering “on an exceptional customer experience - People, Products, Place, Price and Promotion. We are committed to continuously improving our operations and enhancing our customers’ experience”. They have additionally articulated a set of seven specific values that further clarify their overall values statement and guide the accomplishment of their mission.

McDonald's Values

  • We place the customer experience at the core of all we do.
  • We are committed to our people.
  • We believe in the McDonald’s System.
  • We operate our business ethically.
  • We give back to our communities.
  • We grow our business profitably.
  • We strive continually to improve.

Formal & Informal Cultures The mission and values statement of an organization like McDonald’s is an attempt to articulate the desired “formal” culture of the organization, but only through clear articulation of expectations and followup on achievement of those expectations can an organization have an alignment of the informal culture with the desired formal culture of the organization. To read more, see our recent blog post "You Might Not Always Get What You Want."

Expectations Effective organizations and their leaders continuously evaluate movement toward the stated mission, in light of the stated goals and values, and then communicate their expectations of team and individual performance throughout the organization. As we will discuss in future newsletters, they also hold everyone accountable for meeting expectations and understand that clarity of expectations has a direct impact on a person’s ability to be successful.

What's the point?

In effective organizations, the mission, goals, values and expectations are not mere words on a plaque on the wall. Rather, they are a way of life, understood by every team member. They are the catalyst for moving the organization toward greatness.

Overcoming the Tendency to “Micro-manage”

Micro-management is the failure to delegate when delegation is appropriate.  It is giving an assignment to an employee who has the capability of executing on their own and then overseeing the details of the execution of the assignment.  In many cases, it is driven by a lack of trust in the other person, but even if it is not, it is almost always viewed as such.  The perception of lack of trust increases frustration and reduces both motivation and the desire to show initiative.  In other words, micro-management creates an environment that negatively impacts results.  So how do you overcome the tendency to micro-manage?  The key is trust, and trust grows with successful accomplishment.  There are three steps to developing trust.

  • Fairly evaluate the competencies of the individual.  The tasks that you assign require certain competencies for success.  Start by identifying those competencies and then evaluate your employee’s skill set relative to those competencies.  If a skill is lacking you can provide support through training.  If all the skills are present then you can predict a high probability of success.
  • Make assignments on the basis of competencies.  The more success that you observe and the individual achieves, the more trust you will have in the person and the more confidence the person will have in their ability.  Making assignments on the basis of competencies increases the chances of success.
  • Communicate your expectations and trust to the individual.  When making assignments, make sure that you clearly communicate your expectations by providing information needed for success.  We call these the six-points of a clear message and they include What-When-Where-Who-How-Why.  Don’t over focus on the “How” component with a competent employee because this can communicate lack of confidence in their ability.  Make sure that you give them information that may be specific to the current task that they might not have, such as “When” you need the task accomplished.  When appropriate, communicate that you have every confidence in their ability to complete the task at hand.

Empowering employees to accomplish tasks on their own not only creates a more confident and competent workforce, it also gives you more control over your time and peace of mind.

Incentives as a Motivational Tool

Many organizations use both monetary and non-monetary incentives to increase performance.  What do good incentive programs look like and are they really useful?  First of all, when we talk about incentives, we are talking about the application of something desired by the employee that increases the likelihood that they will perform at a higher level.  The objective is to motivate the employee to perform a task/skill for which they are already competent at a faster, more frequent or more reliable level than they have been doing.  Incentives, as defined here are not used to teach, but rather to motivate behavior.  Good incentive programs have three primary characteristics that lead to success. 1.  The behavior required for success is clearly understood.  People can only be expected to achieve a result in a particular manner if they understand the standard against which they are being measured.  I remember once I told my then 10-year old son to “clean up his mess” after a group of his friends had been at our house for a party.  When I came back to evaluate his work, I couldn’t see anything different than before.  When I questioned him about his “failure”, he said he did “clean up his mess”; all that other mess was made by his friends.  I obviously had not defined the standard against which I was measuring his performance.

2.  The measure of success is quantifiable and achievable.   The result must be quantitative so that it can be precisely measured.  Qualitative measures (e.g. high quality) are too ambiguous and leave room for differences of opinion.  Leaving no soda cans or chip bags in the family room after you have cleaned up your mess would have allowed me to have a defendable measure of my sons success in the cleaning task.

3.  The incentive is something that is desired by the employees and is clearly tied to success. The incentive that is applied should be something that is seen as worth the effort by employees (or children, as the case may be).  If it is not, then it will not serve as a motivator and cannot be expected to improve results.  Money is not always required as an incentive.  In the example with my son, I told him that as soon as he met our agreed upon standard he could go outside and play basketball with his friends.  That non-monetary incentive increased the quantity of items that he picked up and the speed at which he did it.  Make sure that you have accurately determined the desirousness of your incentives.