Safe Water vs. Shark Tank Innovation

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Our vision at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota is to be the customer’s first choice by reinventing ourselves and the healthcare system.  I blogged earlier about the culture work that we have undertaken to support our new vision and strategy because we know that culture eats strategy for lunch. We also know that today something is getting in our way of being more innovative. I was asked by our executive team to look into how we can drive innovation in the organization. The easy thing to do was a Shark Tank event. That idea had been raised a number of times. Many of the executives called my project the Shark Tank project. But innovation is complex, not easy, and as Mark Cabaj said, in complexity there is no silver bullet, only silver buckshot. In other words if we focus on a Shark Tank bullet we might miss the opportunity to look at multiple approaches to hit our innovation target. To understand innovation we first need a deep dive on the problem statement, to swim around how might we address the problem, then create safe waters for people to build their innovation sea legs.

Deep Diving a Problem Statement.  The first thing I wanted to do was to ensure the problem statement was identified by a diverse, cross-functional group of associates. I got a list of names from across the organization and we spent two hours determining what we needed to solve for. We reviewed survey data, benchmarking data, then used an issue tree to brainstorm. If the issue (tree trunk) is a lack of innovation, what do we see as the impact (branches) and what are the causes (root causes)? The team came up with two powerful ideas to focus on:  We are fail safe not safe to fail, and people aren’t clear on what it means to be innovative.  In other words we focus on perfection not iteration, and our strategy has bold ideas and people aren’t sure how they can impact it in their everyday work. Taking the time to understand our problem was time well spent and got some great ideas flowing.

Swimming with “How Might We.” How Might We thinking is the core of any human-centered design session. So in our next meeting we broke into two groups, thinking about how we might address the root cause issues we identified. After coming up with a long list of possibilities from multiple perspectives, we decided we wanted to focus on helping everyone see themselves as innovative by explaining and expressing innovation as both incremental and transformational. We also decided we need to focus on the importance and value in learning if we want to increase risk taking and innovation. Great how might we sessions generate wild and crazy ideas – and help you diverge and converge on some things that you can do to make the change you seek. The team was clear- they don’t want a big splash – we want a constant flow of communication, tools, sessions, and discussion around this topic.

Building Innovation Sea Legs. In our final session we did a session around visualizing success. We used a story boarding  approach to draw on big flip charts what we want to see in the future. It’s not about art – it’s about engaging the creative side of our brains and expressing things universally. The team had some awesome visuals that I shared with the executive team. And guess what. Not one of them was a shark tank. Because if the problem is understanding innovation, gaining confidence with risk, and celebrating learning,  a shark tank doesn’t solve for those things. In fact our specific recommendation was to create safe water for innovation, not a shark tank. Safe waters mean defining what associates will know, see, and do around innovation – a visual that breaks innovation down, a communication campaign around how innovation is part of our values and our strategy. More importantly new expectations and opportunities for managers to model and encourage innovation. We want more storytelling from executives on risks they took, where they failed, and what they learned. We want leaders to ask in a post mortem what risk did you take and what did you learn so that it is an expected part of every project. Embedding these changes is a lot harder than a one time event, but we are also confident this it is the way to build waves of success.

We also know that reinventing healthcare will only happen if we can unleash the ideas and talents of our associates. I have asked our ARGs (Associate Resource Groups) to see if they can help us in the next phase of innovation through their events. The more voices and actions we can show around innovation -big and small- the better the chance we have of change. Innovation can’t be done in one big bite. Or from one person. As the Shark Kevin O’Leary says, “Nobody has a monopoly on good ideas.”  We want to build a big stage where everyone can win – all associates, and all our customers. If we do we have a great chance of achieving our mission and reinventing both our culture and healthcare.

Update IDPs to Integrate Deliverables and Passions

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Development planning should always start with needs of the business. It is also key to look at the employees’ current skills and future interests.  We also know creating  a written plan is proven to increase the likelihood of acting on the plan. But this skeletal approach to development planning lacks the heart and soul of developing the full person.  I believe it’s time to update our concept of individual development plans (IDPs). Let’s shift IDPs to focus on integrating deliverables and passions in our personal and professional lives.

Integrating Work and Life: One of my least favorite questions is “What is your aspiration?” I will never forget when I was asked that question by our company president. I remember that my very first thought was, ‘I want to be a good mom.’ Then I thought, ‘Can I say that? No that won’t be acceptable. I better say I want my boss’s job.’ What was intended to be an engaging conversation became disheartening. It is perfectly reasonable for the president to expect a work related answer. It is also perfectly human to have multiple, sometimes competing, priorities that would be more insightful to discuss. What if we replaced “What are your career goals in the next 3-5 years?” with “What personal and professional milestones would you like to celebrate in 5 years?” Imagine how powerful it would be to have that insight and how rewarding it would be for employees to know you want to invest in their full life success. This new question also opens a discussion about  transferable skills and on the job learning. It may be hard for your finance manager to get exposure to online consumer behavior at work but easy to tap into through her gig job. It also opens up on the job learning to include volunteer jobs as well as our day job.

Deliverables vs. Door Signs: What if I had answered, “You know the first thing that popped into my mind is I want to be a great mom- which makes me really proud. I also want to continue to grow my career here and am particularly excited about integrating innovation and engagement in our HR practice.” It still doesn’t answer what I want the door sign on my office to read, but it tells you what deliverables excite me, which frankly is a lot more valuable. In our VUCA world (volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous) we talk about needing change agility and adaptability but focus development on climbing an org chart. We know that 85% of jobs that will exist in 2030 haven’t been invented yet – which makes “the ability to gain new knowledge more valuable than the knowledge itself.” Identifying experiences that expand learning agility, organizational relationships, and problem solving skills provides both a richer and more realistic approach to employee development.

Passion vs. Plans: “Every day the spirits of millions of people die at the front door of their workplace.” This is the opening sentence of the Workforce article “Focus on Employee Passion Not Employee Engagement.” The article goes on to say that according to a recent survey from Deloitte, only 20 percent of people say they are truly passionate about their work. Their research found that passion is impacted by 12 organizational factors, job factors, and relationship factors. Instead of asking our employees to write up a development plan, what if we started by asking them to assess how well we are stoking their passion? Through a discussion about topics such as perceived autonomy, goal clarity, and connectedness with their leader we can get to the heart of what is impacting their passion and work together to refuel it. If I had been brave enough to share my true aspiration, and the leader had said he would love to hear more about my kids and my ideas about connecting engagement and innovation, it would have been a home run conversation.

Development planning is, and must be, a business exercise. Understanding the skills we need in the future and helping our team develop them is critical. Most development planning practices successfully outline what steps are needed. Unfortunately, most of those same plans are out of step with what employees want for their development. Asking questions like, “Here are the top organizational priorities. I am interested in knowing how you want to help us deliver them,” creates insights, excitement, and a sense of belonging. Let’s shift IDPs to focus on integrating deliverables and passions in our personal and professional lives. This will make them more valuable – and actionable- for our organizations and our employees.

 

 

 

 

Real Leaders Focus on Learning and Listening

 

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Our current approach to training managers isn’t working. That is not a newsflash but some of the statistics in a recent study on corporate training are stark. 33% of employees who attended corporate trainings say that uninspiring content is the biggest barrier to learning.  Only 38% of managers believe that their learning programs meet the needs of the learner. Worse yet, only 12% of learners implement what they learn from training on the jobs. I am passionate about leadership development and an advocate for creative thinking about how we can do it more effectively. I also think we need to think outside the training box. If we believe that 70% of development happens on the job as the 70/20/10 suggests, then managers should develop 70% of their leadership development through everyday interactions. Pairing practical conversation tools with basic training on hiring, development, and corrective action can greatly improve leaders’ development…and their results.

Hiring: Interview and Engage. There are some important fundamentals about interviewing that it is important for leaders to know- legal requirements, your particular T/A process, and the ins and outs of an interview guide. But the game changer is engaging the interviewee. Help your managers focus on creating rapport with small talk, listen and linger on tidbits they pick up during the interview process, and talk about why this role and your company would be a great fit for the candidate. The mechanics of interviewing matter, but in today’s competitive labor market, conversations that build genuine connection will close the deal.

Development: Make planning personal. Most of us have some kind of talent review/succession planning process. Training leaders on the rating system, the process and preparation, and the company norms about sharing results are key. But what will actually move the dial on building our bench is open dialogue. If managers ask their high potentials questions like, “In this calendar year what contribution do you want to be known for making?” “What kind of leader do you want to be? How does your role today help or hinder your ability to achieve that?” “Five years from now what does an amazing career look like for you? A mediocre one?” This kind of dialogue will open rich doors and help move development planning from a check the box exercise to a plan truly designed around the individual.

Corrective Action: Process and people both matter. Few people relish writing someone up. Giving difficult feedback is – well difficult. We need leaders to understand the process, the paperwork, and our policies. But most importantly we need leaders to understand their people. Corrective action is the perfect time for real talk. Managers who say things like, “Neither of us wants to have this discussion, but it’s important that we talk through this issue.” or “This was a lot to take in. Let’s meet again tomorrow to be sure you are clear on next steps.” make this process more positive and personal. Arming managers with real talk tips can greatly improve the efficacy of the discussion and ensure we respect people throughout the process.

Training is important, but if we allow our managers to practice having conversations and encouraging them to focus on both training and talking, I am 100% confident we can improve our results and our manager’s leadership skills.

 

With Thanks

 

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Forrest Gump said “Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you are going to get.” I agree and as a chocolate lover would add that chocolate – and life – is best when it is surprising, shared, and savored.

Surprises come in all shapes and sizes. Boy was I surprised when the Abra/Caliber merger was announced. That was not a sweet treat.- It was more like biting into a gooey coconut center – unexpected and unwanted. But so was the G&K acquisition, and that brought me so many good friends, experiences, and ultimately brought me to Abra. So instead of despairing the goo, get curious. I had the chance to learn about a new organization and be part of the org design and culture work as part of the integration. I got to meet some great leaders at the the new organization and am getting to watch many talented people move on with “new co.” Sometimes there is more inside than first meets the eye.

Happiness is not so much in having as sharing. We make a living by what we get but we make a life by what we give. – Norman Macewan.  I tell everyone the Twin Cities is the best HR community anywhere. Full stop. People here are so generous, sharing their time, their network, and their ideas to help when you are in transition. I am do deeply grateful to the many people who have met with me and supported me over my career, especially through my two recent layoffs. I am also so lucky to have developed some treasured friendships through these networking meetings. As I have been applying for roles I have been swapping and sharing roles with peers in similar roles looking for similar opportunities. There is always enough to go around and it’s sweeter when we share.

Savor the journey. I just read this Blog by Susan Wright about chocolate as a metaphor for life. She poses the powerful question “When was the last time you actually savored the moment, relished in it, and/or accepted the moment as is?” The honest answer for me is rarely. I always have good intentions and always have a long list of to-dos and too often that to do list wins out. But this time I have been conscious of trying to be present and patient and giving myself permission to get back on track. The last time I was laid off the journey had a lot of twists and turns – and some fantastic family time over the summer. This time I am so fortunate that a great opportunity has come up right away, and I have a new destination on my path. So now my goal is to savor being new and staying curious about learning a new organization.

“Make a list of important things to do today. At the top of your list put “eat chocolate.” Now, you’ll get at least one thing done today” – Gina Hayes. I’d suggest that while you indulge in your sweet treat take a moment to be open to potential surprises, to new friends to share with, and to savor each day.  You won’t regret it.

 

 

The Problem With Our Problem Solving

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We spend a lot of time at work in meetings solving problems. Our team meetings often allot 15 -20 minutes to discuss the problem, brainstorm up solutions, and agree on a delivery date. We march back to our desks and jump into execution mode.  What if we turned our problem solving approach on its head- and even more importantly on its heart? Human Centered Design doesn’t start with time or an agenda. It starts with identifying who are we solving this problem for. IDEO is one of the most famous human centered design organizations, and their Human Centered Design approach has three phases: an Inspiration Phase to understand needs, an Ideation Phase to distill what you learned, then an Implementation Phase bringing the solution to life.

Be inspired by the problem. Our traditional problem solving spends the least amount of time here – but if we jump right to a solution how do we know it solves anything? Right now I am working on the problem of transition for many of our central services leaders during our merger. I have experience (unfortunately!) in this situation from my past, so an easy and efficient solution would be to cut and paste my last approach to my current company. The next stretch I could take is to consult with my HR peers – internal, external, best practice – and identify tools to apply.  A human centered design approach means actually observing and interviewing our managers to find out what they want. We have attended staff meetings, met with leaders one on one, and made notes as we walk around our building to identify what we need to solve for first. Our initial list of problems includes lack of communication to and from managers, uncertainty on how to retain employees, and a desire for clear process.

How Might We Ideate? When we follow a human centered design process, we have to stay in a learning and curiosity mode.  For many of us suspending our inner knower is a challenge, and even if we patiently moved through inspiration, our solution engine is revved.  It is easy to take what we heard to validate what we know how to do or want to do. But this stage is about still understanding the problem, not landing on a solution.  The phrase “How might we..” is a helpful way to keep the funnel open. We asked the question “How might we address the lack of communication?” Part of the exercise is putting some crazy ideas on there.  We could have a communication contest. We could ask the new CEO to call all managers. We could post all the answers we have in the cafeteria. One of our how might we’s lead us to informal coffee sessions with leaders and our HR team to have a safe forum to ask questions, confirm answers, and practice/discuss how to communicate to employees.  It is also key in this stage to prototype and test. Try something and validate if it is or is not a solution. We were sure having one of our senior leaders speak at an all employee meeting would be viewed positively.  It wasn’t. But it was a good takeaway on how the leader prepped and what people infer.

Implement a Success. Now that we have observed and interviewed, ideated and tested, we are finally ready to implement. Keeping our focus on the needs of the end user throughout the process should give us high confidence that the solution is actually what people need. Check out this link for a great video that summarizes the IDEO process and a real solution you’ve likely seen in your day to day life. In our case we implemented several different communication approaches to try and address as many of the gaps as possible. The key theme- make it informal, two way, and authentic.

There is a real problem with the way we solve problems today at work. HR has the opportunity to be leaders in the area of human centered design. Teaching and bringing this approach to both our functional projects and our business challenges has the opportunity to uncover all kinds of cool new ideas and solutions. So break free from your meeting mindset and focus on inspiration, ideation, and implementation to create something amazing.

 

Set a New Year Revolution vs Resolution

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At the start of the year many of us set our new year’s resolutions. According to the  article, Ten Interesting Facts New Year’s Resolutions, the most common resolution made is to exercise more (almost 40%!)  Unfortunately, about 22% of resolutions fail after about a week, 40% after a month, and 50% after 3 months. So why do we get back on the same hamster wheel year after year? Perhaps it’s time for a new cycle- a revolution vs a resolution. The word revolution has several definitions: (1) the action of going round in an orbit (2) the completion of a course (3) a sudden, radical, or complete change. Send 2019 into a new orbit with your own revolution.

Get wrapped around the axle. A common challenge with resolutions is that we don’t stop with just “exercise more.” We decide our real goal should be exercise more, be faster, get stronger, look better, and wear cuter exercise clothes. Sometimes the power of simplicity can power a goal to the end line. Pick one thing you want to improve on. Keep narrowing in on that idea until it is finite, measurable, and doable. Refine your “exercise more” goal to “I want to ride my bike 3 times a week for 45 minutes.” Now make that your thing.  Schedule around it. Post about it. Track the # of times you ride and for how long. No need to add miles or speed… just focus on the goal. Maybe your thing is to read one leadership book a month. Great! Same steps apply… and so can great results.

Complete a course. You may decide your course is a spin class or maybe it’s an online certificate. In either case building your goal around something with a clear beginning, middle, and end can be helpful.  A lack of timeline in the “exercise more” resolution is part of its downfall. How much is more? For how long? When have I achieved that goal? A key word here is complete. It’s ok to take six months to complete six online sessions. It’s also ok to knock through the same sessions in six weeks. The only right answer is what is right and realistic for you so that you can see it to completion. Then mark that completion with a celebration. Reward yourself for your hard work once you break through that ribbon at the end.

Change your perspective. Another definition of revolution is a fundamental change in the way of thinking about or visualizing something. This may be the way you think about exercise (Who would spin? Why would I get up that early? I just can’t do it), or the way you think about leadership (Who would believe that? Why would people follow her? I just don’t get why they don’t get it). Changing our paradigm is critical to achieving our goal. Franklin Covey has some fantastic resources on paradigm shifts. I love the quote they shared from Thomas Kuhn.  “All the significant breakthroughs were break-withs old ways on thinking.”  Challenging assumptions, listening and talking to people with different perspectives, and jumping in and trying something new are all steps we need to take to create our revolution.

In 2018 I set a goal to ride or run 2018 miles. I achieved that in December. I focused on my revolution. I completed all the class challenges at #addiction cycle, my spin studio. I got over myself and got up and did it. So what will be your 2019 revolution? Whatever it is, if you make it your central focus, commit to completing it, and are open for a change, you can meet whatever goal you set.

Change, Priorities, and Possibility Walk Into a Bar…

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But in this scenario there is no punch line, there is just a punch to the gut. You see, for the last year and a half I have worked for an unbelievable leader, done meaningful work, and been part of a supportive and flexible team. Then last week it was announced we are merging with one of our competitors and our headquarters is moving to Texas. The good news is I have been in this scenario/bar before – the bad news is I hadn’t planned on returning, and definitely not so soon. So as I look to the new year, I will be raising my glass to change, priorities, and possibilities and making the most of this cocktail.

Managing Change.  You can’t actually manage change- you can only manage how you show up in it. I had the opportunity in my last acquisition to create a leadership blog and training series on Leading Through Transition. I am grateful I can dust that off and share it with Abra leaders.  I am excited to be part of our integration team and to learn some new skills through this merger. I am appreciative that I have time to figure out what’s next for me. I don’t believe things happen for a reason but I do believe you can be the reason opportunities happen when the unexpected comes your way.

Prioritize Priorities. I had already been toying with making “Important” my word for 2019. What is really important to me? Is that where I am spending my time? Did I treat each day and each person with importance? I love the 7F Wheel by Paul Batz and the Good Leadership team, and rely on my family, friends, and fitness to make my wheel- and life- roll. This change may cause a bump to my finances and my future, but if I have faith, have fun, and have my family, friends, and fitness I know I will be ok. As Stephen Covey wisely said, “The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.”

Invite Possibility.  It has only been 7 days since the merger was announced. There are many possible possibilities ahead. As a planner – and let’s face it, control freak- I like to know the options so I can start building around them. I rationally know the short term will be ambiguous, so am choosing to focus on the long term. What do I want to do 5 to 10 years from now? What can I be doing today to start that journey? Who can I connect to and learn from?  The new year is always a good time to invite possibility and to imagine what else can be ahead.

My husband and I love wine and love touring vineyards. I really like this quote by wine maker Allen Sichel: “Wine is a living thing. It is made, not only of grapes and yeasts, but of skill and patience. When drinking it, remember that to the making of that wine has gone, not only the labor and care of years, but the experience of centuries.” Magic happens when you can combine skill, patience, and care. So here is a toast to change and to resetting priorities and reimagining possibilities in the new year.

 

Give the Gift of Leadership

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The holiday season is upon us. Diwali has ended. Hanukkah starts Sunday. Christmas and Kwanzaa are around the corner. People are already in full swing on their holiday shopping. Black Friday deals are everywhere, and we set a spending record of $7.9 billion on Cyber Monday. But your mom always said, the best gifts are free. You don’t need a gold card, or gold, frankincense or myrrh to be wise this season. Wise leaders will be giving their presence, their time, and their appreciation.

The present of presence. All of us multitask, yet according to a Forbes article, 98% of us are not good at it, and multitasking actually decreases productivity by 40%.The truth is we cannot be present if we are not fully engaged with those around us. Were you listening when your employee said they had to leave early to check on their mom? Did you ask why? Did you ask how you could help? Did you ask the next day how she is? When we are truly present with others we hear and feel what is important to them and show them that they are important to us. To give the gift of presence, you will have to give up some of your screen time for real life connection time. Gift giving tips: (1) Shut off email and phones during meetings and one on ones and give your team your full attention. (2) Arrive 5 minutes early to meetings, and check in with people vs. checking your email. (3) Block daily or weekly time on your calendar to connect with your team in their space. Don’t bring your laptop- focus on asking, observing, and learning.

The gift of time. We tend to measure our time at work by the number of meetings, emails, and tasks we checked off our list each day.  These are often urgent, but not important distractions that fill our time but are not fulfilling. What if instead we measured our time at work by the number of people we coached, the new ideas we learned, and the recognition we gave?  Our teams regularly tell us in engagement surveys they want more information, more recognition, and more development. So, let’s give them what they want – your time and insights. Gift giving tips: To give the gift of time you will have to give up on getting to the bottom of your inbox. Don’t worry, it’s an impossible quest. Instead work on putting these 3 tips into practice: (1) Save time by setting team norms around emails. This is a great list of ideas to start with. (2) Block your lunch hour every day. Yup- everyday. Take different people on your team out to lunch and/or connect with peers at an electronic free meal. (3) Use team meeting time to inform and engage. Select a few key topics to cover and use 80% of the meeting for brainstorming, sharing best practices, and problem solving.

Packaging appreciation. As you write out your holiday cards ask yourself, when is the last time I gave a team member a thank you card? Small, regular signs of appreciation have the biggest impact on engagement and loyalty.  A sticky note that says “Your presentation was awesome and so are you. Thanks for making a difference on our team.” will stay up in someone’s cube for months and takes seconds to write. One of my favorite managers gave me a subscription to a scrapbooking magazine because she knew it was one of my hobbies. It probably cost her $20 and 15 years later I still appreciate her thoughtfulness. Gift giving tips: (1) Add recognition as a 5 minute agenda item to your team meetings. Encourage people to thank each other. (2) Buy a pack of blank cards and keep them on your desk. Commit to writing out at least one card a week. (3) Ask your team what kind of recognition is valuable to them – we all like to be recognized differently, so customize your gift.

Make this season merry and bright by giving your team the gift of your leadership. The investment you make in being present, giving time, and showing appreciation will come back multifold. The best part of giving the gift of leadership is you can give it every day, and it never goes out of style. So, give it, celebrate it, and enjoy it all year long.

Renew, Reboot, and Recommit

Celebrate-Rosh-Hashanah-2015-Jewish-New-Year.jpgThis Sunday was Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year. It is a time to discover a new sense of possibility, a new belief in the gifts we have to share, and a new commitment to our dreams. When we think of Rosh Hashanah we focus on the religious traditions and personal interpretation of this holiday. However, I believe there are important leadership lessons tied to Rosh Hashanah we all can benefit from. I’d like to invite you to take a moment to renew, reboot, and recommit to a good new year.

Renewal. The days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are called the Days of Awe. Many people believe that during these ten days, your fate for the next year is decided. That decision is based in part on your repentance during these ten days. This is your chance to right your wrongs, to repay your debts, and to make apologies so that you will be looked upon favorably. Imagine if we applied something similar in our workplaces. What if instead of an annual performance review we had an annual renewal process? Imagine if at your organization you set aside ten days and asked all employees to connect with their key partners to mend relationships. What if as a leader you took this opportunity to share with your team your personal lessons from the last year and to apologize for your mistakes? Think what your results might be if you invited everyone to renew their commitment to their team and to their work.

Reboot. Another Rosh Hashanah tradition is Tashlikh, where people toss bread crumbs into the water to metaphorically cast off behaviors or sins from the past, thus beginning the new year with a clean slate. This practice gives people the chance to reflect, to be introspective, and to let go of the things that are holding them back. What if we implemented reboots between projects at work? Today we hold project post morts to discuss what went well, what did not, and our lessons learned. Imagine asking those questions about our personal actions: What did I do well, what should I cast off, and how can I clean my slate for the next initiative?  Allowing time at work for reflection and introspection gives people the chance to cast off what’s holding them back and to accelerate future results.

Recommit. Tzedaka is part of the new year celebration and is translated as charity. But the deeper definition of this word means what kind of person do you want to be. We all know leaders that model behaviors that we want to emulate- or avoid at all costs. Think about the critical priorities for your business and your team right now. How do they need you to show up? What kinds of skills or behaviors are critical for you to meet your goals? Then think about building a plan around these ideas. What if we moved from IDPs to I will bes?  Make 2-3 simple, measurable “I will be” statements and post them publicly. Ask your team and co-workers to hold you accountable to these standards. Ask for their feedback on how you can move closer to these ideals.  Then at the end of the year ask for feedback on how you did and recommit to what you will do to continue to move forward.

Taking time to reflect on results and behaviors is an important practice. Building routines that give us a chance to pause and work on our relationships and behaviors is essential if we want to have a good year at work or at home. This month take a moment to renew, reboot, and recommit. It can help you set yourself up for a happy- and productive- new year.

Who is Accountable for Accountability?

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We spend a lot of time in business talking about accountability.  Often the focus is other focused- how do we increase the team’s accountability? Why can’t that poor performer be more accountable? When will that partner/vendor improve their accountability? But instead of looking at the finger pointed at others, let’s think about the 3 fingers pointing back at us. As leaders, we are accountable for accountability. We do that by  modeling accountability, inviting accountability, and by expecting accountability.  Focusing on the actions and behaviors we need to do can move us from talking about accountability to creating it.

 Modeling accountability. The first step in accountability is for you as the leader to model it.  That begins with setting clear expectations. This starts with actually setting expectations. Does your team have clear objectives for each quarter? Where are they posted?  Have you shared your specific objectives for the quarter with the team? And your progress against them?  Research from Kaplan and Norton found that only 5% of the work force understand their organizational strategy. Not surprising given that their research also found 85% of executive teams spend less than one hour/ month discussing strategy.  Visual management is a simple and effective way to model accountability. Create a visual management board for your team- either a real board on a wall or a virtual one where you post the organizational goals, your leader’s goals, and your goals, and your teams’ specific objectives for this quarter. Start by focusing on your goals, and add a red, yellow, green box to show what progress you have made toward each of those goals. Update it weekly. Most importantly, be honest. It’s okay if you don’t have everything green- what you want to model is being transparent about results, openly discussing road blocks and challenges, and how to get back on track.  If you want others to be accountable, then they need to see that you are accountable – so make your accountability evident and open.

Inviting accountability. Think about what the end of the quarter looks like in your company. Do you/your leaders act like this quarter is the most important quarter in the history of the company- every quarter? Here is a list of the most common quarter end activities: Calling your team and reading them the sales results – even though they have the same report(s) you do.  Telling them you expect them to close the gap and then some, no excuses. Knowing their budget was unreasonable but driving them into the ground to meet it anyway. News flash: this does not create accountability, but it is a great breeding ground for resentment and disengagement. The word invite is intentional – you can’t force accountability and sustain great results. When people don’t buy into a plan and things head south, they jump off the race track and into the spectator seats. What you want to cultivate is a team who stays on the track and shifts into problem solving mode when they hit a speed bump. Inviting accountability forges a new road to results. Ask your team to create a quarterly plan that maps out what they will do to reach their key goals. Review them on a regular basis throughout the quarter. Shift the conversation by shifting your focus from the results (# new customers, satisfaction rating) to the inputs that drive those results. Ask questions about what’s working, what’s not working, and offer some coaching on what else they can do. End the session by asking them what specifically they will do before your next check in. And then at the next check in follow up to see what they’ve done. If people create a plan themselves, they are much more likely to be accountable to it. And you may just be surprised with the ideas they come up with.

Expecting Accountability. So let’s imagine that you have shared your goals and results with the team. You have created regular meetings to assess their progress toward their goals. And you see they are really trying. But one employee, Jim, is not consistently following through. He sort of works on his plan. He hits one or two of their goals. But he is more of a coaster than a go-getter. How you handle this will either cement or crack  your team’s commitment to accountability.  Accountability means everyone, for everything, all the time. Or it is meaningless.  Speak to Jim in clear terms about his performance, and the gap in his delivery.  Start with the facts: he committed on X date to Y deliverable, and to date you haven’t seen the results. Follow up with the impact: Because he has not completed Y, let him know the specific impact on his peers/customers/vendors. Then set the consequence. If Y is not done by Z date, he will be taken off the project. Given an unsatisfactory rating. Written up. Ask him to go back and update his plan with a new approach to hit the new date. End by asking what help he needs from you or others. Confirm his understanding and re-invite his commitment. If he doesn’t want to get on the bus, then work within a plan to get off it.  The team already knows Jim is not carrying his weight- and if you don’t do anything to address it, you risk losing both their accountability and their respect.

Being a leader means both enabling and expecting accountability. As the leader you assume accountability for the teams’ results. What you don’t want to do is assume that the team understands what it means to be accountable. Steven Covey says accountability breeds response-ability. You can drive accountability in your team and enhance their response-ability by modeling, inviting, and expecting accountability.