Who is Accountable for Accountability?

Accountability quote

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.

 

 

Walk A Mile in My Gemba

Gemba-Kaizen-Quotes-Morpheus

Lean principles are no longer a new idea in the workplace. As many workplaces try to “do more with less”, identifying and eliminating waste not only makes sense, it is essential. A key element of the lean methodology is to “walk to the gemba.” The original Japanese term comes from gembutsu, which means “real thing.” It also sometimes refers to the “real place.” This concept stresses making a personal observation of work at the place where the work is happening.  Walking the gemba is a learning activity. We can learn how to do address delivery and quality challenges, how to deal with internal quality problems, how to sustain inventory, and how to make a better use of capital. We can also learn from our teams by asking the people closest to the work what they see as waste and what recommendations they have for improvement. I recently read the article Your Gemba Isn’t the Only Gemba to Walk by Aaron Hunt in the Lean Post. He highlights the value in seeing how others (your customers, your competitors) are working on challenges, and encourages us to walk their gembas for ideas. This got me thinking – what if we applied that to our own organizations?  The article The Future of HR: Run like Tech. Talk like Ops. Think Like Sales. Lead the Change by Jeff Palen offers some great recommendations on ensuring HR runs like a business. I think we can take this one step further by going to the gemba together to help each of these functions learn from each other. If we do, we can connect technology and talent, measure what matters, and be more customer-centric, and by doing so we will drive business value.

Connect technology and talent. Gone are the days of massive annual IT updates, where people were given big binders of instructions and had their systems down for hours while the new release was launched. Instead, technology has moved to micro releases sending regular, small updates in real time. HR could ask IT how to redesign the talent review as a micro release process instead of today’s annual, big binder process. By observing the process steps and the waste removed, HR may gain some insights on how to redesign their own talent process. In exchange, IT could ask HR how to engage stakeholders before a release is launched. An incremental release of a Workday program may launch but won’t stick unless managers understand why the change was made, believe this change is for the greater good, and understand how to execute the change.

Measure what matters. Operations teams are often experts in ROI metrics. Common customer experience metrics used by operations teams include on-time delivery, cycle time, and time to make changeovers. Walking through an operations gemba you may see the line stop and manufacturing employees giving feedback on an inefficiency that slows down delivery and/or cycle time. HR could ask Operations if performance reviews are efficient and if they measure what matters. Are managers delivering feedback in a timely manner? Is the cycle between feedback discussions optimal? Have managers changed over to the feedback approach you launched? In exchange, Operations could ask HR what internal customers are measuring. Is Quality measuring supply chain stability but Operations is switching to low cost suppliers? What are HR incentive plans designed to drive? Is that in synch with what operations is measuring? Making these connections is key to making ROI metrics real.

Be customer-centric. Sales people know that knowing your products is important but knowing your customer is essential. Key elements of the sales process are prospecting, conducting a needs assessment, and presenting benefits to the customer. HR could ask Sales how to better engage their customers.  For example, you may have identified major market segments (employees, managers, executives) but have you fully profiled each of these in order to adjust marketing tactics appropriately? Is your engagement strategy designed to solve your prospect’s problem? The only way to do that is by asking lots of questions. Asking good questions will not only help you determine potential solutions, but also builds confidence, trust, and may help prospects consider ideas they may never have thought of.  In exchange, Sales can ask HR how to better engage their employees. Gemba walks are a great way to do this, and anywhere a sales employee works is a place for a gemba walk. That could be in a home office, a car, or an onsite customer meeting. A gemba meetings looks at flow: what is the process, who are the people, and where is the friction. By asking the employee questions and offering him/her coaching, the sales leader can drive both results and engagement.

Most functions believe they know what their peer functions do. But as the quote says, there is a difference between knowing the path and walking the path. By walking the gemba together we can get to the “real thing” we need to address to improve our performance. We can also learn from those closest to the work how we are generating waste and what recommendations they have for improvement. How could you walk the gemba with your peers at work?