Account-Ability has two interconnected elements.
The first element is a set of skills, a six–step process that one must learn, practice, and play with in order to become a master at helping employees to become account-able.
The second element is will. That is, “ya havta wanna.” All the know-how in the world is wasted unless you are willing to put your know-how into action with persistence and consistency.
It’s as simple and as difficult as that.
Why is it so important to develop a culture of Account-Ability?
Why #1. Because We Pay People
When an employment contract is entered into, the agreement is that the employer agrees to pay the person an acceptable amount of money for quality work done. The employee agrees to deliver quality work for that amount of money.
It is implied in that contract that each of the parties holds each other account-able to that contract. Unfortunately that hardly ever happens in organizations.
So, Ms. or Mr. Manager, here’s the likely situation in your company.
Gallup’s (2013) research found that disengaged employees costs the company $3400 for every $10,000 in salary. Developing a culture of Account-Ability will address the dis-engagement issue and reorient a huge ROI.
Why #2. High Performers Have to Fix Problems Caused When People Are Not Account-Able
- There are potentially negative consequences to having your top performers do over the work of poor performers:
- Other members of the team may have to work harder to “carry” the poor performer.
- You promote a belief in others that you’re prepared to accept mediocrity or, worse, under-performance. When this happens, mediocrity leaks into even your best performers’ attitudes.
- You waste precious time and resources listening to, and trying to deal with coworkers’ repetitive complaints.
- You may signal that some employees (the poor performing ones) deserve preferential treatment.
- You risk losing high performers as they get fed up and leave.
Why #3. Self-Responsible Performers Hate to Work with Low Account-Able People, Which Results in Non-Productive Interpersonal Conflicts
Interpersonal conflicts are the tip of the iceberg in organizations.
There’s a lot more going on underneath the surface. It is highly likely that there are unclear account-abilities.
Team members believe they are being treated unfairly and low account-ablers are “getting away with murder.”
The resultant conflicts can eat up a manager’s time and energy as you try to mediate the warring factions with their emotional outbursts, complaints, and crises. None of those issues ever get resolved. They keep raising their ugly heads.
Why #4. Not Teaching People How to Be Account-Able Sends a Message: “Poor Performance is OK Around Here.”
A common mistake managers make is not correcting poor performers’ behaviours fast enough.
In my first experiences as a manager, I made this mistake, much to my chagrin, resulting in resentment from my other employees and many sleepless nights trying to figure out how to deal with the consistently low performers. An even worse outcome was that my employees stopped taking me seriously, which reduced my effectiveness and undermined my self-confidence, which then impaired my decision making.
In every struggling business I have worked with, I have found a number of employees who should have been “career planned” out. You do no favors by keeping a failing employee around unless you are confident a correction can be effected. Most often, though, you have left the problem festering for too long and the employee pays the price: termination.
One word of caution.
Most struggling businesses do not have, or do not use, job descriptions and metrics that can be used to effectively judge performance, so watch out when you are flagging low and high performers.
Another expensive mistake is aggressive termination by managers who are unwilling and unable to develop their team members.
To avoid both extremes, keep this rule of thumb in mind: It isn’t who you fire that counts but who you hire, so properly on-board and develop people.
Why #5. It is Dis-Respectful to People’s Self-Respect and Spirit
The two big goals in account-ability are to:
(1) Help people increase their performance and (2) activate their intrinsic motivation to do the best they can.
Intrinsic motivation is doing things because they matter, because you like doing them because you’re engaged, and because you make them important to your sense of self.
The operating system for account-ability in your business revolves around three elements: autonomy, mastery, and purpose.
- Autonomy: The urge to direct your own life.
- Mastery: Applying the discipline required to get better and better at something that matters to you.
- Purpose: The yearning to do what you do in the service of something larger than yourself.
Those three principles are the building blocks of an entirely new account-ability system for yourself, your team, your career, and your organization.
Why #6. An Ongoing, Well Executed Account-Ability Process Promotes a Sense of Fairness in Team Members
According to the recent White Paper A Brave New World for Talent Acquisition, “Almost everyone is a passive candidate now. Many employees are, at least in the back of their minds, open to being hired away from their current job.”
The greatest impact on employee morale comes from a demonstration of values from immediate supervisors, not senior leaders that employees have little directly to do with.
Employees generally trust and believe in their immediate supervisors more than the “suits.” On the negative side, the best employees will leave a bad manager.
A supervisor is seen as fair when he or she treats employees with consistency in action, with open two-way communication, and with clear, doable account-abilities.
Fairness is strongly correlated to employee high morale. Without a perceived sense of fairness, employee morale drops, leading to a sense of feeling devalued and diminished with an associated impact on emotional and physical health, and, of course, workplace performance.
So, without the constant and genuine demonstration of fairness on a manger’s part, there is low engagement or worse – active disengagement.
And here is another complication to add to a manager’s tasks. How an employee defines “fair” is very situational and contextual, based on demographics, gender, ethnicity, and expectations.
Tough job this manager thing, but it is made easier by being a skilled purveyor of account-ability.
Why #7 To Overcome the Lake Wobegon Effect
The Lake Wobegon effect is a natural human tendency to overestimate one’s capabilities.
Lake Wobegon is a fictional place where “all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average.” It has been used to describe a real and pervasive human tendency to overestimate one’s achievements and capabilities in relation to others.
The Lake Wobegon effect, where all, or nearly all, of a group claim to be above average, has been observed in drivers’ assessments of their driving skill and cancer patients’ expectations of survival.
High achievers (or those who consider themselves to be such) think themselves in the top X percent, where X may be 25, 10, 5, 2, or 1, depending on the frame of reference.
This happens largely because we derive our sense of self-worth in contrast with other people. Thus, rather than considering myself “good,” I actually seek to be “better than.”
Account-ability serves to stop people from comparing themselves to others while focusing on their particular task-goal specific behaviours, because when we overestimate our capabilities, the natural result is that we will make more mistakes because we do not perceive ourselves making mistakes.
Why #8. Account-Ability Is a Team Sport
Teams are the foundation of organizations. Teams are also the most challenging for leaders to manage effectively.
Sadly, right now, 91% of teams are not fulfilling their full potential; that’s why every leader has been on a team that was unproductive or dysfunctional.
The key to building a highly effective team is to develop the team’s account-abilities.
But how do you do that?
- Answer: One person, one account-ability conversation at a time.
- Why? Because of the paradox: There is an “i” in team.
We all have to take the lead sometimes and …sometimes get out of the way and follow – be influenced by others, regardless of one’s position.
In order for a team to deliver on its deliverables, the team leader must make sure that each team member is being held account-able to fulfill his or her task as it contributes to the effective functioning of the team.
Without individuals being held to account – by each other primarily, and the team leader secondarily – it is impossible to measure and hold the team to account.
To make this work most effectively, you as team leader must teach team members how to hold each other account-able.
Peer account-ability is much more powerful and impactful than you are as leader. Make peer account-ability your mission.
You will get pushback from reluctant, low performers.
You will empower enthusiastic high-performers to confront their low performing colleagues. The reluctant team members will likely leave because they will not be able to stand the heat. It will be a relief for you – no more pushing the rocks uphill.
When you have to fill a spot opened by voluntary turnover, ask the team to interview the new candidates. They will be sure to only give the OK to enthusiastic, competent performers. They will not tolerate slackers – too painful. They will take responsibility for their decision and will be more likely to help the new hire.
It will take you about 180 days to infuse peer account-abilities into your team. Stick with it. Your payoff in terms of decreased frustration, increased productivity, and customer service and/or quality control will be big.
From the book:
The Science of Human Performance —
The Skill & Will of Getting Things Done