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Building an Accountability Culture

Building an Accountability CultureOne of the most difficult skills for many leaders to master is to artfully and effectively build accountability into the culture. They need to walk the line between creating a punitive culture, where people are afraid to be innovative, take responsibility or drive change because of the fear of failure and its ramifications. On the other extreme is the leader who wants to create such a feel-good culture that they let things slide and pretty soon people aren’t clear what, if anything is important and they adopt Scarlett O’Hara’s approach to dealing with adversity:  “Tomorrow is another day.”

In an accountability culture, each person takes ownership for achieving results.

Too often we think about accountability only when something goes wrong. Until then, we figure that people know what needs to get done and will do it. It’s what I call a rear view mirror exercise. A more powerful approach is to be mindful of creating a culture of accountability by using the ACAR model.

  • Align: To create a culture of accountability, you need to start by aligning goals, people and process. The first step is to ensure that individual or team goals are aligned with the larger corporate, group and department goals. People will give more importance to what they are doing when they understand how what they do fits into the bigger picture. Even better, explain the larger goals to them and then engage them in setting their own goals. Second, ask yourself if the work people are doing is aligned with their strengths — their talent– and with the goals you are asking them to achieve? The ability to use our strengths at work makes it much more likely that we will complete tasks and create results. Third, align the goal with what the individual finds motivating. When an individual is able to see how the work they are doing helps fulfill a personal need or aspiration, they will own the work. Finally, do we have enough processes in place for someone to achieve what needs to get done? If not, have you given them the capacity to create it?
  • Communicate Expectations: Do your expectations focus on activity or results? Am I accountable for the activities I engage in or the results they produce? Often it’s both. For example, we may have expectations for how someone works with other members of the team in order to achieve their results. Where accountability falls apart is when we focus solely on one or the other. We’ll reward the person who achieves the best results even though everyone knows their behavior flies in the face of what we say we value, leading to a toxic culture. Other times, we are so focused on people getting the activities right that we will give them an “A for effort”. We lose sight of the ultimate goal because we are so focused on the process that we create a situation where nothing seems to get done. Communicate what your expectations are — both behavior and results.
  • Acknowledge. We usually think of holding people accountable when someone is not making the deadline, when quality isn’t what it should be or when results aren’t achieved. Often, we are looking for where to assign blame. Turn that thinking on its head. Focus on those people who are doing what they are supposed to do and achieving results. Recognize them, point it out to others. Watch the impact it has. People will recognize that achieving results is noticed and makes a difference.
  • Redirect and Re-engage. Even after aligning, communicating and acknowledging, there will still be performance issues from time to time. You’ll still need to have the hard conversations. You will need to tell people that part of their performance is not where it needs to be. You will need to share your disappointment or describe the impact it had on the team. Most importantly, you then need to redirect and re-engage. You need to engage the individual in a conversation about how to improve performance. You need to recheck the alignment, the communication and the acknowledgement. The conversation should build a partnership in which the individual takes ownership of the work that needs to be done.

 

I Didn’t See It Coming

With all the storm coverage in the past few days, I don’t think there is anyone who can say they didn’t see it  coming. However, in our work lives, we are sometimes blindsided. When I was working with a client several years ago, their successor for a key job in Asia left for an opportunity to run a start up in California. The reaction of the CEO and Asian leader at the time was ‘we never saw it coming’.

Some people don’t want to have a plan B because they think it makes it too easy to not fully pursue plan A. As you go into your next planning cycle, include scenario planning around some key initiatives. Take the time to run through potential opportunities or issues that may arise. You may identify an even better plan than the one you had in mind, one that allows you to take advantage of an opportunity you didn’t think about before. Or you may be able to mitigate a threat should it actually arise.

The Clash asked us back in the 80’s Should I Stay or Should I Go?

 

Crystal Ball

I’m looking into the crystal ball…

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could go to the tarot card reader or crystal ball seer to know where our businesses and industries are headed?  What’s the next trend?  What needs will our customers have?  How do we keep our brand, products, and services relevant?

As leaders we are always balancing today and tomorrow — keeping one eye on the demands of today while keeping the other eye on the opportunities and threats of tomorrow.    That said, by just taking a few minutes a day we can keep that future in view, giving us the information and ideas that we can translate it into meaningful actions for our business today.

The following are some common sense ways to keep ourselves thinking about tomorrow while we’re making success happen today.  How many do you do on a regular basis?

  • Take a look at your company news releases on the intranet.
  • Follow an RSS feed, read blogs or trade journal articles about your industry
  • Follow an RSS feed, blog or trade journal about completely different industries than your own.  If you’re in healthcare, follow a high tech guru.  If you’re in biotechnology follow something from the hospitality industry.  You never know where a great idea will come from.  After all, 20 years ago who ever thought we’d listen to music and play games on our phones?
  • Read newspapers from emerging markets.  The internet makes it easy to access English language versions of many publications. You can also listen to the radio or podcasts.  I listen to the BBC a couple of times a week when I’m driving to and from meetings.  I’m always amazed by the completely different topics and regions of the world it covers compared to U.S.-based news.
  • Talk to someone younger than you.  Try to talk to someone a generation younger than you.  Their perspectives and insights, especially related to technology, will amaze you.
  • Go to a meeting where not everyone does what you do.  I always walk away with a much broader perspective when I have been at a meeting with people whose business or profession is completely different from my own.
  • Work through ‘what if’ scenarios about your business. Think of what’s highly probable and what’s less probable. Then develop ideas for how your company or team would address that scenario.  For example, what if someone came into the market who could deliver the same quality product at 1/3 the cost?  What if a new technology allowed people to access your product for free or a very low price?

Why Should I Follow The Leader?

Earlier in my career, I was interviewing with the SVP, the chief people officer, for a senior role in a large organization.  He was still fresh to the company, having been there about 6 months.  I asked him where the firm was going and what made him get up in the morning and go to work.  He looked at me and with a shrug said, “Edith, it’s insurance,” like it was the craziest question in the world.  How silly to expect that a senior leader, six months into his job would be able to articulate a compelling picture of the place he worked.  He had a golden opportunity to communicate his vision of what this organization was about and where it was going and he came up with nothing. There was no second interview.

This story is not meant to reflect badly on the insurance company. I know plenty of executives in insurance companies who would answer that question very differently.

This SVP obviously wasn’t able to communicate a vision. Over the past 18 months, many of our organizations have been lacking in “the vision thing.” We’ve been focused on a lot of things that were important but  that people perceive as negative — cutting costs, losing sales and revenues, reducing headcount.  But as the recovery starts, we need to think about where we want to go from here, because it won’t be where we were before 2008.

Whether you are hiring to rebuild your team, developing employees, or trying to retain or more fully engage your talent, the first step for taking performance to the next level and creating competitive advantage is to develop Compelling Clarity. Compelling Clarity is about creating a vision and expectations that are so clear it is difficult to say ‘where are we going?’ or ‘what should I be doing?’and so compelling no one needs to ask ‘why am I doing this?’ Instead, they say ‘I need to be a part of this.’

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Where does my organization (or division or group or…) need to go?
  • Why are we going in that direction?
  • What will we look like a year from now?
  • What top priorities will get us there?
  • How will we know we’re successful?
  • Why do I want to be a part of this?  Why would someone else want to be a part of this?

If your answer is “I don’t know” to any of these you’re going to be less able to attract or retain top talent as you move forward. You’ll be appealing to people who want a job but not attractive to people who want to make an impact.  Without a sense of where they’re going, you’re people can’t perform at the high levels you need.

Be ready to talk about your vision.  Gauge the reactions to it.  After all, you don’t want to find yourself saying, with a shrug, “Edith it’s…”

 

Four Ways to Deal with a Difficult Employee

Four Ways to Deal with a Difficult EmployeeWe’ve all had times when we’ve had someone on our team who was really difficult to work with. It may have been a style difference. It may have been not seeing eye to eye about how the work should be done. It may have been that he resented you as the new leader of the group. Whatever the reason for the difficulty, the individual made our work day less pleasant and our job as a manager more taxing.

I recently had a client who had several difficult team members. They were long-term members of the team and she was the most recent in a long-line of managers who were only there a short time. In my   opinion, she received some really bad advice about how to handle them. “Ignore them,” the advice-givers said. “Don’t meet with them.” “Communicate through email”. “Focus only on the       rest of the team.” Wrong. All of these tactics did nothing but stoke the flames.

Sometimes, difficult employees can be a bit like the bully on the playground. They look for signs of weakness — like ignoring them or cutting off communication — as signs of managerial weakness. Instead of pulling back, I would suggest engaging more.

    • Diffuse the situation by talking with the person about him or herself. What strengths does he or she have? What areas does the individual want to develop? What does she enjoy about their work? What does he dislike about it? What’s important to her? Is this a job or part of a career? Discuss how you may be able to leverage the person’s strengths or develop areas of weakness. Think about whether things in the job or work environment can be changed.
      Sometimes the difficult employee has never had someone ask those questions.
    • Set clear expectations for behavior and results. Share your vision for how the group will be operating. Let him know you will be holding everyone accountable to those standards and they will be a regular part of your conversations.
    • Value the individual’s experience and knowledge. She may very well have several performance issues but she also probably has valuable knowledge or experience that can be a benefit to the group. Ask for insights and ideas about changes you want to make or how to introduce an idea.
    • Meet regularly. Focus on the work that is being done, issues you can help resolve and moving towards that vision. Hold the individual accountable. Provide specific feedback — both positive and developmental. Cut off whining. If the person begins to complain, move the conversation towards finding solutions.

How To Build An Agile Organization

change 228 x 202

i4cp defines agility as ‘the ability to move quickly, decisively, and effectively in anticipating and taking advantage of change.” The question is, how do you create this ability in your organization? According to i4cp and based on my own experience, high performing organizations instill agility by being prepared. That’s right. You manage change by anticipating, planning and taking advantage of it.

How can you make that happen?

    • Make it a regular practice to look outside the organization to see what may be just over the horizon. Most organizations only look as far as the trends within their industry. The best organizations look at the broader context. They look at other industries from which they can learn lessons. They look at societal, political and economic changes. Opportunities are often identified where on the surface, none may seem to exist. When people are mentally able to analyze, play with and explore potential change, they are more easily able to embrace it when it actually occurs.
    • Assess your organization’s capabilities in the context of those potential changes. Do you have the talent and resources you need to take advantage of what the future may hold? If not, how will you develop or gain those capabilities.
    • Determine how agile people are in your organization. Do you hire for it? Is agility an expectation? Is it rewarded?
    • Leverage what makes you successful now but don’t rely on it for your future. Often, success can reduce one’s ability to change. However, when success is paired with the expectations that change is part of success and that change will happen, starting from a position of strength can make change more powerful.

How many of these characteristics describe your organization?

BUILDING THE PERFECT BEAST

organizational behaviorOrganizations are beastly. They can be complicated, unnerving, and overwhelming. Many times they are also ineffective or outdated.

Too often, we go along, adding new tasks, taking on different responsibilities, absorbing new groups into our department, division or territory without stopping to think about how this work should be done. We rarely say ‘can we do this work?” We take it on because saying no could have a negative impact on careers and the potential to be considered when something really exciting comes along.

When we do think about how we should be organized to meet the challenges of today and tomorrow, we may have a hard time seeing the opportunities for change that exist. The boxes are arranged a certain way on the paper. Certain people do certain jobs. We’ve always been successful in the past and we’ll continue to be successful just tweaking our organization here or there.

The plain fact is that sometimes, you have to start with a blank sheet of paper. You have to not be constrained by who you have on the team now or what the skill sets are. You need to start by asking ‘should we do this?’ before asking ‘how will we do this?” I recently worked with an executive and her team whose department played an important strategic role. She’d been in her role over 10 years and in that time, the organization had doubled in size, the culture had shifted towards increased speed and innovation and the industry was changing rapidly. In those 10 years, the way their group was organized had not changed in any substantive way. It was the same size with a highly tenured staff that by all accounts did a terrific job. However, the demands placed on it were several times what they once were and it was unsustainable. We had to step back and really look at what they needed to do to move the entire organization forward and what that meant for her group. The answer to how it would all get done could no longer be ‘who wants to take this on?’ We needed to look at what they should be doing, what they should say no to, the roles and structure and decide whether they had what they needed and if not, how to make that happen.

Take a look at your organization. Are you continuing to just ask people to do more? Or, is it time to take a hard look at what you’re doing, how you’re doing it and who’s doing it.

This Could Actually be a Valuable Meeting

Business Meeting

Last week’s blog post focused on using the IDEA model to make your meetings productive and arenas for getting work done rather than getting in the way of getting things accomplished.

Here’s an idea for how to put the model to use in the next two weeks. Have a meeting with your team to review the year to date and decide how to get some great things done over the next three months. The plans from that meeting will create the momentum for a highly productive 2nd half of 2015. Here’s your agenda:

        • Focus on Issues or Initiatives: What issues have arisen that have kept you from achieving your goals this year? What initiatives were put on the back burner because of lack of resources or maybe it just wasn’t the right time? What issues do you need to get a jump on as soon as the new year starts? What initiative will be high priority and needs to start on August 1st?
        • Make Decisions: Which of these issues are critical to address in the next three months? Which initiatives do we want to move back to the front burner? Do we have budget we need to spend or earmark before the end of the year or we’ll lose it? What do we need to do to have everything ready to move on the new initiatives as soon as the holidays are over?
        • Establish Actions: What actions will we take to address the key issue(s) in the next three months? Establish an action plan identifying your key steps, resources and timing. If you previously had a project plan for those initiatives that had been on the back burner, revisit it and see how it needs to be updated. If you did not, create an action plan or project plan that takes you through at least the end of February. Identify any internal or external resources you need for the initiative or to attack the issue. Take action to get them engaged even if they don’t actively need to be involved for a few weeks.

Let me know what plans you put in motion and whether this meeting was a productive use of your time.

Create a Sustainable Leadership Pipeline: 7 Core Principles

Leadership Sustainability

Leadership Sustainability

Sustainability is a word that is heard often these days, usually in regards to the environment or development or cultures. As leaders, part of our mission is to create sustainability within our organizations. The talent of our future leaders is critical to our future success. The question is, “how do I create a sustainable pipeline of leaders and manage talent in an ever-changing business and economic environment?”

The business case for top-tier leadership quality is solid. A Corporate Leadership Council 2003 Succession Management Survey showed that top tier leadership organizations are much more likely to outperform their peers in the marketplace, which translates into substantial financial gains. Market capitalization relative to peers was $384 million higher for top-tier leadership organizations compared with a $232 million lower for bottom-tier leadership organizations.

Creating a sustainable pipeline of top-tier leadership needs an integrated, systemic approach to talent management. Current leaders in the organization need to be accountable for creating a talent management culture. Keeping your eye on the talent will allow you to survive, and even thrive, during times of change and come out stronger on the other side.

To create sustainable leadership pipelines, seven core principles make the difference.

The 7 Core Principles

Core Principle #1: Recognize talent management is a core business process with impact on overall business and financial success for the enterprise. Actively engage leadership throughout the organization on an ongoing basis to assure a nimble, functioning and robust process is in place. Create accountabilities for leaders, just as they are for the financial and operational success of the organization.

Core Principle #2: It starts with the business strategy and talent pipelines are developed to support the strategy. Base the pipelines on where the business is currently and also prepare for future scenarios. As Marshall Goldsmith said, “what got you here, won’t get you there.” Leadership needs will vary based on the strategic needs of the organization. The necessary leadership qualities, the identification, development and review of key talent should be linked to the strategy to assure the bench strength meets the organization needs.

Identify linchpin roles to assure you are developing leadership talent for those roles that have significant impact on the organization’s ability to achieve short and long-term results. Look at the drivers of you business – is it sales? Research and development? Manufacturing? How are you creating a sustained talent pipeline in those parts of the business?

Core Principle #3: Measure it and know if it’s making a difference. Sustainability is created by knowing what will create success now and in the future and focusing resources on those areas. Put measures in place to reflect the goals of talent management and the effectiveness of leadership development. As was stated in principle #1, make it a key accountability for the executive team.

Core Principle #4: Identify, develop and talk about leadership talent throughout the organization. The leadership talent conversation should be ongoing among your senior leadership teams. Until they take root in the culture, overt processes should be put in place to cause these conversations to occur. These topics need to be agenda items or the topics of meetings in their entirety.

Create communication mechanisms to ensure a resilient information-sharing process. Intranet- based tools with the ability to allow varying levels of access to critical information are vital. They allow for the dynamic management of the information.

Core Principle #5: The process clearly differentiates leadership talent. All high performers are not high potential. However, high potentials are high performers. Sustainable talent management systems identify the difference.

High potential performers have the capability to continue to take on larger, more complex levels of responsibility and often do it quickly. High potential employees are often voracious learners. They take on new tasks and are able to master them quickly. What they most often need is the ability to gain wisdom; the ability to integrate what they have learned and to apply it in varied settings.

Core Principle #6: Address gaps between strategic needs and current leadership capabilities through focused internal development or recruitment of external resources. In sustainable talent management processes, development comes from a variety of sources – coaching, programs, experiences, new assignments within the organization, mentoring, etc. With the application of each type of development there is clarity about what the individual is supposed to be developing from each experience or assignment. Measure the progress. Frequent conversations about the development experience provide feedback to the organization about the potential leadership talent and to the individual.

To drive integration of talent management into the culture, integrate it with critical processes like selection, performance management, rewards and compensation. At the individual level, let people know where they stand (e.g., A, B, C talent) and the implications. These components can be facilitated through Human Resources, Leadership Development, or consultants. They need to be owned by the executive team and leaders/managers across the organization.

Core Principle #7: Talent and the needs for talent are re-evaluated regularly. Your business changes. So does the talent. Sustainable systems identify and proactively address the dynamics of change and the impact on talent needs.

Just for a Moment…Listen

Active ListeningI listened to a TED Talk yesterday while I was on the elliptical (got to keep up with that New Year’s resolution). It was about how we are losing our ability to listen. As leaders or business owners we spend a lot of time talking. We are giving direction or input to our employees. We’re talking with customers. We’re talking with people at networking events. We spend a lot of time working on getting our story out there. This talk reminded me of how critical listening is for those of us who are leading others.

This week try to spend more time listening. Here are some ideas how to do that:

1. Open every conversation by asking the other person a question. This question should not be a perfunctory ‘how are you?”. Make it a question that is really about something. Focus on listening to the answer, not waiting for the other person to be done so you can get on to your real agenda.

2. When you have listened to what someone has to say, reflect or summarize. Anyone who has taken an active listening course knows that this is a technique to show the other person you are listening. I’m not suggesting it for that reason. Rather, by verbally saying what you’ve heard out loud, you are hearing it again and increasing the likelihood that you are actually listening to the words meaning.

3. Institute the ‘no multitasking’ rule during conversations. More and more I attend meetings where people think it is perfectly okay to have a laptop or smartphone in front of them so that they can multitask. This may sound efficient, but in reality it completely undermines the ability to listen and engage in what is going on. The human brain doesn’t work that way. It needs to be focused on what is being said. When you are visually looking at something, the sound becomes background noise. Most of the time, the person sending the text or email can wait for your reply.

4. Create listening posts. Create opportunities for others to have your undivided attention. Establish a regular time when you’ll be available for an individual or group to speak with you when you will give them complete, undivided attention. Make it immutable.

At the end of the week, assess the impact of your listening on your decision making, your relationships with your team and your awareness of what is happening in your organization.