Conversations That Matter: Managing Accountability in Others


An organization’s ability to manage accountability through supervisors and manages is critical to its long term success. Among top-performing organizations, 77 percent of leaders reported employees of all levels are held accountable for results, according to an OnPoint Consulting survey. Only 44 percent of leaders said this was true at less successful organizations.

Many leaders would say they want to create a culture of accountability, but what does this look like when it’s put into practice? How can you measure accountability within your team or organization? What are some challenges that keep you from holding others accountable? How do you respond to someone who makes excuses? In this webinar you will learn how to recognize and measure accountability, manage accountability more effectively and evaluate how well your supervisors, managers, teams and organization are performing in this area.

Join us for an eye-opening discussion on accountability and how to improve within your organization today!

Participants Will Learn

  • Define accountability and learn how to recognize and measure it
  • Understand the factors that impact individual accountability
  • Enhance people’s willingness to take accountability and responsibility for results
  • How to use two effective tools to manage accountability in others

Who Should Attend

  • Training and HR professionals
  • Independent consultants
  • Managers delivering training

Sarah: Hi everyone and welcome to today’s webinar, Conversations that
Matter: Managing Accountability in Others, hosted by HRDQ-U and
presented by Rick Lepsinger. My name is Sarah and I will moderate
today’s webinar. It’ll last about one hour. If you do have any questions,
you can always type them into the chat or questions box on your control
panel, and then we’ll either answer those questions as they come in live
or at the end of the presentation, depending on what time we have. Any
unanswered questions we’ll post on our blog after the session. Our
presenter today is Rick Lepsinger.
Sarah: Rick is the president of OnPoint Consulting. His career has focused on
helping organizations and leaders identify and develop leaders, work
better virtually, enhance cross-functional team performance, and get
from strategy to execution faster. He conducts numerous seminars and
workshops on succession management, leading from a distance, leading
cross-functional teams and enhancing execution. Rick has written
numerous articles, and is the author or co-author of several books
including his most recent, Closing the Execution Gap: How Great Leaders
and Their Companies Get Results. Welcome Rick, and thank you so
much for joining us.
Rick Lepsinger: Sarah, thanks very much. It’s great to be here and welcome everyone.
Glad you could join us today. Today we’re going to talk about this idea
of encouraging, enabling people to take responsibility for their actions
and the consequences of those actions. It’s all about expecting and
getting top performance. So we’ll start by defining what we mean by
accountability, and I’ll give you a little tool to help you recognize and
measure the level of accountability in others. We’ll to talk a little bit
about the factors that impact someone’s ability, or willingness to take
accountability. Again, you would think that everybody would just step
up, but unfortunately that doesn’t always happen. So we’ll talk a little
bit about why that is, and we’ll talk about what you can do as a leader,
as a team member, to encourage, enhance people’s willingness, and
their ability to take responsibility, to take accountability both for results
and their actions to achieve those results.
Rick Lepsinger: So let’s start with this whole notion of accountability and the impact.
Does it really make a difference? Yes, in fact it does. We sense that, but
there is actually data to support it. In a study that we did, 77% of leaders
in the top performing organizations that we surveyed reported that
employees at all levels are held accountable for results. When you
compare that to the less successful organizations, only 44% of the less
successful organizations could say that. In addition to that, in a separate
survey where we took a look at about 935 leaders, only 45% believe that
the people in their organizations effectively deal with poor
performance. So there’s this gap year. It is critical, it is important yet
there’s a lot of room for improvement because this whole idea of
addressing below standard performance and dealing with poor
performers, has a lot to do with the idea of managing accountability in
Rick Lepsinger: If we know that accountability is critical, and if you didn’t need statistics
to come to that conclusion, what is it? Why don’t managers hold other
people accountable? What are the barriers? Let’s just take a moment. If
you go to the question box, I’m just interested in your perspective on
that. Now I know you guys can’t see it, but we can. I can read them out a
little bit. So there’s a few people typing in right now. What do you see as
those barriers? It’s about being unsure about what to do, a lack of clarity
actually which is a very important point. The other person’s emotions
and needing to deal with that. That seems to be a general theme about
avoiding conflict. The fear of doing it. We’ll talk about that specifically
on how to address that. Not knowing how. That’s really what this is all
about. Having the confidence to do it. So it looks like a general theme.
Rick Lepsinger: It’s either the fear or concern about doing it well, the dealing with
emotions, wanting to avoid the conflict. Something like that seems to be
the general theme. So we’ll talk a little bit about the practice, the
process for holding people accountable. We’ll also talk a little bit about
how to increase your confidence, how to set people up for success but
also increase your confidence, and minimize the emotional component
of this discussion so that you’re on firmer footing when you are trying to
say, “Hey, this was something that we talked about. You needed to do it
overall.” All right, so let’s take a look and see. We’ve also identified
seven reasons why managers tend to avoid holding people accountable,
or at least make it a lower priority. We call them the seven tickets to
slide, the seven reasons why managers don’t. So let’s take a look at
Rick Lepsinger: The first is, and this is the classic, is the assumption that things will just
get better. I don’t really have to do anything about it now. If I just wait a
little bit, the poor performance will improve over time. It was maybe
just a one off. They really know what they should be doing, so I’ll just
wait and it will get better. Unfortunately, this particular strategy, or this
rationale doesn’t necessarily work very well. On occasion some people
can do self correction, but frequently the problems just persist and can
get worse. The second is I don’t need to actually say anything, it was
obvious that I’m dissatisfied with their performance. I’ve made my I’m
disappointed face and I’ve used my, I’m very dissatisfied tone of voice.
So I’m sure they understand that they need to do something different
and better. Unfortunately, the indirect messages and subtle signals
don’t necessarily communicate what needs to happen.
Rick Lepsinger: It certainly may communicate that we’re unhappy, but it doesn’t
necessarily communicate what they need to do differently. So even if
you are successful and letting them know you’re dissatisfied, it’s not
particularly helpful if they don’t know what to do differently. This idea of
avoiding conflicts, which is really one of the primary ones that comes up
all the time, you’re certain that you’re going to get into an
uncomfortable conversation, a high stress, high emotion disagreement,
and it’s really just not worth it. You’d like to just let it slide completely.
Again, unfortunately the short term benefit of avoiding the conflict does
not necessarily outweigh the long term harm that not dealing with poor
performance can do to the team overall, and the overall impact it can
Rick Lepsinger: The fourth is the team must know what I expect, even though you have
not necessarily clarified what good looks like, and what the expectations
are. By the way, that’s one of the greatest challenges, and you folks
listed it in the chat. We’re hesitant to call someone on missing a
commitment, missing a deadline, not performing to standard because
we haven’t clarified expectations. I would say that if that’s the case, if
we have not been clear about what good looks like, and what’s
expected, and the timeframe that it’s expected, we actually cannot hold
someone accountable. Then it just becomes, I said, you said, he said,
she said. It’s much more difficult to reach an understanding and
agreement without a platform of clear expectations. So that really is
your first step. Be clear about what you want. I’ll talk a little bit more
about that going forward.
Rick Lepsinger: The fifth is the hesitance to demotivate people. We are certain that if
let’s say we have a top sales person, who doesn’t do all their paperwork
or a top employee who continually comes in late, one of our top
performers who tends … An expert in analytics who tends to hand
things in late, not on time that slows the work process down. We’re
inclined to let that slide because we don’t want to demotivate them. We
don’t want to break their mojo. We don’t want to interrupt the flow. We
don’t want to annoy them where they’ll maybe leave, right? So we want
to give them a little bit of room, and where we end up having is two
tiers. Top performers get treated one way. We give them a little bit
more latitude on performance expectations, and the poor performers
we’re the ones that hold them accountable and say, “Look, you got to
do all the paperwork. You’ve got to get things in on time.” So after a
while, people start to get the message that if you are a top contributor,
you’ve got a lot more room there.
Rick Lepsinger: The sixth is the universal concern about not wanting to be a
micromanager. So this whole idea of following up, monitoring progress,
is the fear of being seen as micromanaging, not trusting people, dipping
into much. I would suggest to you that this fear of micromanaging, it’s
something that consultants and academics have which I happen to be in
that category, may be a contributing factor. I think the pendulum has
swung a little bit too far. There is a difference between ongoing
monitoring, and following up around key milestones and that notion of
continually pressuring people with did you do it, is it ready, have you got
it, which is more the characteristics of micromanaging. So it’s being able
to follow up and monitor progress without communicating a lack of
trust, or a lack of confidence in the other person.
Rick Lepsinger: The greatest myth of them all is our seventh ticket to slide is, it’s just
easier if I do it myself. In some ways, that’s true is that you can do it
quicker, you can do it faster, you can do it better. Unfortunately when
you take it back from the person, let’s say they dropped the ball and you
take it back and say I’ll just finish that up partly because there’s no time.
You’re up to deadline, it’s got to happen. The problem also is that you
are now complicit in this cycle of poor performance, because people
start to get the signal that if there’s a problem you’ll just do it. They’ll
just take a low profile for a couple of days until you get over being
angry, and then they’ll just step back up. So when you take it back rather
than in some way hold them accountable to fix the problem, it just
continues that cycle of missing deadlines without a necessary
consequence, or being asked to take accountability for what they’ve
Rick Lepsinger: So we’ll talk about some practices and techniques to address all of
these. So just a moment on the impact of not holding people
accountable. I think there’s one of them is pretty obvious, I think the low
productivity, that’s fairly straightforward. If you’re not asking each
person on your team, each person in your department to meet all of
their commitments, to carry their full workload in general, your team, it
becomes more difficult to meet your productivity targets.
Unfortunately, a lot of managers say I need more people. It’s not so
much that they need more people. We’ve got a lot of work that’s true,
but frequently they’re not asking each member of the team to produce
at their full potential, their full capability. So before you start to add
headcount, you need to say, “Is everybody working to their full
capability?” The next two impacts or outcomes of not holding people
accountable are a little bit more subtle, but still high impact.
Rick Lepsinger: This notion [inaudible 00:13:17]. What’s happening here and it’s
frequently what happens is somebody drops the ball, they miss a
commitment and what we do as opposed to saying to the person, you
fix this, let’s talk about what you’ll do as a next step. We take it back and
give it to somebody who we trust and have confidence that they can do
it, which ends up being one of our better performers and we’re
inadvertently punishing them. After a while if we keep asking our top
performers to pick up the slack of the poor performers, they’re going to
wonder why they’re working so hard. Why they’re putting in so much
effort if this other person gets so much leeway in their performance,
and is it really being held accountable, right? So we inadvertently punish
top performers for their good work by giving them more work, because
we trust them to do that work, and to fill in for the people who are not
performing to standard.
Rick Lepsinger: The third one, and this is somewhat more subtle but for me personally,
this was the one that really turned me around on this notion of
accountability. Previously I was the one that wanted to avoid the
conflict. I really thought the short term, I don’t want to engage and we’ll
see if it goes away was my primary mode of dealing with it. When I
became aware of the impact it was having on the rest of the team’s
perception of me as a leader, and that range from having a double
standard, not having their back, being risk averse, not being willing to
have difficult conversations. In fact, they started to lose confidence in
me as a leader, and that enabled me to turn it around a little bit. So the
short term discomfort of having that stressful conflict conversation
seem to be much less difficult, or much less important than the longer
term impact it was having on people seeing me, or losing confidence in
me as a leader.
Rick Lepsinger: So this whole notion of holding people accountable has a lot of benefits
all the way across the board from productivity, from engaging and
retaining top performers, motivating top performers, and positioning
yourself as someone the team can have confidence in. Someone who
has their back and who treats people equally and fairly. So let’s talk a
little bit about what we mean by accountability. Accountability is really
all about pulling your own weight, doing your fair share of the work and
in fact taking responsibility for problems, and issues, and challenges that
face yourself personally and the team overall. So the classic definition of
accountability is taking responsibility for your actions, not making
excuses and not blaming other people, and that’s all absolutely true and
Rick Lepsinger: In addition however, when people are operating at the highest levels of
accountability, it looks a lot like taking initiative even when it’s not my
problem, it’s not my mistake, it’s not my area. When people are fully
accountable, they take the initiative to ensure that projects get done on
time, on budget, that problems get solved, that there’s minimal impact
of problems and issues that face the group overall. So when it comes to
identifying the level of accountability, this accountability scale is not like
a scientific measure, but it gives you a vocabulary and a language to talk
a little bit about the person’s level of accountability and their behavior.
It’s helpful to get clear about the behavior so that you can then address,
use that as part of your coaching intervention because frequently
managing accountability is a coaching intervention.
Rick Lepsinger: So starting at the bottom, it’s minus two where there’s absolutely no
accountability. Minus one, this is all below the line. They accept
responsibility, but they deflect responsibility to other people and other
groups, and there the intent is not to problem solve. Here the intent is
don’t look at me, look at them, I’m not the problem. Above the line,
they get to the plus one where they accept responsibility for their
actions overall. Then the plus two is the highest level of accountability,
where they accept responsibility for the actions and for the impact of
those actions. So let’s take a look at those in more detail. Starting at the
top, the highest level responsibility for actions and the consequences of
those actions, the primary focus is on the complete picture, both what
they did and the impact overall. The language they would use is basically
yes, I did that and I’m responsible for the outcome.
Rick Lepsinger: What they’re thinking and feeling has to do with a willingness to accept
the consequences, regardless of what that outcome might be and to
really help manage that overall. On the plus one, still above the line, this
is where they accept the accountability and they want to explain the
influencing factors. The reason why they’re doing that is not so much to
make an excuse to deflect, but rather as part of the problem solving. So
what they’re saying is basically, yes, that’s what I did. Here is some of
the factors that influenced my decision and my situation, and the intent
then is to problem solve, to give more context around it. Their thinking
and their thoughts are around, I accept responsibility, but it’s important
that people understand the contributing factors so we can resolve it. As
you start to move below the line, you get into where they’re deflecting
Rick Lepsinger: This is where they try to put off the cause. So they’ll say, yes, you’re
right, I did do that, but it’s not my fault. I didn’t get what I needed from
the other group. They didn’t do what they were supposed to do. You
should be talking to those people, don’t be talking to me. That’s the real
difference between the minus one and the plus one. The plus ones are
saying, here’s what occurred, but not to point the finger at others more
to say and how are we going to fix that? So the minus ones are really
frustrated with other people dropping the ball, trying to rationalize their
own accountability. The last which is no accountability, is these are
people all about blame and denial. Not only is it the problem of another
group, but they’re actually saying it’s not about me at all. I had nothing
to do with it. You’re talking to the wrong person completely. It’s the
other person, not me at all.
Rick Lepsinger: So there tends to be an extreme defensiveness. There’s no attempt to
problem solve. There’s no attempt to acknowledge that there is even a
need to problem solve. They’re trying to totally move it away, the
conversation from them completely. So let’s take a look, give you a
chance to apply that accountability scale. Here’s a case study. I have this
one and one more. Let’s see if you can assess the accountability of
Rhonda. Rhonda is a sales associate for a company that sells talent
analytics software. Rondo works from home, and has been trying to
close on what would be the biggest sale of the year for her. As Rhonda
starts her work day, she gets an email from the prospect who tells her
that they decided to go with a different vendor. A few hours later,
Rhonda’s boss calls and asked if she heard from the prospect. She says
she just got the email and the prospect selected another provider. Her
boss doesn’t say anything.
Rick Lepsinger: Rhonda acknowledges that it was her job to get the sale, but she blames
the development group for not setting the demo up correctly, and the
finance department for not getting back to her promptly about the
discount requested by the prospect. So based on that, how would you
rate Rhonda’s level of accountability? Would you rate her as a plus two,
a plus one, a minus one or a minus two? We have a polling question up
here if you like. I see some people are answering in the chat section but
if you would, there’s a polling question. It’s open there. If you would
please pick the scale that you like, this way we can all see the results. So
if you take a moment to do that. Then Sarah, when we get to about 70,
75%, we can close it down. So get your votes in everyone. We’ll see
where we are. Great. Sarah, whenever you’re ready, we can close it.
Rick Lepsinger: Here are the results. Okay. So we’ve got a range but many of you, most
of you 88% got her at a minus one. That tends to be where most people
put Rhonda in this particular case, because she is taking some
accountability. She is saying it was my job. I was the one who was
supposed to close that sale. She’s certainly not on the plus two where
she’s saying, yeah, you’re right. I missed the ball on that. She’s not
necessarily mentioning the other people to make it more problem
solving. She really wants to deflect it away from her to the other groups,
to blame finance and the product group rather than her as well. So
minus one tends to capture yes, it was my job, but there’s a lot of other
groups you should be talking to because they made me do it. I didn’t do
it. They made me do it. All right, let’s take a look at the next case.
Rick Lepsinger: So here’s, by the way in the Ronda example, well let’s take a look at this
case here. This is during a team meeting, each manager provides an
update on his or her coaching activity. When it’s Sheryl’s turn, she says,
“I committed to meet with each of my direct reports at least twice a
quarter, but I didn’t do it last quarter. My manager’s manager put me on
a special project which required extensive travel in Asia. When I’m away
from my office, time differences make it difficult to schedule coaching
calls. It’s just a scheduling problem I ran into. I commit to rearranging
my schedule, and leveraging technology to get my coaching schedule
back on track by the end of the week. I’ll also make up the coaching
sessions I missed.” So once again, how would you rate Sheryl level of
accountability in this scenario? Here’s the polling question up there
now, please pick the level that you think reflects Sheryl’s accountability.
Rick Lepsinger: When we get to about 70, 75, we’ll see where everybody is. All right,
here we go. All right, so it looks like now this is very typical. For many of
us, she’s above the line, for many of us. Now a lot of it depends on how
you hear what I’ve read. In other words, you don’t have tone of voice or
visual cues, so it’s hard to get how sincere or genuine she is. If you take
her at face value, meaning she took responsibility and she is going to do
something about it, right? Then you might get her above the line, either
plus one, plus two. Now whether you give her a plus two has to do with
the extent to which you believe that she’s also taking responsibility for
the consequences. For me interestingly in this case, it’s a mix. She’s
talking about the situation and the factors that impacted it, but she’s
also talking about what she’s going to do differently to make up for it.
Rick Lepsinger: She’s clearly a plus one, because she’s talking about what she was going
to do when she’s solving the problem. For many people because they
believe she’s being sincere and genuine, they tend to put her in the plus
two. So for Sheryl, she’s clearly above the line, certainly a plus one. For
some of us, if we were interacting with her live, we might take her to a
plus two because we see that she’s also willing to take accountability for
the consequences, and not trying to dodge the bullet on that. Okay. Nice
job. Let’s see the next slide. All right, so despite the fact that
accountability is important, and you would expect everybody just to
step up just to say, yeah my bad, I should have done it different, but
why don’t people take responsibility? Why do people make excuses?
That’s really what we’re talking about here. Why should I make an
excuse? Why should I point to another group? Why don’t I just say,
“Yeah, you’re right. That’s my fault. I’ll do it different next time.”
Rick Lepsinger: There tend to be three key factors that cause people to not take
responsibility. It’s important to understand these because when you’re
managing accountability, you want to be aware of these issues to make
it part of your coaching intervention, part of your problem solving. The
first is this desire to preserve self image. We all have a sense of self, a
way we see ourselves and we have a way that we want others to see us.
When we make a mistake, when we miss a commitment, when we
dropped the ball in some way, that tends to negatively impact our self
image and the way we want other people to see us. So rather than say,
“Yeah you’re right, I’m not a very good project manager. I really did drop
the ball on that. It was a little bit too complex for me.” Rather than say
that what we’re saying is I had everything moving along very nicely until
the other group missed their deadline. When they missed a deadline
that threw everything off.
Rick Lepsinger: We do that to preserve self image because it’s more difficult to say,
“Yeah, right, I’m not so good at that, or I screwed that up.” It’s easier or
feels better to us to point the finger to others. The second has to do
with social loafing. Social loafing is a phenomenon, especially in a
geographically distributed world where you have team members that
are basically all over the world, or in different parts of the country.
Social loafing is the tendency to take less responsibility when we believe
that others are not aware of the work that we’re doing, or cannot
connect what we’re doing to the overall outcome. So a study that backs
that up is they took a look at swimmers. Swimmers were doing a
foreperson medley. When there’s an individual swimmer swimming all
four strokes by themselves and not part of the team, they tend to swim
faster when they’re swimming on their own.
Rick Lepsinger: In addition to that, when you call out the time to the individual
swimmer that he or she can hear it, and they know that the spectators
can hear it as well, they tend to swim faster. So this idea of social loafing
is, is there a clear expectation for performance, an expectation for
performance and can you connect what I’m doing to the overall
outcome. The third has, and we’ll talk more about that expectation for
performance in a little bit. The third is this idea of locus of control, which
is an internal or external locus. So for instance, if there’s an internal
locus of control, it’s a feeling that I control my destiny, my decisions, my
actions are the ones that impact the course of my life. The external
locus of control is more about, it’s not about what I do. It’s anything I do
is irrelevant to the broader picture. It’s about other people, other
Rick Lepsinger: It’s the economy, it’s the weather. It’s a much bigger picture that impact
what I do and how I do it. Now you would think overall that the internal
locus of control would be much, much better. Unfortunately on the
extreme, it can be difficult because people with a strong internal locus
of control are always saying, “I should’ve done this. I could’ve done that.
Why didn’t I do this?” They’re always taking responsibility for
everything, even things that are out of their control. So really the sweet
spot is right in between, where you take a healthy responsibility for your
choices and actions, but at the same time realize that you exist in a
larger system, and that there are things that may impact your ability to
perform at a high level. So let’s take a look at this notion of
expectations, and the fact that expectations really do impact people’s
performance and their ability to take responsibility.
Rick Lepsinger: This notion of the Pygmalion Effect, where it’s the leaders or managers
expectations that impact people’s performance or their willingness to
perform at a high level. Some of you may be familiar with this. It comes
from the Greek myth where there was a sculpture who was sculpting a
statue of a woman. He fell in love with the statue. The gods took pity on
him and brought the statue to life which meeting his expectation. That
Pygmalion story was translated into the My Fair Lady, which you may be
familiar with Rex Harrison and Audrey Hepburn, where Rex Harrison has
a bet with his colleagues that he can take a street urchin and turn her
into a wonderful, lovely lady. Of course that’s Audrey Hepburn and at
the end of the movie, she is no longer a flower girl, but she is a elegant
woman. So this whole idea of expectations driving performance.
Rick Lepsinger: This notion also was tested in a scientific way, and there are actually
hundreds and hundreds of studies that demonstrate the impact of
leader expectations on performance. So I’ll tell you the earliest study
was done in like it must’ve been about 1950s or something like that,
with a fourth grade class. They took a look at the fourth grade classes
and they said to the teacher that we did some extensive testing on your
students, and half the students in your group according to our tests are
perfectly normal. They’ll be perfectly normal and wonderful students.
These other 10 are late bloomers that they have real potential, and over
the course of the year, they will just blossom and grow, and perform at
a high level. At the end of the school year, they went back and retested
all the kids in all the fourth grade classes, and it turns out that the kids
that the teacher was told were late bloomers outperformed the other
children across the board, in all ways they outperformed them.
Rick Lepsinger: The punchline to the story as some of you may or may not know, is that
in fact there was no difference between the kids. The test didn’t identify
any differences between the kids in the beginning. All the kids were
normal regular children. The only thing that was different was in the
mind of the teacher and in fact, she treated the children differently.
When the researchers asked the teacher what she did differently with
those children, they were all surprised because they said, “I didn’t do
anything differently. I treated everybody exactly the same.” It turns out
that that was not the case however. So later studies were done to try to
understand what was it that leaders do when we have high
expectations, or when we have a sense that the person will perform
well. What are we actually doing differently? It turns out that there are
a couple of things that we’re doing different.
Rick Lepsinger: What the Pygmalion philosophy or our thinking says is that positive
expectations, when we have positive expectations for people, high
expectations for people, that tends to lead to increased confidence,
increased efforts, more persistence, better performance, willingness to
take risks. Negative expectations tend to have the opposite effect on
those four areas. So what are leaders actually doing? This comes out of
a study that was done with the Israeli army, where they took a look at
Platoon leaders. Again, they said to the Platoon leaders these 10 people
in your squad have great leader potential. These others are just normal
people. The people that the squad leader was told had leader potential
did better across the board. They even enjoyed the experience more
than other people. So again, they said, “Well, what did you do
different?” Every squad leader said, “I didn’t do anything different.”
Rick Lepsinger: In point of fact they were doing something different, and these are the
five things that we tend to do differently with people who we have high
expectations for. We focus on maintaining and enhancing their self
esteem. We set challenging goals for them. We provide a supportive
environment where we are empathetic and supportive. We catch them
doing something right, provide a lot of recognition, and we provide
constructive feedback. So the supportive environment is really involving
them, engaging them in the dialogue, talking to them, interacting with
them, and we provide balanced feedback, both recognition and
constructive feedback. So the interesting thing here is that when this
was discovered, the researcher, I think his name was [inaudible
00:36:43]. When he discovered this, he figured he had a million dollar
idea, because now all he had to do was teach people how to do these
Rick Lepsinger: Once he taught people how to do these things, managers would just do
them and everybody would be a top performer. The problem is
however, is that once we, and he actually failed. He was unable to do it.
His training programs did not have the desired impact. The reason is
that once managers frame someone as a poor performer, it’s very hard
for us to pretend that they’re not, and to treat them as if we think
they’re a top performer. So this is what we do when we believe people
have potential. If we don’t believe they have potential, it’s very difficult
for us to pretend to do these things. However, we need to be able to
adjust and change the way in which we work with people. We need to
be able to break the cycle, because it’s the people who are working
below standard that we need to hold accountable. We can’t let them
slide on these things.
Rick Lepsinger: There’s three things you can do to help break the cycle. Assume value,
start with a strength, and make the unconscious conscious. Let’s start
with assuming value. What you need to do here is focus on the positives
and that’s really what this is about. Focus on the positives. Look for and
engage people with a balanced response to say, this is what you do well,
here’s what you might do differently or better, because we do that with
our top performers. When a top performer makes a mistake, we see it
as a learning experience. They’ll bounce back. It’ll be okay. When
somebody who we believe is a poor performer makes a mistake, we just
see that as they screwed up again. They just can’t seem to get out of
their own way. So what we need to do in each of these incidents is look
for the positive. What did they do well, and be more balanced in our
perspective and in our feedback.
Rick Lepsinger: The next is to start with a strength. One reason why it’s difficult to
pretend that you think the person has potential is because the
assignment, the task is we know is too difficult. We know, we believe
they’re just not going to make it happen. So focus on a strength, and set
a modest stretch goal. Set it to the point where you have more
confidence, that you believe they can make this happen and they have
more confidence. In that way, you don’t have to pretend that you think
they can do it. You’ll be more confident that they can do it, and you’ll be
more willing to provide coaching and support as the employee takes a
risk that they believe is manageable and try something new. That last
piece is to take these five behaviors that many leaders do in an
unconscious way with people who they believe have potential, and
make it conscious. Make this part of the way in which you engage
people on a regular basis, with your top performers as well as the
people who were borderline or below.
Rick Lepsinger: That’s where a lot of this really needs to be. So let’s take a look, give you
an opportunity to see how you would handle this situation. This will also
be a polling question. So through your efforts to understand the reason
for the team’s performance plateau, it’s come to your attention that
David has been consistently missing deadlines. He recently missed two
important deadlines which caused a delay in a product release. David’s
performance is negatively impacting the team, and you need to take
some action. However, David does not report directly to you. He’s a
member of your team, a permanent member but he reports in a matrix
fashion to Pamela Jones, who is your colleague. So in this situation,
what would you do to handle this situation? Here are five choices. So
I’m going to give you a moment to read each of the choices, and then
I’m going to put the pole up.
Rick Lepsinger: Take a minute now and I’ll put the poll up in a minute. All of these
choices are good choices, but one of them in this situation would be
considered the best choice. So take a moment to read or skim. Pick the
one you think is the best, and then we’ll put the pole up in just a
moment. Okay. So the polling question has abbreviated versions of
these questions up there. So here they are. Pick the one that you think is
the best way to handle this particular situation. Sarah, when we get to
about 60, 70 or so we can, we should get a lock because you had a lot of
people pre-reading. So would you call Pamela, would you send David an
email? Would you ask David what he’ll do to get the project on track?
Would you clarify expectations? Would you hold of virtual team
meeting? All right, let’s see what the results are. All right, that’s what
people pick. Okay. So looks like we got a little bit on each one.
Rick Lepsinger: Let’s start at the bottom with the hold a virtual team meeting. It’s not a
bad idea. The problem with a virtual team meeting is it’s too indirect.
David might not know you’re talking to him. The rest of the team might
wonder why you’re talking to them, so you’d have to be really clear
about what you’re doing. Again, this is about David. It’s not about the
rest of the team, so it’s a little bit too indirect. The sending the email, we
have send an email. Sending an email is very impersonal. The problem
with the email, it’s just words. There’s no tone of voice or visual cues.
You’re also not getting any feedback. You don’t know if David
understood what you said. You don’t know what his reaction is and
there’s no opportunity to problem solve, to say well, what are you going
to do differently about it? Right, so it’s too static, too impersonal. Calling
Pamela Jones is not a bad idea.
Rick Lepsinger: At some point, you’re going to want her bring her into the loop, but it’s
not necessarily your lead action, because this is your issue. It’s not
Pamela’s issue. David’s on your team. I know he reports to her, but he’s
on your team. It’s your issue. So yes, you’ll certainly bring her into the
loop, but it’s not the first thing you would do. That takes us down to C as
in cat or D as in David, and C is really good. Asking David what he’s going
to … Sorry. D is really good. Clarifying your expectations for what they
should do, the timeframes overall, and when you’re going to meet to
follow up. That’s actually something you should have done at the start
and you might do it for the next project, but in this particular case, C as
in cat has a slight edge because you’re asking David what he going to do
right now to get things back on track, because he dropped the ball on
this one, and what you’re going to do in the future to ensure it doesn’t
happen again.
Rick Lepsinger: So C and D are your best choices. C is a better choice because right now
David is in a situation where he needs to take accountability for a
current activity. All right, let’s take a look at some of the tools that you
can use to help manage accountability. When we try to set people up
for success and manage accountability, there are four mistakes that we
tend to make, four accountability busters. The first one is we talk about
an idea, talk about an action, but we do not necessarily assign someone
to accountability by name and being very specific about it. The second is
that we might agree on the action, but we end the person but we don’t
necessarily talk about the due date, the specific completion date, and
we leave it open ended. The third is we wait until the completion date
to check in. That’s one of the biggest problems because if you get to the
completion date, find out that it hasn’t been done or hasn’t been done
according to expectations, there’s no more runway.
Rick Lepsinger: It’s too late and sometimes too late to ask the person to fix it. So that’s
why we take it, and that’s why we give it to one of our better
performers because they can get it done quickly because we’ve run out
of time. So waiting to the completion day, or not even checking it at all
can be a problem. The fourth is when we do find out there’s a
miscommitment, we don’t hold that person accountable after the fact
to fix it overall. So here are your key tools. The first is to make sure you
set people up for success. This is actually putting a platform in place, so
they are a foundation so they are clear about what it is they need to do,
and when, and you’ve got this shared picture of what success looks like.
So if you have to hold them accountable, you’ve got a clear shared
picture of what was expected. So it’s not a I said, you said, kind of a
scenario overall. So it starts with being clear about the action. What is it
that you want them to do, and what does good look like?
Rick Lepsinger: Be clear about the timeframe, what are the milestones and what is the
due date. Don’t leave that open ended for people to interpret overall,
and focus on checkpoints. This is also the way you avoid being a
micromanager. Micromanaging is when you wake up in the middle of
the night in a cold sweat, wondering how the project is and you just get
on everybody’s case, where is it, where is it, where is it. Monitoring and
checkpoints are agreeing together what the key milestones are, and
when you’re going to check in. That allows you to be more comfortable
and the frequency of those check ins will depend on how important it is,
how complex it is. If the person’s ever done that before, but this is an
opportunity for you to monitor performance and provide feedback
Rick Lepsinger: So if you’re clear about what you want them to do, clear about the
timeframe and you have checkpoints along the way, you’re basically
increasing the likelihood that people will meet their commitments, and
you won’t necessarily have to hold them accountable for something
they dropped, but you’ll increase the likelihood that they’ll do what
they’re supposed to do when they’re supposed to do it. This is our ATC
model. Think of it as like air traffic control, where you’re helping people
come in for a safe landing. Okay, now despite your best efforts, there
will be some situations where people will still miss a commitment, and
that’s where we come up with our three accountability questions. As I
said frequently, managing accountability is very much a coaching
interaction. Despite that, the ATC model and these three coaching
questions are very appropriate for direct reports and for colleagues.
Rick Lepsinger: This works perfectly laterally with your colleagues as well. You can talk
about actions, timetables, and checkpoints with colleagues and these
questions. If they drop the ball, miss a commitment, you focus on the
past, the present, and the future. Looking back, what could you have
done to prevent the problem? How did you contribute to the problem?
In the present, what are you going to do right now to get it on track?
The future, what can you do to prevent this problem from happening
again? Now the future question is critical because again, people
sometimes make excuses. This is a way to say take it at face value.
Rather than say hey, you’re making excuses, you’re dodging the bullets,
just say, “Look, okay, fine. The other group didn’t give you what you
needed. The other group was late. That’s fine. What are you going to do
going forward to ensure that that doesn’t happen again, because we
work with that other group. If they keep giving things late, you’re going
to keep missing deadlines. What are you going to do?”
Rick Lepsinger: You’re encouraging them to take responsibility for the entire workflow,
not just for their little piece overall. The present question is also key
because it’s all about them grabbing the ball and saying, “How can I fix it
right now?” Asking these questions during the checkpoints is even more
effective. If you wait until the end, it’s not bad. If you ask the question at
each milestone, whenever you’re providing feedback direction and if
you see that are moving off course, you can use these three questions
to encourage, to facilitate, to help the other person take responsibility
for moving the project forward. So at a key milestone, what are you
going to do to get it on track? How can you prevent this from happening
again? What was your role in making that happen? What are you going
to do differently, is about managing that all along.
Rick Lepsinger: So you’re both, you’re incorporating the management of the project, the
coaching of the individual, and the building of relationships all in that
one moment. You don’t have to find additional time to engage and
interact with the person. A couple of quick tips and best practices. It
starts with modeling yourself in terms of you taking accountability.
Again, some of it is watching your language when you talk about other
groups, other people, them missing the ball. People pick up on that.
Using the accountability scale to evaluate the level of accountability of
each of your team members, and certainly your colleagues could work
as well. Thinking about the contributing factors, and it could be either
you’re using the seven tickets to slide, or the three reasons why people
make excuses, but think a little bit about what you can do to come off of
that to increase the level of accountability among the members of your
team and/or colleagues.
Rick Lepsinger: Focusing on honest communication about problems. The whole idea
here is creating an environment where it’s the norm to provide early
warning. A lot of times this thing about accountability is if there’s a
problem, people hold onto it for as long as possible, hoping that they
can fix it because again, that self image thing, they don’t want to say,
“Hey, I got a problem, or hey, I need some help.” They wait and wait and
wait, and sometimes they get sometimes the fixes, sometimes they get
to the point where they can’t and things start to unravel. You’d like to
create the kind of work environment where bringing problems forward
early is considered heroic. It’s considered the norm, not trying to hold
onto it and fix it overall, and then taking a problem solving attitude to fix
that problem.
Rick Lepsinger: Using the ATC model to set people up for success. Again, the clearer you
are about expectations and timeframe, and building in those
checkpoints, the more likely it is that people actually perform to your
expectations and standards. The idea of action plans is a highly
underutilized tool. Action plans actually document agreements, so if you
want to know who’s accountable for what and when, that’s documented
on the action plan and it gets at the social loafing piece. If you put an
action plan together with people’s names next to the task they’re
responsible for and the date, everybody knows what everybody else is
supposed to do. It increases my willingness and desire to take
responsibility to make that happen, because everybody knows that I’m
supposed to be doing it.
Rick Lepsinger: Those three coaching questions, what you’d like to do is get people to
ask themselves those questions, where you don’t always have to
facilitate it, but have them say what am I going to do to get it on track?
How can I avoid this in the future? How did I contribute to it to be more
self reflective? Try to encourage a what else can I do kind of an attitude,
so they’re not just looking at their little world, but rather taking
responsibility and the view of the entire group. All right, so Sarah, I’m
going to turn it over to you. I think we have time for some questions as
Sarah: Wonderful. Thank you so much Rick. Great, as always just great, great
material. So we do have some time for some questions. Go ahead and
type those in here to me, and we’ll get Rick answering those live here.
We did get some people throughout the presentation actually asking if
this was content that they could purchase. So good news, Rick’s books
are on sale at or you can call us, and our customer
service team will help process those for you. Today’s session was from
Closing The Execution Gap. So if you could also purchase just that single
book, or you can purchase all four and get them at a discount with a
bundle. So certainly check that out.
Sarah: Then remember, if you ever need help delivering training internally, look
to HRDQ. We’ve got expert trainers like Rick, who can come on site to
deliver a dynamic session for your employees, or even help your trainers
to deliver a certain topic of your choice. So look to HRDQ, we’re here for
all your soft skills training needs. So Rick, we do have a couple of
questions that have come in. Our first one here is from Jill. She asks,
“How do you hold employees accountable in a union shop when
employees can file grievances?”
Rick Lepsinger: Yeah, that’s not an uncommon question. I would say although a union
shop can have certain sensitivities and difficulties, I think the process is
the same. As a matter of fact, in some ways, as long as you’re within the
bounds of the contract, that’s the issue. If you’re within the bounds of
the contract and you’re being clear about the expectations and the
timeframe, the ATC model and the coaching questions actually help
avoid grievances because all parties are clear about what’s expected.
There’s agreement and understanding that is part of the contract and
it’s not outside the bounds, so it actually avoids misunderstandings
going forward, and decreases the likelihood of a grievance. Sometimes
managers in union shops are hesitant to hold employees accountable,
because they’re concerned about the grievance process. Again, this
helps minimize the impact of that people because everybody’s clear
about what needs to be done, and that it’s appropriate and within
acceptable bound.
Sarah: Great. Great, thank you. We have a question here from Lilly about the
scale. She asks, “How do you balance the need for understanding
outside influences, the plus one versus helping employees take full
accountability, the plus two?”
Rick Lepsinger: Yeah. I think a lot of it has to do with the tone of the conversation, and
that’s why the tool is unnecessarily a straight up assessment, but it’s
rather a way to begin the conversation. So if somebody is talking about
reasons why they weren’t able to do it, but the tone is to solve the
problem, to make sure it doesn’t happen again, I think an and/or they’re
not, and the tone is not it wasn’t my fault, it’s somebody else’s fault.
Then that’s more in the minus one area, but the plus one is really saying,
“Look, you’re right, this was something I was supposed to do. Here are
the things that got in the way of me doing that. Here’s what I’m going to
do to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
Rick Lepsinger: That’s more of a problem solving focus, and taking broader
responsibility. So a lot of it depends on whether they’re really deflecting
it and pushing it away saying, “Don’t talk to me.” Or whether they’re
saying, “Yeah, there were some circumstances, I’m going to deal with it
and here’s what I’m going to do.” I think that has a different kind of tone
to it.
Sarah: I had thought, Rick, during your one example in particular, your one
case. I think it was the Sheryl case, part of it is also just you’re right, just
knowing the person and seeing previous patterns of what they’ve said
and what they’ve done that helps you do intuit the difference between
those two.
Rick Lepsinger: Yeah and just to build off of that, that’s part of the problem because a
top performer and a poor performer can do the same behavior, but we
give the top performer a lot more latitude, because we have more
confidence that they are going to fix it. So it’s how do you treat the poor
performer in a similar way, to give them the benefit of the doubt if in
fact they’re taking responsibility, or help them take responsibility.
Sarah: Yeah, great, great. So we have time for one more question. If we did not
get a chance to answer your question, we will do that in the blog and
you’ll get an email around that as well. So definitely keep typing in your
questions if you have them. Our last question here Rick, is which of the
four accountability mistakes tends to be made most frequently?
Rick Lepsinger: In my experience, it’s the waiting until the deadline because that creates
a lot of the problem. A lot of people are pretty good at assignments and
we’re getting better with the due date, but the problem is because
everybody’s so busy, we wait, we don’t check in. We’re afraid of
micromanaging, we’re busy with other things. We’re glad we delegated
out to people. We waited till deadline. By the time we get to the
deadline and it’s not done well, or it’s not being done, it’s too late to
make any kind of correction. So those checkpoints become particularly
critical to be able to do course corrections, and clarify what the
deliverable is supposed to be.
Sarah: Good. Wonderful. Well thank you so much Rick. It’s always enjoyable
working with you, and hearing your expertise.
Rick Lepsinger: Thanks everyone. It’s my pleasure and thank you all for joining. Hope to
see you at another one later in the year and next year.
Sarah: Absolutely. Well happy training and we’ll look for everyone on the line
at our next webinar.

Presented By

Rick Lepsinger

Rick Lepsinger

President of OnPoint Consulting, Rick’s career has focused on helping organizations and leaders identify and develop leaders, work better virtually, enhance cross functional team performance, and get from strategy to execution faster.  He conducts numerous seminars and workshops on succession management, leading from a distance, leading cross functional teams, and enhancing execution.  Rick has written numerous articles and is the author or co-author of several books, including his most recent Closing the Execution Gap: How Great Leaders and Their Companies Get Results.

Connect with Rick at LinkedIn or on Twitter @lepsinger.

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