Event Date: 12/05/2018 (2:00 pm EST - 3:00 pm EST)
Speaker 1: Broadcast is now starting. All attendees are in listen only mode.
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 general.
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 those.
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 have.
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 done.
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 accurate.
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 responsibility.
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. Okay.
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 groups.
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 things.
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 overall.
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 well.
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 hrdqstore.com 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 next week.
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
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.