Holding Others Accountable Doesn’t Always Mean That You’re Mean. Also, Consequence Is A Necessary Condition For Personal Growth.

The Accountability model was the highlight for me during the Legitimate Leadership intervention because one sentence stuck with me: ‘Holding others accountable doesn’t always mean that you’re mean!’

Accountability also means Recognition and/or Reward!

I learnt not to hold my team members accountable only for results or a job description, but also for their unique contributions.

I’ve come to understand that holding people accountable shows my genuine care for their personal and professional growth.

Defining clear standards has empowered me to hold my team accountable, using the four consequences: discipline, censure, praise and reward. Consequence is a necessary condition for personal growth.

I have embraced the concept of holding others accountable for their contributions, rather than focusing only on the outcomes or a list of job responsibilities. Holding my team accountable is so much easier now since they have written up their own contribution plans. Obviously these are agreed plans.

I’d also like to share a remarkable success story. One team member, in particular, experienced significant accountability (using all four consequences, not just the bad ones), and I am delighted to report her remarkable transformation!

During one of our discussions she said: ‘I didn’t know that these meetings can be so good. Our company does things differently and I’m enjoying it; it’s not just about targets.’

She not only recognized her strengths but also experienced an ‘aha’ moment when she realized the positive impact her contributions have had on our results as well as our working relationship.

She has gone from being a mediocre employee to a highly engaged one who actively seeks out learning opportunities, personal growth, recognition, and rewards. Her aspiration to improve extends beyond her work life; it has influenced her personal life as well. She has revamped her wardrobe, embarked on a journey to better health, and radiates positivity around the office with her smile.

Safety Webinar Vignette Case Study 1: When There Is An Incident, Remember That The ‘Offender’ May Sit In A Hierarchy

In the recent Legitimate Leadership Safety Webinar, Rachael Cowin explored the possible application of Legitimate Leadership’s empowerment framework (means, ability, accountability) after she was told of an incident in a public space where a key piece of infrastructure was inconveniencing the public.

‘There had been no incident, no accident, nothing untoward. However a member of the public videoed the activity related to correcting the infrastructure and posted the video on social media.

‘On examination, it was clear that not all of the team were wearing the appropriate PPE; also that the equipment being used was not that specified in the standard job method.

‘The team leader, who had planned and supervised the work was interviewed. He explained that he had been told that the work must happen by Friday. And though it was not overtly said, it very much hung in the air, supported by his experience in this organisation, that arguing was not going to get him very far.

‘So when the right piece of equipment wasn’t available he did his best, planning around the next closest piece of equipment.

‘So what does the empowerment framework tell us about what we should do here?

‘We go to the golden rule that we mustn’t jump to conclusions, we must be fair, investigate the specifics, and ask “Why?”

‘To do that I think we need to treat the issue of PPE, and the issue of equipment, separately.

‘Starting with PPE: yes, the team did have the means and the ability. The new equipment they were supposed to be wearing was available to them so it was entirely right that the team leader be held accountable both for wearing his own PPE and for ensuring that the team he was supervising were wearing theirs.

‘If this failure was a once-off, a strong censure would be appropriate – this is not acceptable and it must not happen again.

‘If you have good people – and this team leader was by all accounts a good person – they accept it. They understand and they want to do better next time.

‘Repeated carelessness on the other hand amounts to deliberateness and would warrant a stronger response.

‘But we should also stop there. We should remember that this person sits in a hierarchy.

‘It is our experience that whenever there’s an exception there’s always something to learn about what’s going on up and down the line.

‘I would be asking myself: is this a once-off, or is this symptomatic of a general lack of adherence?

‘The team leader worked for a maintenance manager. What was that person’s role and what were they doing? Was that person present, were they aware, did they know what the standard of adherence to PPE was? Were they setting the standard? Were they responding to positive and negative compliance?

‘What about the maintenance manager? Was this person a role model? Were they setting the standard for the organisation? Were they having conversations about PPE? Were they ensuring that there was consistency?

‘A leader will only be experienced as fair if a transgression in one part of the organisation is treated exactly the same wherever it occurs.

‘A good test here is: are seniors at the level of the area manager able to go out onto the front line and would they challenge people if they saw that standards were not being met?

‘Even better, what if the roles were reversed? Would the front line people feel empowered to challenge senior people who are not meeting the organisational standards?

‘So that’s the PPE situation. Now for the equipment issue.

‘Did the team leader have the means? I don’t think so, and my informant didn’t think so.

‘The time scales and the availability of the equipment were just not consistent with one another; the team leader just didn’t have the means.

‘I would nevertheless say that the team leader should be accountable for raising the issue.

‘Who is accountable for providing the means to the team leader? It is the maintenance manager.

‘If they have control over the time scales and the equipment they should be held accountable. But sadly in this organisation they had no control of either. They hadn’t set these demands. And in fact they also had a means issue.

‘It was the area manager who failed in his accountability of enabling the leader beneath him.

‘So a very relevant question is: when it comes to accountability, where do we tend to focus our attention when exceptions occur?

‘I believe we overly focus on the front line, and in this instance that is exactly what happened.

‘The team leader was held fully accountable for all the failings and given the strongest possible sanction short of dismissal. Meanwhile his seniors looked in the mirror and congratulated themselves that they had shown that they were tough on safety.

‘Which I think begs another question: if we really want to change organisations, where should we best focus?

‘I suggest: at senior levels. And in this organisation, at senior levels absolutely nothing changed. Which is why I am sure that if the same situation presented itself on another day with a different person, exactly the same would happen again. The senior leaders didn’t take responsibility for changing anything, they didn’t show that they cared for the front line or the people at risk, and they sent the wrong message.

‘The message was “We’re not prepared to put safety first”. And if they were not prepared to support safety first, why should they expect anyone else to?

‘To me this is what dysfunction looks like.

‘So what would health look like in this situation? It would look like a team leader who has everything that they need in order to be able to do the job properly, with the knowledge that they can raise concerns and that they will be supported up the line. It is a maintenance manager who is providing what they need to their teams, who is present and who is using the empowerment framework to hold people to account positively and negatively. It is an area manager who’s making sure that the organisation is equipped and cultivating an approach of fairness and accountability among the people who work for them.

‘When you get to a significant number of people all doing this and you start to see the change in senior leaders – demonstrating that they would resist the pressure to move on in the face of safety concerns – it evokes the kind of examples that people remember for the rest of their careers.’

Safety Webinar Vignette Case Study 3: The Best Leaders Continually Raise The Bar On Safety By Challenging Us To Be Better

In the recent Legitimate Leadership Safety Webinar, Sean Hagger related a story of a senior leader who’d started a new role in a factory that manufactured rockets.

‘For 30 years, part of the process in this manufacturing facility was to drill a hole in the solid fuel propellant of the rocket in order to fit a device.

‘The new manager was aghast when he saw this part of the process and he challenged it. He asked why this was being done. The employees replied, “Well we’ve never had a serious incident before.”

‘But he insisted that they find another way of doing it.

The answer classically came back that there wasn’t another way, and he replied, “find one”.

‘And they did – they formed the propellant around a die, thus creating the desired orifice to fit the device.

‘This story isn’t about throwing your weight around in a new job and pretending to people that you’re super-interested in safety. The manager had told his people, “If you can find a better way of doing this I will support you”. That sends out a strong message – because there might have been 30 years without an incident, but maybe there would not be 31.

‘The best leaders continually raise the bar on safety by challenging us to be better than we were before. They look at every situation as an opportunity to improve.’

Leadership’s Role In Delivering Sustainable Performance Improvements – Lifting Services (DRDL)

Following multiple Lifting events an independent investigation was carried out and recommendations made regarding various lifting incidents at Devonport. Following another serious incident in September 2018, Neil Bennett and Ray Rose were asked to implement a safe set of arrangements. Ray Rose subsequently took over from Neil as the Head of Lifting Services in May 2020. Over a period of three years, under their leadership, the performance of Lifting Services improved significantly as reflected in the KPIs. The Lifting Services Team have subsequently won an award from Babcock Group for making clear improvements whilst Ray has won an Outstanding Leadership award as part of this.

The contribution of leadership excellence to the turnaround is outlined below.

October 2018 – January 2020 (Neil Bennett)

1. Here To Serve

Legitimate Leadership believes that being here to “give” or to serve is the key determinant of the success of individuals and groups. Any supplier (internal and external) is only trusted and valued to the degree to which their customer is convinced they have their best interests at heart; if the supplier is seen to be committed to understanding and meeting their customer’s needs.

Neil and his team were clear that the only reason Lifting Services existed was to support Production and Projects. A new mission statement was created for the Lifting Services Team which was to provide safe and efficient Lifting solutions for our customer everytime. Of equal importance to “fixing” Cranes was building relationships, including with the ONR. They sought to really understand their customers’ expectations and where they were falling short against these. They built trust through honesty (owning up when they got it wrong) and reliability (delivering on promises). The primary focus was on how they could be most helpful to those they were here to serve. In due course finger-pointing was replaced with working together to get the problem solved.

2. Right People On The Team
Legitimate leaders, like good coaches, don’t start with strategy and tactics but with assessing their players, taking some off the team and bringing new players on board and into positions which play to their strengths and not their weaknesses.
Neil determined who should be helped to move on and who had the attributes which were needed as constituents of a high performing team. Before too long the nucleus of the team was formed both from Babcock people and from contractors who in due course became permanent. Each member of the team brought something unique to the party. As a team they were bigger than the sum of their parts. Like any good coach Neil put together the team that would enable Lifting Services to perform.

3. Watching The Game
Legitimate Leadership believes that empowering people to make an above and beyond contribution requires that they have the Means, Ability and Accountability to do so. The Legitimate Leadership practice for determining what leaders need to “give” their people so that they are allowed, can and are willing to contribute, is “watching the game”.
Neil was highly visible as the Head of Lifting Services. He spent a lot of his time out in the yard both during the day and on back shift. He observed the game of planning for and executing lifts. He spoke to the people but more so he listened to them. He was open and honest about the things he could address or resolve and those he could not or not within the time scale desired. In doing so he ascertained and then addressed the impediments to their contributions. He ensured that watching the game was an integral part of how leaders lead in Lifting Services.

4. Enabling Contribution
Legitimate leaders enable their peoples’ contribution by giving them the tools / resources, enabling systems and processes, clarity of expectations, time / support, decision-making authority and information which allow them to contribute. They also remediate knowledge and skills deficiencies through training and coaching. Lastly, they hold their people both positively and negatively accountable.

Neil quickly identified that the processes in Lifting Services were too complex with excessive controls, making it unnecessarily difficult to get the job done in accordance with British Standards. Within the first month, he replaced the existing processes with more simplified ones that were adopted from other operational businesses as well as from feedback from within the department. He also changed what was measured, choosing to track performance indicators which told Lifting Services and their customers what needed to change to deliver a better result.
Neil set minimum standards for the roles of individual contributors. 195 people were then assessed and retrained in the technical aspects of their roles. Everyone in a leadership role received training and coaching in both Legitimate Leadership principles and practices and the SOE habits.

Neil showed his commitment to leadership development both through his participation in the training and in setting the example for other leaders in Lifting Services to follow. He sought to make himself redundant, handing over to a successor ready and able to take Lifting Services to the next level in its leadership journey.

February 2020 – November 2021 (Ray Rose)

As the Head of Lifting Services, Ray Rose continued the good leadership practices inculcated by Neil Bennett which ensured that everyone in Lifting Services were engaged, enabled and empowered to make an above and beyond contribution. In addition he raised the leadership bar further through the following:

1. Putting Safety First
In an operations environment caring for people is synonymous with looking after their safety at work. Safety performance is a reflection back to leaders on their consistency, role modelling, keeping of commitments and focus on improvement.
The leaders in Lifting Services prioritised safety above anything else. They established daily, weekly, monthly and quarterly safety routines and allocated calendar time for these. They had a safety theme every week which they could all get behind, talk about at every DSUM / WSUM and focus on when watching the game. Ray set simple clear expectations for his team; for example an expectation for each person to raise one Synergi event per month. As a result Ray’s team had a 275% increase in learning events raised from the previous year and reduced accidents from 8 in the previous year to 1.

2. Career and Personal Development
Leaders will only be seen to be legitimate when they both care for and grow those in their charge. A primary responsibility for a leader is to enable each direct report to grow in their current role by inter alia clarifying, assessing and reviewing their contribution, continually raising the bar, increasing their decision-making authority and holding them accountable. Leaders also need to facilitate the growth of their people beyond the role they are in.

Ray Rose spearheaded the development of a Career Path and Development booklet which set out the career paths on offer for progression from trainee slinger through to the head of Lifting, the qualification requirements for each role and a timeline to progress. Each folder also contains a log for career aspirations, career goals, training opportunities and an action tracker. A clear leadership standard has been set of at least one Personal Development Record (PDR) meeting per employee per year, including industrials in the department.

That the focus on development is reaping dividends is evidenced by the fact that most jobs are being filled from within including Ray’s successor as the Head of Lifting Services.

3. Communications
When it comes to management communications, employees want to know ‘how well am I doing?’ and ‘how well
is my department doing?’. Regular, frequent 1-2-1’s as well as feedback from watching the game ensures
information on individual performance is shared. In addition, management needs to communicate improvements which are being made within the department as well as to colleagues outside.

Ray developed an annual communication plan and set an objective of one communication per month. He used videos, posters and articles to communicate advances being made with respect to safe and efficient lifting operations such as the purchase of new mobile retractable belt barriers and quarantine boxes, as well as gains in lifting compliance. His overall aim was to increase employees pride in their work and to convey the progress being made by them to increase the professionalism of the service as well as their pride in being part of the Lifting profession.

Ray also introduced a 15h00 Wash Up meeting which was used to determine what would be the focus for the next day’s watching the game. He set up a WhatsApp group for himself and his direct reports, which led to many other WhatsApp groups. He introduced customer surveys to get feedback and improve customer satisfaction.

4. Implementing and Raising Standards
Legitimate leaders are relentless in the pursuit of human excellence. One of the ways they enable excellence is by continually and incrementally raising the bar on both behavioural and performance standards. . The goal is not to be better than others but to maintain an attitude of being happily discontented which leads to continually being better than before.
Ray’s strategy for improving results has been to adopt an approach of searching for a tiny margin of improvement in everything that is done in Lifting Services. Then following through by making small daily improvements in the process of planning and executing lifts. As the many small improvements in behaviour and performance are being achieved, they accumulate and build to impact positively on the results.

In the ongoing quest to improve, Ray’s team visited the Hinkley Point C construction site to bench mark the Devonport standards against those at the largest construction project in the UK. This is in line with his commitment to continually look outside Devonport’s walls to learn and to evolve to an ever higher standard of operation.

5. Hand Over of Decision-Making Authority
The measure of how empowered people are is what decisions they can make independently of their boss and the degree to which they operate in a freedom rather than control-based environment. As control is handed over it
is replaced with accountability.

Ray determined which processes he could handover and which he still would retain ownership of like the lifting operations procedure. He delegated authority down to Operations Managers who then also passed authority down to the Appointed Persons. He reviewed documentation with those working with the documents and reduced excessive bureaucracy and red tape. In this way he has succeeded in pushing accountability and ownership down the line.

Both Ray and his managers, in the process of empowering their people, refer constantly to the Legitimate Leadership Empowerment Framework both to diagnose and remediate performance issues and increase autonomy through the provision of Means, Ability, Accountability.

Ray has handed over the baton to Christopher Miles who is charged with taking the leadership standard to the next level of excellence.

Some of the fixed cranes are not as reliable as they used to be, mainly due to the amount of years they have been in service and the complex safety systems which have been built into the infrastructure. However, Lifting Services continue to work with the production teams to maximise the utilisation of the cranes and improve efficiency.

Lifting operations is classified as one of the; “Significant Six” hazards on the Devonport site and whilst these operations will always be hazardous, the probability and severity of incidents occurring has significantly reduced through a combination of robust processes, external benchmarking and great leadership.

Right Now! That Is The Right Time To Start Building Trust With Your Team

Last year when we (Legitimate Leadership) called several of our clients to ask whether they would be willing to participate in an investigation we were planning, we didn’t know what to expect. The point of the investigation would be to review the effect of the global pandemic crisis on trust in management. The organisation referenced in this vignette operates in the travel industry – one of the hardest-hit by the crisis. Would they be willing to talk to us about how local lockdowns, bans on international travel and devastating drops in revenues had affected staff morale and manager-employee relations? I wasn’t sure.

As it turns out, they participated willingly in our interviews – and our conversations left me personally optimistic. It wasn’t that the organisation had managed to entirely avoid cost-cutting and reduced working hours. They had done both of these things. At the same time their people had borne increased workloads and had to deal with increasingly emotional, anxious and rude clients – and, of course, had faced unprecedented levels of personal uncertainty and income insecurity.

Yet, despite all these potentially damaging impacts, according to those interviewed, trust within the organisation had actually improved over the four months since the start of the crisis.

Below is not a comprehensive to-do list for management teams wanting to build trust. These are simply some of the highlights in an organisation that got it right in a time of crisis. For many managers the current crisis presents a convenient excuse to put these things off for another day when we have more certainty, more resources, and most critically, more time to spend doing the things that we know will build trust with our people.

The problem is that trust doesn’t stand still. If it isn’t improving little by little, then it’s likely deteriorating little by little. Every day, until it’s too late. So, when is the right time to start building trust with your team? Answer: Right now.

For me, this remains an inspiring case – and potentially helpful to others interested in building trust even as economic challenges endure and externally things continue to get worse before they get better.

So, how did they do it?

Well, while we can’t claim to have covered every possible factor, our investigation did reveal that management was doing four things particularly well:

1. Demonstrating a genuine concern for people’s welfare

People weren’t necessarily protected from drops in income or increases in workload, but managers ensured they were accessible and supportive, and they reached out to make sure people and their families were okay. Managers also realized that this was not a one-size-fits-all scenario. Employees were all battling with different challenges so they decided to have one-on-ones with every employee to find out what challenges each was facing. Different themes became evident – for instance, isolation, lack of a proper work space, finance, mental anxiety, lack of work, too much work, lack of child care. These were then addressed one by one.

2. Communicating honestly

Communication was frequent, regular and consultative. People felt trusted with information. That said, it was easier to “play open cards” when “decisions are made with empathy and fairness”.

3. Ensuring that people knew what is expected of them

Communication regarding expectations was deliberate and clear. What stood out for a number of those interviewed were the frequent opportunities that were created for people to both clarify expectations and provide feedback.

4. Pulling together as a management team

Managers “don’t always see eye-to-eye but … they work together” and “are really leaning on one another”. Group decisions were supported, and the management team was “seen to be on the same page”.

Singular Systems: Reinventing Its Performance Management System


Singular Systems, which was founded in 2002 in Johannesburg, South Africa, is a bespoke software provider with a total staff today across its three sites of about 200. The company was started by Anthony Wilmot and the current CEO, Nicholas Kruiskamp, and has a family-business ethos.

Luckily, when the company embarked on reinventing its pre-existing performance management system in 2017, there was a fair degree of trust already within its culture. “Any process you could think of would have zero impact if it didn’t have trust,” says Dave Elliott, an executive of Singular Systems.

Another essential was that care and growth of employees as a value had to be accepted by the top leadership.

The performance management project was embarked upon simultaneously with a Legitimate Leadership transformation project, led by Ian Munro (see Reinventing Performance Management Workshop). Following the reinvention, Singular Systems Cape Town achieved increased revenue growth year-on-year due, among other things, to focus on growing staff and driving individual contribution.

Singular Systems applied principles from Legitimate Leadership in designing its new system. Thereafter Singular Systems evolved its own system in its three separate offices (in Cape Town, Johannesburg and London).

Divisional goals are aligned to achieving the company-defined goals; thereafter, the process of performance management is consistent across the geographies. However, the specific goals, values, principles and cultures that are defined in each are specific to the geographies.

Elliott says the family culture of the business was both a blessing and a curse. A curse because a new entrant would not clearly know it’s values, which were unstated between original “family” members – and this could result in a plunge in quality when a family member was not involved in a project.

“In a business which is scaling up, when there is a results focus rather than a contribution focus, this becomes a challenge,” he says.

In reviewing Singular Systems’ pre-existing performance management system, it was observed that support/mentorship was hindered by two issues.

  1. The company was not able to define what excellence looked like and also could not articulate the means that were needed to execute a task efficiently (for example, the expectation was that middle management would organically grow the skills needed to lead people). “Language is important in any framework. We had not, for instance, defined what ‘excellence’ looked like. We used to use wording like ‘keep up good delivery on client X’. But it was left to that person’s interpretation of what ‘good delivery’ looked like rather than the concept having been defined in terms of process, quality and principles. This has now changed.”
  2. When the quality was not good enough on project-based work, the senior team would swoop in to save the day rather than holding people accountable and using the opportunity to grow individuals involved or have tough discussions. Thus the opportunity to grow in a difficult situation/period was taken away.

The company’s pre-existing, conventional performance management system was very financially orientated, with goals and budgets defined annually and assessed every six months.

“Every six months management sat with each employee and examined his performance and from that decided on salary increases and bonuses. The question asked of the employee then was not related to the values and goals of the organisation and was usually a generalised ‘how did the past six months go?’”

Also, many people were putting in a lot of very hard work. The question arose as to why they were working so hard. Perhaps it was because quality was not the best and there were too many reworks of software. If that was the pattern, then according to the Legitimate Leadership Model, bonuses based on working really hard but not actually adding significant value were not justified.

There was, apparently, much potential for streamlining and greater efficiency.


  • From the start, in line with Legitimate Leadership principles, it was stated that the overall purpose of the reinvented system would be to grow people and enable their contribution. In the previous system, every year the company’s financial goals were set for the year ahead and these were cascaded down to each division. Now these goals include some non-financial goals as well. Progress against all goals is communicated to all staff on a monthly basis. “Financial goals and budgets are very much part of the process, but the difference is that both financial and non-financial goals have been articulated. For instance, non-financial goals included one on hiring – a goal of better understanding talent acquisition (because the costs of recruiters was too high, the company had to do its own recruitment).”
  • Whereas previously the review process had two main elements – retro and goals – in formulating the new system, huge initial work was done on first understanding the company’s Values and Standards – that is, Values and Standards for “each other” and Values and Standards for “clients”. Once the Values and Standards were defined as precisely as possible (clichés were avoided), it was clear what people would be required to “stand up” for.

“What time we spend on something is a reflection of our focus. Our focus changed from the results to empowering people. This required an initial massive time investment. They need to feel the care!”

The session to define site Values and Standards is repeated every year and this exercise now takes a few hours.

“This is because there is now a thread through the organisation, in its fabric, and through all individuals. This means that subsequent changes are mere tweaks to reflect changes in the environment or in perceptions. Some of our Values – for instance, gratitude – will always need to be there; others will change. For instance, work-life balance may change for individuals. A bachelor joining the company might want to work harder than a new father, which is perfectly acceptable.

“Most empowering is that whereas we normally think that formulating performance management systems is a top-down process, this process – because it is transparent – is not. A junior can challenge a senior, saying that a particular behaviour is not in line with a particular value. Formulating and broadcasting the values and principles causes immediate bonding within the company.”

  • Job roles were revisited to ensure that the unique value-add of each role in terms of Purpose and Key Accountabilities was appropriate. Articulation of skills and what is required from each job role, and training required, is done across a number of facets. This is also done from the client perspective for each job role.
  • Each staff member within the organization was assigned a Project Lead and Career Manager. The Project Lead of a project team is responsible for the care and growth of those on the project. A Career Manager’s focus is on longer term career development in line with the individual’s aspirations as long as he is with the company. This was seen as a particularly important addition in this project-based company to provide continuous focus on an individual’s development as he might move from one project team to another.
  • Monthly Contribution Sessions have been instituted, attended by the individual employee, the Career Manager and the Project Lead. The individual brings her proposed contributions for the month ahead that need to align from a complexity perspective with what is defined against her job role. Each contribution begins with “I will commit to …” (in contrast to the previous common statement “I will continue to …”). The individual also brings her assessment of her contribution overall in the past month (Superstar, Solid Citizen, Growable/Coachable, Disconnect). The Career Manager and Project Lead share their perceptions of the individual’s past contributions as well as acting as coaches on the proposed contributions for the month ahead. The employee owns her contributions and understands that this is what she is accountable for. In the staff of 40, there are 5-8 career managers who may look after one individual or more. And there are about 10 Project Leads because the division typically has 10-14 clients.
  • Every 6 months a bonus is paid (depending of course on company performance – if there is poor financial performance there is no bonus). Notably, doing the job to the required expectations is not worthy of a bonus – that is what the salary addresses. The bonus is paid out on what over-and-above contributions the individual has made – project-related, business-related, in relation to clients, behaviours and attitude. Over-and-above contributions may be acts not agreed in the monthly contributions and deliverables – for instance a person who brings a good attitude and contributes to the broader team’s happiness day-to-day is unlikely to have been defined previously in Values and Behaviours, but is considered to add value. During the performance appraisal, a discussion is held and a 1–10 score is agreed. The 6 months of contribution discussions are obviously an input in these discussions. Elliott recognizes that the rating thus arrived at is subjective but he says that there is generally alignment of the score between the parties involved if the contribution sessions and process have been well adopted and adhered to because they minimise the discrepancy in people’s perceptions of their performances and those held by their managers. “Our initial assumption was that people would be upset when their bonus was small, but that is generally not the case.” Variance in bonus payments has increased – people who have ‘shot the lights out’ in the past 6 months now get significantly more than those merely contributing at the level that their job role prescribes. Previously, under the family business culture, there was less disparity between bonus percentages of a monthly salary as everyone was seen to be driving the financial success of the business. This created two challenges: it disincentivised the members of staff that were contributing significantly over and above what was expected of them, bringing them back down to a mean; and it validated poorer performance from members of staff who had merely performed at the minimum required level.

After the new performance management system and its philosophy had been formulated, Elliott organised a breakaway morning for the 40-person Cape Town team in which the new principles were explained. Elliott has been the champion of the process – but other staffers have been brought on board and there is now wide-spread support for it.


  • Singular Systems Cape Town has been able to shift the emphasis and culture of the site from financial to people development so that its excellent financial growth recently has been a byproduct of people development rather than the reverse. Management has also realised that it is not asking for more time and effort but rather for a defined contribution.
  • Employees increasingly realise that it’s not for the Project Manager to come up with tasks for them; it is for them to define their contributions and, for instance, say “could you please give me more projects to align me with X or Y”.
  • There is increased alignment between day-to-day work and impact on company and department goals.
  • Everyone holds others to account.
  • Only once people are performing at the next level is a promotion offered. And the person concerned is first asked whether he wants to take on more responsibility. Not everyone does – just as not everybody wants to lead. Previously a technical person often just grew into a manager’s position. “We had extremely competent technical people who weren’t necessarily good managers.” But whatever they decide, everyone is still developed!
  • Deadweight people – victims – have left the company. Previously they did enough to check all the boxes and management couldn’t articulate what they were doing wrong. This bred a culture of mediocrity and discouraged new entrants.


  • Elliott’s Cape Town team numbers about 40; he believes that the system is scalable. A team of 900, for instance, should be divided up into groups according to geography, skills or other criteria. Singular Systems is a project-oriented company. In a more “continuous work” company the principles are the same, he says: look for the different components. “For instance, a farm needs preparation of the ground; preparation of the seed; planting; and harvesting. Hold people to account for each element.”
  • Of course there are external factors. In farming, for instance, even with the best intent you might be let down by the weather. If you don’t recognise this, it’s demotivating. You can only be held accountable to what is in your control.
  • “We work in an industry where there is a huge demand and competition for good people. In order to develop staff effectively, there is a significant time and cost associated with this – investment that leads to value creation but requires up front commitment and consistency. As a result, companies may be concerned that the investment is lost when people leave for other businesses. Our view is in line with the adage, ‘what happens if we train our staff and they leave?’ We say, ‘what happens if we don’t and they stay?’ We have accepted that there will be an attrition rate, but attrition rates have fallen in our division.”
  • “Many of the meetings with the Career Manager occur over a meal or coffee. Initially we asked the staff to select career managers. Later, with new recruits coming in we have had great people looking for opportunities to be Career Managers. They are also thereby steeped in the Legitimate Leadership Model.”
  • People define their own career path and Career Managers facilitate this. “There is a myth that if a company cares about people it has to give up caring about the money. But the two are not in opposition. They are actually aligned – and we communicate this to shareholders.”
  • Consistency is more effective than intensity. In other words, do consistent education, not big-bang. Education takes time and effort. “Going to the dentist doesn’t look after your teeth; brushing your teeth does.”
  • It’s not the mechanism of the performance management system, it’s the spirit, that matters.