Articles

Accountability Is A Huge Opportunity Which Most Businesses Are Missing

September 06, 2016 - By Ian Munro, Director, B Bus Sci (IS Hons) M Com (IS)

When was the last time somebody said they would do something … and didn’t? When was the last time a service provider failed to meet a basic commitment? Perhaps it was a small thing. But perhaps also, it set off a bigger chain of events.

And although it might have been “inconsequential”, it probably means you won’t trust that person or organisation again – certainly not with something important.

There is no business that I have consulted to that wouldn’t have experienced a significant improvement in performance if people just did what they said they would do.

I am about to take my car back to the same supplier to have the same issue addressed – for the third time. That doesn’t just cost me time, it also costs them money – money which I am sure they can ill-afford to be losing in 2016. I would be inclined to believe that the issue is bad luck, except that they also don’t seem to be able to do the simple things – like return calls as promised or log my details in their system. So I have become convinced that the problem is rooted deeper in the culture of the organisation.

I am sure everyone reading this has more than their fair share of similar stories, indicating that this kind of behaviour is part of the culture of many organisations.

But therein lies the opportunity for all organisations.

I’m sure that everyone has had the privilege of working with someone who is entirely dependable – they always deliver what they said they would. So just imagine that everyone was like that. The result would be fewer disappointed customers, a team where people truly trust and rely on one another, and a business environment that self-corrects and stops tolerating non-delivery.

At first it might seem like a distant dream for your organisation, and it might well be, but there are a few simple things you and your leadership team can do to get closer to it.

  1. Start caring about the right things. Legitimate leaders care about two things: people and results. Not “people for the results they produce”, but “people and the results they produce”. It’s important that leaders really understand this distinction. If leaders care exclusively about results, or only care about people as a means to achieving those results, then pretty soon those same people start to feel like “resources”. Resources that are being used up – tired, disinterested, disengaged, unwilling, and in need of ever increasing motivation (usually in the form of bigger incentives). “Resources” which are certainly not going the extra mile to meet mundane everyday commitments.

On the opposite end of the spectrum I’ve heard leaders say things like: “I don’t worry about the results, what I care about is people.” That’s a little like saying that you really care about your children – you’ve just never found it necessary to look at a single school report card. It’s inconsistent. If you care about people then you do care about the results they’re producing. After all, how else do you know how well they’re doing? Truly caring about people means that you care about the little things that enable human excellence. Things like being trustworthy, sticking to commitments and delivering on your promises.

  1. Stop giving people excuses/reasons for non-delivery. People relentlessly peddle countless reusable excuses for not delivering. These range from “I didn’t know it was due today” and “I didn’t realise I was supposed to do it”, to “Accounts says I don’t have authority I need to get the recon you want” and “I did my best, it’s not my fault”. The major problem with all of these is that they’re usually true … and almost always the leader’s fault.

Giving people access to these types of excuses because we didn’t create clarity, or set standards, or ensure they had the authority to get the data they needed, is simply sloppy and lazy leadership. And, as for the last one (“I did my best”) if you, as the leader, aren’t actually aware of whether someone’s “best” is good enough or not, then it’s your fault as much as it’s theirs when they fail to deliver.

  1. Deal with missed commitments quickly, appropriately, and at their source. We allow too many things to slide. A lot of the time people don’t even need to come up with excuses because we simply don’t raise the issue of non-delivery at all. Again, it’s the leaders who tend to be at fault here. One can hardly blame the underperformer for not raising his/her own underperformance!

When we do raise it at the annual performance discussion (and even then this is often only because we’re forced to as part of explaining a poor bonus amount/rating), it’s far too late. Non-delivery doesn’t happen conveniently once a year at the end of a performance cycle. Organisations will struggle to create accountable cultures for as long as it takes their leaders to start addressing issues courageously, quickly, and directly at their (almost always) human source.

  1. Reinforce the good and the great with recognition and reward. Recognition and reward are far too often overlooked, even by leaders who are courageous enough to deal with non-delivery issues as they arise, and at their source. The reasons for ignoring positive and “extra-mile” behaviour are plentiful – but most often they are rooted in leaders’ near obsessive focus on results over people. When we worry about results, we spend so much of our time focusing on the weakest link in the chain (the one which is most obviously negatively affecting the result), that the strongest links receive little to no attention – until they fail, that is.

Dealing with underperformance delivers, at best, acceptable performance under the watchful eye of the leader. Take the leader away and we’re back where we started. If we want sustained, innovative, exceptional giving in the workplace, we need to create a culture that recognises and rewards sustained, innovative, exceptional givers. And that requires leaders who recognise and reward these givers appropriately: attentive, generous, contribution-oriented, legitimate leaders.

Ian Munro
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