Managing Accountability

“Accountability breeds response-ability.” — Stephen R. Covey.

Many of the organizations I see today reflect our society’s tendency to blame other people, act like a victim, and generally not take responsibility for our own actions. This lack of accountability is a problem in the workplace because it is unproductive, it negatively impacts employee engagement and it leads to poor results.

A productive workplace requires every employee to be held accountable for his or her actions. This begins with the leader and it needs to be modeled and practiced in all employee supervision.

In Denny F. Strigl’s new book “Managers, Can You Hear Me Now? Hard Hitting Lessons on How to Get Real Results,” the former CEO and president of Verizon Wireless offers many lessons on how managers fail and how they can improve.

Specifically, Strigl sees nine reasons managers struggle:

  1. They fail to build trust and integrity
  2. They have the wrong focus
  3. They don’t model or build accountability
  4. The fail to consistently reinforce what’s important
  5. They overrely on concensus
  6. They focus on being popular
  7. They get caught up in their self-importance
  8. They put their heads in the sand
  9. They fix problems, no causes

What I see common in all of these is that they are about specific behaviors. It’s no wonder research has shown that the single most important factor in success is not education, intelligence, experience and technical expertise. It is behavior.

Exceptional managers create positive results by specific behaviors that are consistently repeated day in and day out until they become a habit.

Accountability is the specific behavior that stands out for me and Strigl has what he calls eight accountability techniques that can be helpful.

1.      The Surprise Visit – Hopefully this will catch employees doing something well and provides an opportunity to commend them. However, it also helps managers identify what’s not being done well and rectify it right then and there before it can be covered up.

2.      The Unexpected Follow-Up Phone Call – When someone on your staff tells you something they are working on, don’t let it slide until the next time he or she brings it up. Make an unscheduled call and ask them about the progress to show you listened and are holding them accountable for it

3.      Coaching – As a manager, there is a coaching opportunity in every interaction with your staff that can have accountability attached to it. Practice coaching with accountability included until it becomes an instinctive management habit and is a part of every interaction.

4.      The 5:15 Report – This is a simple reporting system should take no more than 5 minutes for you to read and 15 minutes for an employee to prepare. Examples of what to include in such a report are: progress on goals, plans and pojects; emerging long-term issues; emerging short-term problems; improvement ideas; accomplishments achieved; business opportunities; unexpected events.

5.      The Performance Agreement – This is essentially a method for documenting what a manager and direct report agree the employee will accomplish over a specific period of time. To be effective, it should be simple and leave no room for misunderstanding. This can help directly measure one’s accountability.

6.      The Operations Review – This enables senior level managers the ability to review all functions within an organization, the performances of specific managers of those functions, the results managers have achieved, and the plans they have to reach future goals. It demonstrates accountability organization-wide.

7.      The Performance Appraisal – Often dreaded by both managers and employees, this should be a fine opportunity to review 1) the goals the employee met or exceeded; 2) the goals the employee has not met; 3) the manager’s recommendations concerning what the employee should do to meet his or her goals. It should be a helpful conversation that encourages accountability.

8.      The Performance Improvement Plan – This plan clarifies issues the employee is encountering or goals that he or she is missing and sets up a course of action for improvement. For the employee this can be a wake up call. The manager must be helpful, set a clear deadline, make it measurable, and support the employee through the process.

Exceptional managers are able to delegate accountability to their staff and remain accountable themselves. This accountability must be modeled continually in word, attitude and action.

In the same way children will ignore parents’ words when their behavior does not match, employees constantly monitor their manager’s behaviors to find congruence.

“When a manager is not accountable, commitments slide,” writes Strigl. “Decisions don’t get made. Responsibilities are not fulfilled. Worst of all, results are not delivered.”

And accountability is the tool that enables managers to deliver results, says Strigl.

What about you and your organization? Are you and the people who report to you held accountable? Is accountability a core value in your workplace?

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About Mark Craemer
Craemer Consulting specializes in workplace communication, organization development and leadership coaching.

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