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Hi there, and welcome to episode 19 of the No Bullsh!t Leadership podcast. This episode, Execution for Results, a.k.a Driving accountability in your team.
Now, any number of things can sub-optimise execution inside an organisation. One of the most insidious is a weak accountability culture. So whereas lack of strategy, planning, and resourcing are relatively obvious, a weak accountability model is not always apparent to senior management and this will work against virtually anything you're trying to achieve.
So we're going to start by talking about what a weak accountability culture looks like. We'll then talk about what drives this weak accountability culture, and then we'll talk about the principle of one head to pet, one ass to kick. How do you get superior execution through setting up the right accountabilities inside your organisation? So let's get into it.
For the last several years, management is sort of out of vogue and leadership is all the rage. And people like to make these big black and white distinctions between leadership and management. To tell you the truth, I can't separate the two. You can't be a good manager unless you can lead and you can't be a good leader unless you can manage. And when we start talking about accountability for execution, this sits smack bang in between both disciplines, but try executing an accountability model if you're a weak leader. You simply can't do it.
Let's start by looking at what a weak accountability culture actually looks like. So the first thing is, it's driven by the need for consensus or unanimity. So, in other words, many decisions are made by committees and a lot of people get around a table to have a discussion, and eventually, either it becomes anonymous or a consensus will rule and will go down a particular path. And this is often cloaked in the noble quest for diversity or collaboration, but diversity and collaboration don't mean anything like weak accountability structures.
Weak accountability cultures are also characterised by the all care, no responsibility approach, and you can see people thriving in these cultures where they're very, very happy to throw their two bob's worth in, and in fact, sometimes insist that they have a right of veto, but they're not prepared to step into a space and make a decision that can then be criticised by others.
A weak accountability culture is also characterised by a lack of empowerment. So people don't feel as though they have right or the support to do the things they need to do to execute successful decisions. If you want a test as a leader, whether or not your accountability structures are strong, start asking this one simple question. When anything is being discussed as an issue or decision needing to be made, ask the question, "Who's accountable for that?" And you want to be fired back at you immediately, a single name. That's what you want.
To have a proper accountability model it has to be very clear to everyone who's making a decision, who's running the show, and whose actually got to get the result. Who's being held accountable for delivery? I just want to qualify this though by saying it doesn't mean that the single accountable person is the only person that has to have input or that they make any decision in isolation. In fact, most decisions can't be made well unless they involve different people from different disciplines and different ways of thinking, but it does mean that ultimately, when push comes to shove, you've got one person who carries the can and who makes the call.
The problem with a weak accountability culture is that it is a cancer that consumes management. No one's willing to put their neck on the line, no one makes a hard call, and everything just slows down, and in fact, in most organisations, decision making tempo is a critical component of being successful, and in a weak accountability culture, the decision making tempo is glacial. It's characterised by endless meetings with no clear conclusions and actions coming out of them.
Hey, guys. Em here. While we're talking about clear actions, I want you spring into action and grab 2019 by the horns. If you haven't done our free, five lesson Leadership Level Up masterclass yet, pause this episode and sign up for it now. We recommend doing one of the five minute lessons per day to really let the insights sink in. Head over to courses.yourceomentor.com and get started. Alright, back to the episode. This one is a cracker.
All sounds pretty serious, right? So what is it that drives a weak accountability culture? Because these things just don't happen. They grow over time because culture's just the way we do things around here, and so weak accountability becomes part of the culture and that's the way we do things, and it means that management at all levels has to ignore what's going on to a certain extent and not demand that people put in place the strong single point accountabilities that you need to execute successfully.
The first problem we see is lack of empowerment. So in other words, people are given tasks, but they're not given the empowerment to make the decisions and do the things that they need to do in order to successfully deliver those tasks. It means that other people can chime in and sabotage things, not intentionally and not maliciously, but just because they have different points of view. And sometimes the leadership above doesn't support the individual whose been given the job and so they're not empowered to get the results. That's like sending someone in to fight 12 rounds with Mike Tyson and tying both your hands behind their back. It's absolutely the worst thing you can do to break someone's spirit and to make them cynical about the way the leadership of the organisation operates.
Another underlying driver of weak accountability cultures is a poorly executed and led structure. Every organisation has a hierarchal structure, but if it isn't made clear to people, who's actually doing what within in that structure, then confusion reigns supreme. People don't know whose job it is to do what and who has decision rights and the final call on key issues and that's why this can be so damaging.
The next thing that really drives a weak accountability culture is micromanagement and we've spoken before about micromanagement and how it disempowers people. As soon as you step in to do the work of someone below you, or to make decisions on their behalf, you're basically raising accountability up to yourself, and what that does is it lets everyone below you off the hook. They can't be held accountable for things that they don't have control over.
Another driver of weak accountability is the fear and distrust of management. So, if your people feel as though they're going to be punished if they get something wrong, or they're not going to be supported if they make a poor decision, then obviously they're going to hesitate and avoid decisions because they've got to trust you to support them. With accountability comes empowerment, comes support, and if you can't give your people all of those things, they will distrust you and they be fearful of moving forward.
Finally, one of the unseen drivers of a weak accountability culture is the lack of individual differentiation of your people. Now, this is a major tenant of the labour union movement, that everyone be treated identically. And when I say identically, I mean that everyone's treated the same way regardless of their individual performance or individual behaviours. Now, that's completely ethinamate to everything I believe in.
Obviously, everyone has to be treated equitably and fairly without exception, but people still need to be accountable for the way they behave and they perform personally because they're making individual choices, and if you put everyone in the same bucket, like a big blancmange, then no one is going to step out and take accountability. They will spread the accountability amongst the whole work group and not pass it every to a single individual.
Now, this is one of the toughest things I had to overcome in the turn around of CS Energy. A lot of lower level leaders were simply not willing to hold their people to account for poor behaviour because of this we're all in together philosophy that protects the individual and also sub-optimises the group. The biggest danger is that, when it comes to things like safety, it's so important that individuals take accountability for the role that they play in keeping themselves and their work mates safe. So, I used to get pretty passionate about this stuff.
Let's move on and talk about the principle of one head to pat, one ass to kick. By the way, they both have to belong to the same person. The key to successful execution is crystal clear accountability. Everyone in the organisation needs to know who's accountable for delivering which bits, and therefore, they have the decision rights on them.
So, the first step is to actually assign accountabilities during the planning process, but let's talk about how to support the accountable people so that we build a strong accountability culture inside the organisation. I've got six things I'm going to run through that are you going to help you set up the right accountability model within your organisation and this is, of course, going to be a free downloadable. At the end of this podcast, you can pick it up at www.yourceomentor.com/episode19.
So number one, clarity of role demarkation. Who's doing what around the accountable person? So you've obviously got someone accountable, but quite often, a lot of people contribute to the outcome that accountable person has to achieve. You've got to delegate to the lowest possible level, but it has to be appropriate for the culture and many cultures don't support low level delegation just because of the leadership style. There's no point in pushing something right down to the front line supervisor only to find out that they're getting second guessed all the time by their manager.
But think particularly about functional matrix organisations. So for example, when it comes to operational risk, that's owned in the operation's division, but it's supported by the central risk and compliance area, or make it really clear who gets to make the call. You're being supported by central risk and compliance. They will give you advice, they will guide you, and they'll provide expertise, but it's your call.
This second thing that's going to help you to set the right accountability culture in place is to make the assignment of decision rights a fluid negotiation with your people. So it's clear that the accountable person gets the call, but they've got to get the call on the right things. The environment's got to be right for them to be successful. You need to negotiate the targets and the deliverables based on the resourcing that you're able to and prepared to give them.
So don't second guess the accountable person. If you're not happy, discuss it with them. If you're still not happy, think about reassigning accountability, but never cut across the accountability of a leader. And when you're setting the targets, make sure that they're comfortable with them as well and that they agree that they're sensible because, otherwise, you'll send them off on a suicide mission.
The third thing, which we've already touched on, is resourcing, and the door swings both ways on this one. Just because you make someone accountability for something doesn't mean they get a blank check to delivery it. No one gets unlimited resources because the only thing I know for sure about your organisation is that you don't have enough time, money, or people to do all the things that you would ideally like to do.
So you have to make choices and you have to ration your resources, but people who are accountable need to be adult enough to ask for what they need. They've got to come to you and identify their shortfalls in resourcing and they need to be able to put a sensible case forward for it. You need to be able to negotiate the targets based on the resourcing because, quite often, you can't provide additional resources, but you can make compromises about what the final deliverable looks like and that's going to make it achievable.
Number four, set realistic expectations for your accountable people. Don't ask for or expect the impossible and this is a really simple one, but you'd be surprised how often I see leaders break this. Think about excellence over perfection and other result killers, and if you're asking for perfect results, it doesn't matter how well resourced your accountable person is, they're not going to be able to achieve what you think you want.
Number five is communication, but actually let me qualify that. Number five is continuous communication, make it really clear what's expected of the accountable person, and this requires coaching, challenging, and confronting, and you've going to be able to do this with your people all the time to make sure you understand what they're doing, they understand your expectations of them, and they'll know how they're going against those expectations and that you're stretching them appropriately.
This is about leadership support, and this is one of the reasons I say that this is all about leadership, not really about management, but to do this effectively, you have to ask loads of questions. Things like, “Do you know what you need to get after?" Or, "How do you see your priorities panning out?" "Are you resourced for success?" Or, if not, "What concessions or trade offs do you need to make and what other options have you considered?" "If you can only deliver one thing, what would it be?"
So, in other words, you want to ask enough questions where you can elicit the thinking of the accountable person so that they can describe the environment they're operating in, and if you do that and if you challenge them appropriately and if you push them in the right direction, you're going to get outstanding results.
Finally, number six is empowerment, and the number one rule here is really simple. Get out of their way and let them do what you've paid them to do. I think I've said a few times, you don't buy a dog and then bark yourself. One of the great leadership cliches and platitudes is that you hire great people and then get out of their way. Well, that's sort of true, but what you do is you hire really good people and then you make it clear what the role demarcation is, you make the assignment of decision rights of fluid negotiation, you resource them appropriately, you set realistic expectations, you constantly communicate with them, and then you get out of their way.
Much more likely to succeed, but when it comes to decision rights, don't ever step across your people's decision rights if you want them to hold full accountability. Support them when they're challenged, and as long as they're listening and within reason, you can let them go and be their best.
Alright. That brings us to the end of episode 19. To pick up the free downloadable, Six Steps to Creating a Strong Accountability Culture, go to www.yourceomentor.com/episode19. Thanks so much for joining us and, remember, at Your CEO Mentor our purpose is to improve the quality of leaders globally. So if you like this episode, please subscribe to the podcast through your favourite app and give it a rating so that we can reach even more leaders.
I'll look forward to next week's episode, Making Great Decisions, and I'm going to deal with the people side of making great decisions. How do you get the most out of the people you have around you so that your holistic decision making improves?
So until then, I know you'll do everything you can to be a No Bullsh!t Leader.