It was with interest that I recently read an article in the Harvard Business Review that was discussing survey results that found management are not skilled at accountability.
This is not referring to a blaming culture, but rather an internal process whereby if something or someone fails there is a process of accountability to lead to a culture of continuous improvement.
I’m sure most of you would have been in a situation where a colleague is seemingly just coasting along. They don’t seem to contribute anything of substance, and when they do contribute it is inevitably a negative result.
How did it make you feel? Frustrated. Underappreciated?
These feelings are not uncommon and lead to thought processes of ‘why should I try so hard if he/she doesn’t have to?
Effective human resources management can go a long way to developing a culture of accountability.
There are many examples of where accountability has led to a change in culture, sustained and continuous improvement. Here a couple of these examples:
Failure to Launch
A product manager is accountable for a new product launch, it does not launch well. Market feedback indicates that the product is too expensive; customer perception of the product is that it doesn’t meet performance requirements. The manager has a choice – blame sales, the team, the economic climate, the competitor’s product … and so the list goes on. Or, the manager can be truly accountable and fix the real problem.
The choice made, so the manager reviews the product launch information, meets with the responsible key personnel to analyse the reasons for failure. An evidence-based approach is used and determines that costing was inaccurate and pricing can therefore be modified. Customer perceptions were skewed due to some inaccurate information in the marketing material.
Ultimately, the two issues are fixed and the product is relaunched successfully. The product launch process is modified to include critical review points to prevent the problem from recurring.
A supervisor has a team of construction workers in the field. The project deadlines are repeatedly missed and the job is way off schedule. The project owner is calling the supervisor’s company to berate them and starts to mention liquidated damages. The Managing Director sends lots of emails to the supervisor. Heated phone calls are exchanged daily.
Management is not aware that most of the “supervision” happens from the site shed in front of the laptop. The supervisor’s role is mainly about chasing project paperwork from the office, filling in paper-based forms and spreadsheets with a bunch of lagging indicators and updating charts that no one seems to read or care about. Because everything is always behind schedule the supervisor spends most of the day fighting fires and fixing errors.
There is no measurable, documented objective or target around leading, communicating or team productivity. How can the supervisor be held truly accountable for team productivity and deadlines if there is no clear connection to supervision activities?
The Managing Director decides to go to site to get a handle on the problem and after having a more reasoned discussion with the supervisor about productivity sets three realistic and meaningful targets. The supervisor agrees to the targets as long as the Managing Director supports the process.
- A short daily prestart meeting with the workers to review project progress and plan the day’s activities.
- Increase on the job and face-to-face communication by at least 5 hours per week
- Project weekly deliverables initially of 85% increasing to 95% within two weeks
The Managing Director sets a personal objective of visiting each working site at least once per week to review project deliverables progress. The Managing Director reviews the company’s heavy reliance on outdated project and management system reporting requirements and streamlines the process.
These examples show the positives that can come from a negative – if only people are prepared to take accountability and fix the problems.
Some tips we have to help you, your managers and your team be more accountable include:
- Developing clear and measureable KPIs
- Scheduling reviews of KPIs
- Training for managers to ensure they can have those tough conversations
- Communication on the objectives of the organisation
- Document meaningful objectives and targets
- Effective processes to ensure day-to-day tasks are completed
- Using 360 degree reviews
- Get amongst your team’s workplaces regularly
- Simplify and streamline associated reporting processes
If you’d like learn more about accountability in your workplace, please get in touch with BusinessBasics Australia.
Adam McDean is the Managing Director of BusinessBasics Australia, a progressive, forward-thinking business consultancy firm, specialising in Business Management Systems and services to organisations of all sizes, with a specialty in small-to-medium sized enterprises (SMEs).
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