A topic that comes up regularly with my clients is how to build a culture of accountability in our organizations. Real leaders do not want to have to oversee every aspect of their business. They want to set a direction and have a staff that they can depend on to carry out that vision. Often, the problem lies in the leader themself. Many leaders do not truly delegate, or when they do it, they don’t do it very well. In this series, I am going to lean on a book called “The Oz Principle“, by Roger Connors, Tom Smith and Craig Hickman. I will discuss four steps to accountability that can be built in any organization. The first step to accountability is to “see it”. We can’t take accountability for a problem if we do not even recognize that it exists.
I see this often in businesses. Whether they have just been lulled into a state of complacency or that they simply don’t care, I see businesses that turn a blind eye to problems such as poor quality, lackluster performance, and poorly defined processes. Allow me to share an example for each of these. I know in each of these cases, the evidence was clearly present. But for some reason, the leaders (and peers) did not address the problems.
I was reminded recently of a project I was involved with several years ago. The project included high-end connectivity of state-of-the-art computer equipment. In order for the technology to work correctly, a number of networked devices had to be precisely designed, configured and installed. After several weeks of the customer complaining of inconsistent performance, I went down to the job site with the supervisor. We were stunned at the poor quality work that the technicians had performed. And what made it more frustrating was the number of eyes that had gone on that job site and had seen the work. The engineers that had done a great job of maticulously designing this system, did not once raise their hand and asked: “should we look at this?”. Clearly, no one on the team could see the problem.
I was working with a sales team that was consistently underperforming. After listening to the salespeople and their manager explain their processes and describe how they were doing *everything* right. Obviously, there were issues other than them that were causing them to not get the results they were expecting. After all, they were charming, well dressed and professional. They were exhibiting typical “victim” behaviors, blaming anyone but themselves for their performance.
I decided to go out with their sales director on a couple of client visits in order to get the client’s perspective. The first client we visited was very cordial. He explained that he was satisfied with the company’s performance. When asked why he didn’t use the company for his newer projects, he said that he had no idea that they even worked with those technologies. The salesman visited him regularly but had never had a capabilities conversation!
We then went on to another client visit. This client was even more enthusiastic about the company’s past performance. However, when discussing their latest project, the sales director asked why they had not been selected. The client looked very perplexed and said: “we would have loved to choose you, but you did not bid on the job”. It turns out that the salesman had failed to deliver the bid package, even though a team of engineers and management had labored hard to win the project.
The lackluster performance of this sales team was obvious. There was no accountability. And furthermore, the company’s management had turned a blind eye and had not acknowledged the performance issues that were so clearly identified with just a few meetings.
I had a client that was not satisfied with the performance of one of their product lines. The CEO asked me to look at the program and integrate it into the strategic planning platform we had built for the company. When I met with the manager hired to build the program, I was shocked to find not a process, but a bunch of sales jargon intended to drive sales. There was no process. No flow of information. There wasn’t even a clear designation of roles and responsibilities!
In a few short hours, we were able to document the process flow, identify the pinch points where the process stalled, and most importantly, identify the critical time wasters that were causing the process to be a net loss to the company, instead of a financial gain.
Why don’t they see it?
So why do smart, talented, passionate people completely ignore the “elephant in the room”? How can an engineer, a sales manager or a CEO not see the fact that something is sorely amiss in their organization?
I believe there are three reasons:
- Blinded by their passion
- Fear of facing reality
- Not wanting to accept responsibility
Blinded by their passion
When you believe in something. I mean, really believe in a concept, you want it to succeed. You want to believe in all your heart, mind and soul that it is going to be a winner. I believe this was one of the key problems with both the engineers in the first example and the CEO in the latter.
The engineers loved the technical solution they had designed. They truly believed that this latest, greatest technology was going to be the coolest, gee-whizziest solution ever devised. And maybe it would be. But it had to be executed with precision. When the precision wasn’t there, the solution failed. And instead of looking at the obvious quality issues that they had previously overlooked, they began a finger-pointing campaign of misdirection and excuses.
The CEO truly was passionate about this line of business. And perhaps it will become a great profit center for the organization. But until critical problems are resolved, it will be an issue.
Fear of facing reality
No one wants to face the fact that their idea is flawed, or the employee they hired is not doing the job. Facing reality means you might have to go back to your boss, your investors or your employee and have a difficult conversation.
In the case of the sales manager, we had to dismiss the salesman who had obviously been not been following through on his commitments. Sadly, we also eventually had to dismiss the sales manager, who had continuously failed to hold the team members accountable.
Not wanting to accept responsibility
Recognizing issues exist is the first step. But to successfully move forward means that you have to accept responsibility and press forward. I believe each of these stories highlights a situation where the leader did not want to accept responsibility for something going wrong. Accepting responsibility also leads us into our next topic, “Own It”. Which I will cover in my next entry.
Step One: See It
Simple, right? Not always. If you have issues, you need to be honest with yourself. This all begins with self-awareness and the willingness to take a hard look in the mirror.