Tuesday, October 6, 2009


A recent article accused businesses of being far too passive-aggressive and went on to explain how unhealthy this is for our business future. I’ve often thought that many people seem to have an imaginary umbilical cord searching for a place to plug it back in. This is not only unhealthy for the individual; it drains our resources, and saps our organization’s vital energy.

If you doubt this, an on-line survey of 50,000 individuals from profit and non-profit organizations around the world revealed that, based on seven distinct organizational factors, China scored highest and Europe was a close second. Only three countries scored lower than the U.S. and they were Japan, Canada and Australia. The profiles examined an enterprise’s decision rights, information flow, motivators, and structure.

All of these realms are the responsibility of management, not individuals. Managers are constantly trying to improve productivity through “accountability”, so let’s scrutinize what accountability is and what it is not.
  • Accountability is not an outcome or goal. 
  • Accountability is not abdicating responsibility for results. 
  • Accountability is a concept and as such – people can’t “do” accountability.
We constantly hear the following statement from managers when they are speaking to direct reports... “I’m holding you accountable for this.” 

Let’s parse this sentence. I’m holding you – [Translated: "This is about me and I have all the power – you have none."]

“Accountable” – [Translated: "I don’t trust you to be responsible enough to do this on your own, so I’m going to treat you as a child." ] Whooh!
I know, most managers don’t mean this, but I respectfully suggest that this is the thinking this phrase represents even when it’s sugar-coated. As a manager, you are not a person’s mother or father and they don’t need another parent to hold them accountable for their actions.

How to achieve true accountability

Effective management is not sexy – it’s a set of repeated, often boring habits. Most effective managers meet weekly (in some cases bi-weekly) with their direct reports. Managers have varied styles and personality traits, but conducting effective one-on-ones is a habit developed by a high percentage of effective managers regardless of their "style." 

The difference between effective and ineffective managers is not in the latest management books – it’s what the effective manager does and does not do. It’s not what they know, it’s about whether or not they repetitively display core competencies. By engaging in similar behaviours over time, effective managers master the fundamentals and one of the most important competencies is effectively conducting weekly one-on-ones with direct reports.

One-on-one’s are not just “talking” to people. It is a clearly structured process designed to produce predictable outcomes. It maintains robust communication between a manager and his/her direct reports.  

The way you stop putting out fires is to schedule and effectively engage in these focused conversations. Almost immediately people stop bringing small issues to you on a regular basis. They know they have a specific time with you weekly in which they can ask questions of you. 

The one-on-ones we suggest are more formal than informal. Experience tells us that if they are left informal, they lose their effectiveness. Some people try to keep their conversation records on a computer, we strongly recommend against this at first. You'll prepare faster and in a more focused way with a paper notebook or binder for each salesperson. 

Most people are not that good at communicating what they are doing and how well they are doing it. This one-on-one framework is designed to bring to the surface work issues and what we can do about them together. 

NEVER MISS a one-on one. Reschedule if absolutely necessary, but do not cancel the conversation. Part of this process is sending a genuine message to each person that they are important to us and to producing desired results together. Please don't whine about not having time to do this. You have all the time there is and effective managers treat their time as a precious resource. Once they do an honest time-log to determine where their time goes, most managers reveal a great deal of “reactive” rather than “pro-active” activities. What else could you do with your time that would produce more value than focused, results-oriented on-on-one's with your direct reports?

Having the "right" attitude?

In coaching for performance, focus on behaviours, not attitudes. Yes, attitudes are important and vital part of a person’s success (or lack of it). However, we cannot actually see an attitude. We only see behaviour. The organization has every right to request certain behaviours of the people representing them. People can adjust their behaviour, and, when they do, this often impacts their attitude. However, if you begin by focusing on “attitude”, you are subject to speculation, interpretation, miscommunication and strong push-back. 
For example, an employee was accused of being “aloof".. She denied this, and clearly stated she did not feel she was above everyone else. However, others saw her this way and this perception was effecting performance. When her manager described the behaviours that seemed to cause others to make this assumption, and gave her specific alternate behaviours that clearly represented her genuine personality, she immediately made the adjustment. Imagine the disastrous effect of her manager trying to "change her attitude?"

The lesson here is clear; to dramatically improve performance, coach for adjusted behaviours, not attitudes.

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