Seventh in a series of Seven Essential Executive Skills. For the other articles in the series, click this link: Seven Essential Executive Skills.
How do you measure leadership effectiveness?
I got my first job when I was 15. I was a bag boy. I carried out customer’s groceries at a local grocery store. If I got lucky, I got to chase stray carts around the parking lot.
I would wander far and wide, searching for stray carts.
It beat bagging groceries.
I hated it.
Actually, I just hated working. I hated having to do things.
For my next few jobs, I looked for opportunities that seemed to require the least amount of work.
I was not a model employee.
Then, when I was 19, I helped start a coffee shop with two other friends.
It was an enormous amount of work. I was involved in everything. I worked all the time.
I basically lived at work.
I loved it.
I also had staff. I managed roughly 30 people.
Suddenly, I began to understand the frustrations previous managers had expressed towards me.
“Ohhhh, that’s why ________ (being thorough, getting things done on time, not hiding, being friendly, etc) matters!”
I had never known.
I felt ownership. It changed my life.
Creating Ownership & Accountability
One of the greatest leadership accomplishments is the ability to create a culture of ownership and accountability.
As a consultant, I’ve found that the clients who best create cultures of ownership and accountability are also the most productive and profitable.
Conversely, the clients who didn’t, weren’t.
Ownership & Accountability Are Related but Not the Same
Ownership, on its own, is the belief that I own my results.
Accountability, on its own, is the relationship of being responsible to others for my results.
They are related concepts but not the same.
I can own my results but not feel responsible to or for others. Conversely, I can feel an overwhelming responsibility, but not own the results.
Creating Ownership & Accountability
There is something about this topic just seems to generate hesitation, fumbles or overly aggressive behavior.
Over my last twenty-five plus years of leadership experience – I’ve made all the mistakes. I’ve also learned what works.
The Five Common Errors of Ownership & Accountability
Not Giving Ownership: Whether delegating a task to an individual or goals to a division – giving ownership includes giving decision making authority and some kind of share in the risk/reward for performance.
Avoidance or Neglect: Many people in leadership just avoid or neglect to create the structures of ownership and accountability. They forget to set deadlines. They don’t assign or clarify responsibilities.
Micromanagement: Many leaders try to lead through remote control. This is often an expression of perfectionism. Which is an expression of a fear of failure.
No, Follow Through: Many leaders forget to follow-through on tracking accountability. If they see things are off track, they don’t move to bring them back. This is usually due to a lack of personal accountability on the part of the leader. Sometimes it is due to a fear of confrontation with employees.
Misaligned: It’s common for organizations to set conflicting goals. A division leader may be financially incentivized to keep overall personnel costs low. Staff may be financially incentivized to improve performance. If staff all improve their performance, it will raise personnel costs, causing the division leader to lose her incentive.
The Four Benefits
Improves productivity & efficiency: Ownership and accountability prevent the wandering and ‘job creep’ that is so common. Good accountability systems should actually serve staff by helping them stay focused on priorities.
Decreases management load: When employees feel ownership and accountability, they tend to self-manage more effectively. This allows their managers to focus more on more strategic questions.
Increases personal initiative: Employees who feel ownership and are provided with accountability tend to become even more motivated. They tend to solve problems that they discover instead of waiting for someone else. They pay attention to what will benefit the company as a whole – not just their own department or team.
Improves moral: Workplaces with a strong culture of ownership and accountability are motivating places to work. People are creative, they are doers, they are problem solvers. They get a share in the reward.
Five Ingredients to Create Ownership
Shape the Person: The more skilled a person is, the higher their work ethic is, the more experience they have with a certain challenge or process – the easier it is for them to take ownership.
If you are working with people who haven’t developed skills, a work ethic or experience, part of your role is to actually create people who are abler because of working with you than they were before.
This usually requires an intentional process of coaching and setting smaller, more achievable goals and providing appropriate levels of responsibility.
The more ready someone is, the larger the goals and responsibility can be. For many people, the ability to carry a goal that feels a little large will create that growth if given support.
Shape Outcomes: By outcomes, I mean the ultimate goal that is being pursued. It might be increasing profitability, reducing costs, accomplishing a mission goal or anything else.
The ability to shape outcomes is key to creating ownership. This doesn’t mean that people always get to choose their outcomes or even have the final say. But it does mean that the people who are closest to making the outcomes possible are meaningfully included in shaping what those outcomes will look like.
Shape Means: By means, I’m suggesting that employees work best when they can help answer the question, “How will this be done?” This works best when they know what the “edges of the sandbox” look like. These are the hard limits like budget, time, number of personnel or anything else that might exist.
Employees who are able to shape the outcome and then given appropriate freedom to decide how to achieve that outcome will perform more effectively.
Even in jobs were “how” something will be done is very prescribed, it’s helpful if employees have an opportunity to provide feedback. The people on the front lines have a valuable perspective on what seems to work and what doesn’t.
Share Authority: To the degree that it is appropriate and possible, helping people and teams to make good decisions for themselves makes everything else easier.
You can do this by ensuring that they have the necessary background knowledge and skills. You can also make it easier by having very clear organizational value and decision-making principles.
Organizations that define their values and how to apply them find that they provide guidance to everyone else. When priorities are clear, it’s far easier for others to make decisions independently.
Share Risk & Rewards: Many of my early jobs allowed me to share the risk of poor performance but not the reward of exemplary performance. It really didn’t matter how well I did my job. I wouldn’t hear about it. If I heard anything, it was usually only if I was doing badly.
In some work environments, there is a high toleration for low performers. This is dramatically demoralizing for others who will often feel like they are having to pick up their slack.
In some workplaces, employees are not meaningfully rewarded for performance. People who feel recognized and valued for their contributions are more likely to keep contributing. They also become part of the process that shapes a culture of performance.
Four Ingredients for Accountability
The practice of accountability is largely about creating systems of measurement.
Define Performance Outcomes: Outcomes are well-defined, and achievement is tied to clear metrics.
Behaviors: When you know what outcomes are desired, you can work to define the kinds of behaviors that will result in those outcomes.
This is similar to setting fitness goals. If my goal is to run a marathon, the behaviors (training regimen) will be different than if my goal is to deadlift 500 lbs.
First, define the desired outcome – then define the behaviors needed to achieve that outcome.
Responsibility (For Teams): When working with individuals, it should be clear that the individual is responsible. However, when working with teams, responsibility is often lost. This usually happens in one of two ways:
- Either “we” will be responsible. Which is the same thing as no one will be responsible. Or…
- One (or a few) people end up getting all the responsibility for everything.
To avoid this, make sure that each task has one (only one) person who is ultimately responsible that a task will be accomplished. Others may work on it. But one is responsible.
Also, keep track of who is carrying responsibilities and who isn’t. Make sure to readjust workloads if it looks like some people aren’t carrying their weight.
Timelines/Markers: Always define when something is due or when a report on progress will be made. For larger tasks or projects, define what partial progress would look like. Only use percentages if it is clear what 33% or 50% done includes.
Is It Worth the Effort?
Workplaces that are considering the shift to building a more engaged and accountable workforce often feel like it isn’t worth the effort. “It’s faster to just do it myself.” “It’s faster if I just work with these three people I can trust.”
In my experience, every single workplace that has taken the time to build ownership and establish systems of accountability has more than recouped their time and investment. None of them wonder if its worth the effort.
They all know the effort is what made everything else easier.
Take good care,
An Opportunity for Personal Strategy Session: Would you like to talk to me, one-on-one, about how you could rapidly gain confidence or build your influence as a leader? Or perhaps you’d like to increase your ability to accomplish your priorities, decrease your unwanted workload, boost your profits or do more of what you love?
Curious? Contact me:
During this complimentary call I’ll help you identify:
- The priorities that will matter most for you in 2018
- What challenges you’ll need to prepare for to meet those priorities.
- What resources you have at your disposal to help you succeed.
- What, if anything, I can offer you that will help you ensure your success.
Contact me to learn more: email@example.com or 907 522-7200.