You cannot maximize the impact of people in your organization without effective accountability. Where accountability is sporadic or poorly implemented, there is always potential left unachieved. This is represented by increased waste and cost, inefficiency and unhappy customers, to name a few. The fact is people contribute more to the success or failure of an organization than anything else. Where organizational excellence is concerned people are both the solution and the barrier to that objective.
Even if it takes a while our people can usually figure out what excellence looks like and then communicate it in ways that other people can understand. The challenge is and has always been, getting people to conform.
We so desperately need conformance to our best methods but everything that makes us human conspires against us, we have a tendency to make mistakes or deviate from best practice. To deal with this we work hard to human proof our processes, but even so, our organizations are people dependent. Just how people dependent we are is manifested by how many people we employ. If your company has 500 employees, you are people dependent to the tune of 500.
Bottom line, our people are the least predictable of our assets. If you manage to perfect everything else within the scope of your control, the people you hire and manage will make mistakes, fail to follow procedures, forget things, misunderstand your instructions, get distracted, become sick, fail to do the math correctly… and the list goes on. If you could fix your people where these issues are concerned, everything else falls into place.
To reduce waste and defective performance we look to Lean and Six Sigma. Using these methodologies we insert, into our organizations, the best systems our cleverest minds can come up with. But these tools are designed to fix our processes, processes which are often people dependent for their implementation and therein is the problem. Lean and Six Sigma are said to have an implementation failure rate of over 60%. Google this for yourself and you will find the same articles I came across, see a small sample below:
Isixsigma.com, May 13, 2011, by Randy Woods.
“Some recent studies say that failure rates for Lean programs range between 50 percent and 95 percent.”
sixsigmadaily.com, May 19th 2014, by Allen Graves
“…nearly 60% of all corporate Six Sigma initiatives fail to consistently meet their objectives… The advanced statistical analysis, sophisticated diagnostic tools and rigorous metrics of the Six Sigma methodology alone do not guarantee success. Six Sigma success relies heavily on human factors.”
virtual.auburnworks.org, August 14, 2010, by Henry Burdg
“Out of every 100 companies who undertake the process, [lean manufacturing] 96 either fail or quit within 18 months”.
Lean and Six Sigma are not the only things to suffer as a consequence of the human factor within our organizations: you have goals and objectives to be met, values to be adhered to, processes followed, standards conformed to, customers satisfied, tasks to be done, waste reduced, morale improved, profits increased and a more dynamic management team working in your midst. People play their part in all these issues, but people hate change. How do we improve if we don’t change? Old habits are hard to break, yet continuous improvement – our life blood – is all about changing old habits.
To conclude that all your problems will be solved via your systems and processes is to set yourself up to fail. Processes are pointless unless they are conformed to. To truly move into the realms of organizational excellence there has to be a dual approach which focuses on both the system and the people. It therefore stands to reason that organizational excellence is about perfecting systems and people. It’s a journey that never ends, but we cannot claim to be intent on organizational excellence and not be on that two fold journey.
To succeed where your processes and systems are concerned you can look to the standard continuous improvement tools. To succeed where your people are concerned there needs to be some binding interaction between expectations and results… accountability.
One of my clients hired project managers to oversee Wrought Iron construction projects. They created job packages which included CAD designs, material lists, completion dates and so on. Between the eight project managers they hired they averaged about 100 errors, mistakes and omissions from those job packages a week. Most of these were minor, like no due date or a missing phone number, but some were major dimensional or material list errors. They had checks and balances to attempt to catch these, but too many mistakes got through into production at great cost to them and disruption to their customers. Within six months these errors were reduced by more that 95 percent. The biggest reduction of 75% occurred within a week of introducing, what I call, the Micro Accountability approach.
Typically I averaged an 80 percent reduction in people related defective performance across industries such as: manufacturing, warehousing, distribution, call centers, healthcare, sales, steel services to name a few. The results were consistent. So much so that I provided a money back guarantee should I not deliver, not many consultants will do that. No matter who I worked for the object was always the same: get people to follow processes more accurately, meet objectives and goals more consistently, improve conformance to company values, work more safely and change to better methods as needed.
To help you understand how this can be done you need to understand this simple rule: The more you seek the pursuit of excellence, the more you need to own your defective performance. Remember, excellence is the absence of defective performance.
Let me explain it this way: Think of any world class sports team and there are two elements which are essential to its success: great coaches and the ability of the team’s participants to be coached. I like to draw a few comparisons with the NFL, because they pursue excellence and are extremely people dependent for their success. We can learn a great deal about how they approach the development of their people.
When players perform well great coaches know that this can never go unnoticed. They know it is critically important to offer praise and appreciation whenever it is merited.
But what happens when mistakes are made, or players perform badly? The truth is that every game is carefully scrutinized and every detail evaluated to find every training opportunity that can be found. They know that if there is a training need that they miss it can become a weakness for the entire team in future games, so they literally harvest every error, poor play or failure to follow instructions that they possibly can and respond to each of them by training, coaching, accountability and practice.
Mistakes are never welcome, but are never ignored. Players work in a culture where they don’t hesitate to own their mistakes and short comings, coaching has little impact unless they do that. It makes no difference if the team wins or loses, there is always something to be learned. In fact, the difference between a winning and losing team is sometimes down to who makes the fewest mistakes. Those teams who fail to seek out and work on their weaknesses fail to succeed.
There is much that we can learn from this approach. In fact the methods used by the NFL hold the keys to organizational excellence anywhere that people interface with a task or process or where they need to meet some expectation. The company Partners in Leadership hit the nail on the head with The Oz Principle: See it, own it, fix it, and do it now!
So, what has any of this got to do with accountability and why is this important in the pursuit of organizational excellence?
Accountability is the binding interaction between expectations and results, that when used correctly, drives organizations to levels of conformance that cannot be achieved in any other way.
If you set expectations but have no means to hold people to those expectations they can become meaningless. Nothing is more powerful in moving people towards a specified outcome than a correctly implemented and administered accountability method. Where accountability is sporadic right there is where you will find missed opportunity in achieving essentials such as world class customer service, a solid safety record, or organizational excellence.
A fair question might be: who is it that needs to be held accountable? I guess the answer is everyone. However, there are some critical issues or tasks in every organization that need special attention. Let’s go back to our NFL analogy. We have established the following essentials: 1) find/harvest the weaknesses. 2) Coach/train to deal with the weaknesses. You can’t fix what you don’t know about and when you know what needs to be fixed whose job is that? The coach. Who’s the coach in our case? Our coaches are our leads, supervisors and managers. Holding these folks accountable for performing their coaching role should be an absolute to get the results I have described above.
What about the players, or in our case our employees? Our employees can make mistakes for a number of reasons not all of which require accountability as part of the interaction. It’s important to understand what type of situation needs what approach. The table below outlines four general reasons why employees fail to conform to what is expected of them and how we might respond.
I can’t go into too much detail here, but I am sure that you will understand that if mistakes occur due to a lack of training we would not hold an employee accountable for failing to have the skills we failed to provide them with. Why waste time training an employee who has the necessary skills, but made an honest mistake, something we all do; in that situation we would coach. When expectations are not met because we are asking the impossible, it would be soul destroying to hold an employee accountable for that, we, as managers have to adjust our expectations. If an employee chose not to follow a guideline or policy – poor follow up for past non-conformance sometimes gives employees the impression that some non-conformance doesn’t matter – this is the only scenario of the four examples where we would hold them accountable, because they have the training, know what to do, yet fail to conform.
Unlike training and coaching – which are the prerequisites to providing accountability – when we hold employees accountable we communicate a non-negotiable insistence that the system is followed. We set clear expectations, monitor future performance and follow up to ensure conformance. Under these circumstances we nearly always drive through the change in behavior we are seeking.
In every instance of employee interaction, for whatever the reason, we always treat those being trained, coached, or held accountable with complete respect. Our purpose is to build our employees and empower them to do their tasks as trained. When we are done our relationship needs to be stronger and the trust absolute. This means the style of interaction needs to facilitate this expected outcome. We are not looking for an excuse to reprimand or punish.
We hold our coaches 100 percent accountable for responding to every need for interaction. To leave poor performance unresponded to allows it to continue and sets a standard of mediocrity. Always remember that we also hold our coaches responsible for identifying outstanding performance and acknowledging it.
The NFL responds to every opportunity for improvement they can find. In our world we respond to what’s critical to us, such as safety, quality or customer service. Don’t try and tackle everything at once. Use this basic formula for those critical things you choose to tackle and improve:
- 100 percent detect defective performance within your target for improvement
- 100 percent respond with appropriate training, coaching or accountability
- 100 percent gather the data to communicate and track performance.
Some fear accountability and so push-back and resistance might occur. Be humble in your approach and respectful with your style and push on regardless. You stand to make a huge impact as you train and coach specific to the weaknesses you target. Ensure that you track and communicate your progress. In my experience that average 80% plus improvement I mentioned is to be had in most situations that become a point of focus.
Start by selecting some aspect of your organization that will benefit from behavioral change. Then figure out a way to track the non-conformance that needs attention. You spent hours developing a new approach, now take some time to set in place some systems that tell you when that new approach is not being followed. You cannot respond to defective performance you do not know about. Record and respectfully respond to every single example of non-conformance and behavior will change in the way you want it to – guaranteed.
If you want to reach out to me to discuss implementing an effective accountability system, do so through LinkedIn. I’ll be happy to share experiences and provide advice.
By Michael J Bull CEO StreamDynamics, LLC.
Mr. Bull has over 25 years of diversified real world business development skills with start-up companies through multi-billion dollar corporations. He is a demonstrated achiever with exceptional knowledge of business planning, strategic planning, business development practices and CXO management tools.
Mr. Bull is able to quickly identify opportunities for operational process and system enhancements throughout client organizations, including exploiting client organization’s strengths and diminishing client issues that affect profitability, growth, and productivity suggesting areas of improvement from both and organizational and financial perspective.
Specialties include: CEO-CFO-COO, Business Process Improvement, Strategic Planning, Contract Negotiations, Team Building, Business Valuation, Budgeting/Forecasting, Business Planning, IT Systems, Management Consulting, Legal, Business Strategy, Mergers, Acquisitions, Coaching, Marketing Strategy, New Business Development, Sales Management, Operations Management, Business Analysis, Financial Analysis, and Organizational Development.