Going to do something a little different. The topic is accountability and we will present this topic in verses that relate to the chorus which will be provided by Magnified Plaid, or MxPx as they have come to be known. MxPx is a three piece indie punk rock band from Bremerton, Washington fronted by Mike Herrera and they have a fitting song entitled Responsibility, the chorus of which belts out,
Responsibility? What's that?
Responsibility? Not quite yet.
Responsibility? What's that?
I don't want to think about it; we'd be better off without it.
Think of these sequence of articles as the verses and the song (video below) as the chorus as well as the rally cry was we discuss accountability. You may find the song catchy and inspiring, something that creates a soundtrack of momentum for you and your team. In preparation for the revised chorus of content we are about to unleash upon your reading eyes, mentally swap out "responsibility" for "accountability".
Responsibility? What's that?
The song continues, "I don't want to think about it, we'd be better off without it." For many organizations, the attitude is the same with regards to a practical or effective approach to accountability. People in a position of leadership (PIAPOL) often talk about accountability as though the only measure of such is a good tongue lashing, preferably in front of as large a group of people as possible. So, let’s see if we can answer the what, when and how of establishing accountability.
Accountability? What’s that?
“If you are building a culture where honest expectations are communicated and peer accountability is the norm, then the group will address poor performance and attitudes,” says speaker and author of Necessary Endings, Dr. Henry Cloud. There is a progression in accountability, it does not appear out of thin air or materialize on its own. Accountability for a person and an organization comes from consistency in executing clearly established values.
Effective accountability traces itself back to clarity in vision, communication of values and consistent effort from all levels within the team to live out those principles. As we have discussed many times, there are causes and there are effects or there are symptoms and there are sources, leaders are concerned with finding sources so that they can eliminate symptoms (more here).
Accountability is the natural consequence of consistency rooted in clarity and conversely a lack of accountability is the natural consequence of inconsistency that stems from a void in institutional clarity. For an organization to build accountability they must clarify their vision and consistently communicate, train and discipline around their values.
If an organization says they value A and B and yet they hire candidates that value C or have leaders who believe in D then that organization cannot expect A and B to be communicated clearly, executed consistently or accountability measures to be effective.
As Dr. Cloud notes above, there is a beauty to developing a culture because one of the fruits of a clear culture is that those invested in the vision will enhance accountability by setting a standard and holding people to it.
Accountability? What's that? Accountability is the progression or fruits of an organization that has defined it's vision and consistently executes it's values. Clarity leads to consistency which lays the foundation for accountability.
Stay tuned for verse/segment 2...
Conflict is helpful as it causes the truth of a culture to rise to the surface for an organization. When there is conflict we learn as a team whether we are still knee deep in the status quo practices that hinder teams such as playing the blame game or if our team will stay the course of progress and work together to resolve the issue(s). In an article titled Fear and Loathing in Non-Profit, Sarai Johnson makes the point about the standard operating procedures (SOP) for unhealthy teams, “When something goes wrong, a witch hunt is launched to find a scapegoat – blame is more important than accountability.” Sarai leads an organization called Lean Non Profit which obviously is working within that particular framework, but these destructive habits apply to teams of all economic structures.
In any combined effort the same challenges exist for creating a healthy culture which often include clarity, consistency and accountability. That tendency to engage in the search for a scapegoat (or playing the blame game) is the default modus operandi for unhealthy teams when dealing with conflict. When the vision is not clear, the disciplines are not consistent and the culture has not been crafted to establish internal accountability characteristics such as self-promotion, finger pointing and overall negativity will be inhibit team development.
Self-promotion is natural, as all individuals want to feel a sense of pride in what they are doing and to be recognized for it, this of itself is not a negative thing but has to be managed. If team members are consistently self adulating, this habit should serve as an indicator to those in leadership that efforts need to be made to more consistently recognize team members and develop a culture where individuals are encouraging each other. When a leader makes it a habit to praise culture enhancing practices that have been observed from individuals throughout the week, both in private as well as in public settings, the example is set for others to follow. Simple things such as starting a meeting off with sincere compliments and opening the floor for team members to brag on each other can create momentum for the culture shift.
Blame is the the dark side of self promotion. It is one thing to desire recognition, it is a more dangerous thing to achieve such by putting others down. The blame game is what happens when self-promotion and/or criticism among team members is not managed. If there is a void of recognition for employees, or there is an imbalance that is not merit related (i.e. there are favorites) or the culture is spiteful, these character viruses will thrive. In every instance where I have joined or taken the reigns of a new team I have experienced levels of self-adulation and blame, in many ways individuals have not been trained to work as a team so when a structure (healthy or not) is removed they will test the boundaries of the new system.
With regards to a culture of negativity, I can recall a company I worked for that had a “naughty board” where employees were written up publicly for mistakes they had made. I believe the concept was that this activity would deter employees from doing these things in the future, which is an short sighted view of discipline, motivation and employee development. This type of public humiliation is not effective for any generation and does not assist people to grasp the vision or embrace their role in the development of the team. A gold star board is similarly ineffective as it is trite, but there is value in positively promoting clear values and publicly recognizing those who are moving the vision forward. Building a culture that is clear, consistent and accountable does not mean that there is no conflict or that discipline is ignored, it just means that these situations and practices are guided by the vision of the organization.
Going back to where we started, author, speaker and host of the No Nonsense Nonprofit Podcast, Sarai Johnson notes, “Without intentional and purposeful work, culture becomes whatever it will be – for better or worse – and it is dependent on the personalities at hand when it starts.” From Sarai’s experience with nonprofits she sees that these organizations, “Don’t typically see it fit to invest in cultures.” Yet this isn’t exclusive to nonprofits as many for-profit organizations are equally lethargic in their approach to this aspect of development. The blame game is one that is often started from the top down and for an organization to be accountable the values have to be practiced by all. Regardless of your position within the organization you can effect positive change by setting an example of taking ownership for mistakes and working to collaborate with the team to resolve issues rather than join the witch hunt. Culture is not a unicorn, it is the result of intentional efforts.
If you have a team, especially a smaller team, there are no secrets – there are only those issues that you take leadership over and discuss with a purpose and those issues that you allow to direct their own lives.
In most offices the walls are paper thin (if you still have walls) and the issues are being discussed like ping pong balls bouncing from surface to surface. As a leader you can be observe from your perch and imagine that you are the referee keeping the game within its imaginary bounds or you can grab a paddle and lead the discussion.
There is safety on the sidelines, but it is only imagined, as those ping pong balls can cause real damages to teams and culture if they are not addressed. Leaders on the sidelines are not leaders, they are observers. Leaders who engage with their paddles will win some and will lose some, but by being present they can reduce negative impacts and even intercede in additional balls being added to the natural chaos of business life. There is no perfect leadership but there is definitely detrimental action/inaction by leaders.
The ping pong balls are flying, its time to paddle up.
Many leaders would proudly boast of their advanced degree received from the Institute of Tired Leadership Open Door-ism. At the suggestion that said leaders do not engage their employees or that they dismiss their team member’s input or feedback, said leaders would pound their fists in outrage and point to the certificate from the ITLOD. Unfortunately for leaders, the open door policy does involves more than leaving your door partially open during business hours and consequently there is more than one way to dismiss another person’s input or feedback, even if you graduated with honors.
Dismissal upon the transmission of input.
The door was open. The employee knocked, confirmed and ventured through (not as open as open would indicate). The employee begins to engage with the leader and the leader A) engages with listening, body language and words or B) dismisses the feedback by the same gestures. Input from employees may not come at times that are of convenience to the receiving party but are always of some level of importance to the transmitting party.
Dismissal following the transmission of input.
The door was open. The employee shared their feedback. The leader made it through the conversation and communicated that the information was received with importance, what will the leader do to follow up with the input received from the team? The leader A) conducts a proper investigation into the information preferred to determine appropriate action or B) dismiss the input by doing nothing to follow up on the feedback received. Employees do not expect leaders to be omniscient, to know everything that is going on, but they do expect leaders to engage when a negative action is brought to the attention of leadership (more on this HERE).
Dismissal of the confirmation of input.
What happens when the leader listens, the leader investigates and then the leader confirms the input received by their employee? If an appropriate response or action is warranted, the test of leadership is now on display – what will the informed leader do? Leaders should not want themselves to be ignorant of issues, this is one of the great values of a truly open door, that employees are willing to share earnest concerns with leadership so that the team can address issues and maintain health should be celebrated. An ignorant leader who becomes informed and yet refuses action displays impotence. Why should employees care enough to make positive changes when leadership has demonstrated that it is not valued by them?
Leadership is an extension of customer service within your organization. When leaders demonstrate care and service to their employees they perform several key functions including engaging their employees, encouraging positive action and demonstrating how the organization treats people. A healthy organizational culture is an extension of the positive example of leaders who are engaged in the processes of the team and the activities of employees who reinforce those values to each other as well as their customers.
Earnest input and feedback from team members at every layer within the organization is critical to progress and growth. A company with no input from team members either has employees that do not care or employees who have concluded from the actions (dismissal) of management that leadership does not care.
Thoughts on personal and professional development.
Jon Isaacson, The Intentional Restorer, is a contractor, author, and host of The DYOJO Podcast. The goal of The DYOJO is to help growth-minded restoration professionals shorten their DANG learning curve for personal and professional development. You can watch The DYOJO Podcast on YouTube on Thursdays or listen on your favorite podcast platform.