Do client emergencies control your company?

Is accountability a growing issue in your company?  Do client emergencies prevent you from continuous improvement in your own company?

Watch Alan Claypool discuss the difference in companies who have learned the importance of keeping your word vs. those who still struggle.  It is a night and day difference.  You will love the result of learning these tricks.

Criticality of Accountability

Click here to see 9 tips for holding your people accountable.

Beached Tugboat or Smooth Sailing

You and your leadership team just made a decision for a brand new initiative for your business, and you are so excited about it.  You start telling others about it and you are immediately met with resistance.

You do some damage control by having a meeting to announce it and explain it in more detail.  The naysayers come out, nitpicking every detail, speaking doom and gloom for the many ways the initiative will fail.

Did we miss something?  Isn’t this a clear big win for our company?  What did we miss?

Ah, the criticality of gaining buy-in.  Not every decision requires a change management campaign to get buy-in from your staff; but most do.

Most employees resist change.  They will usually get on board with you, but they need the certain behaviors below from you for them to be excited to follow.

Include impacted players in the decision as much as possible

Most company-wide decisions are made in a vacuum of the leadership team.

Both small and enterprise-wide decisions impact more people than you originally realize.

Have you really gathered enough information to know how this decision will impact everyone?  What do the people doing the work know that you don’t know?  How will this change impact your customers?  Will a system be shut down that you were unaware someone needed?

You do need to make decisions quickly to remain nimble; at the same time, make sure the decisions are wise by asking enough information of those affected.

Not only will this keep you from making short-sighted decisions, it also breeds confidence from those involved in the decision.  They will be helpers in accomplishing the change rather than naysayers poking at you with every complication.

Communicate with clarity

When you give an assignment, you see most of the details in your head.  Our default, though, is to only provide a quick high-level framework of what we want, even though we have other unspoken expectations.

Be clear on what you want.

Be clear on when you want it.

Be clear on parameters of how you want it.

Have the person speak back to you what they think you want, so that you can tweak their understanding to match yours.  Finally, ensure that the person is committed and able to perform the task to your satisfaction.

When people are provided clear parameters and thoughtfully agree to the challenge, they have a high likelihood of meeting your expectations.

Create an environment where challenge is welcome

You hired competent staff.  If you wanted a bunch of yes-men, you could hire robots.

Instead, you have a company full of women and men who think.  They see the operations of the company from a vastly different perspective than you.  This gives them an insight into company decisions that could inform you and help you tweak the decision into a better one.

Let them ask hard questions and state hidden risks.  Let them point out thoughts that may not have occurred to you.

Creating an environment where staff readily speak up engages your staff and helps them feel a part of driving the bus. 

Without their buy-in, you will be at the helm of a beached tugboat on land.  With their buy-in, you will sail into the next blue ocean.

 

To learn more about getting your staff engaged, download our eBook on the 6 changes to restore a CEO’s energy.

No, Jennifer, There Are No Benefits of Gossip

I was surprised to read an article in Psychology Today discussing the 5 benefits of gossip.  While the author stopped just shy of advocating that we gossip frequently, she found more than a silver lining in the cancerous activity – she says that it has actual benefit.

As a believer in the utter destruction that talking behind another’s back causes, I want to challenge each of the five benefits the author mentions.  The overriding reason not to talk behind another’s back is that gossip breaks trust with the person you are talking about.

Below are the author’s five points with my rebuttal.

It gets out what’s really bugging you

It is true that talking to someone else is like a sounding board, bouncing ideas off them like a physicist writing on a white board.

If you are solving business problems such as how to logistically deliver a product quicker to your client, we do need collaboration for that type of brainstorming.

But when the problem you are brainstorming about is how to deal with another person, you have just forgotten that that other person is a person.  Rather, you are treating them like an object to fix, neglecting that they have needs and insecurities, not aware that they would be offended that this conversation is occurring.

Instead of bouncing ideas of how to handle that person off a third person, it is always better to get those ideas directly from the person.  Talk to them about what is really bugging you.

This will help you understand their perspective, why they do the thing they do that annoys you, and helps you walk a mile in their shoes.  In the process, you are building trust instead of breaking trust.

It encourages cooperation

By this, the author means that gossip allows people who are like-minded to find each other; that like (and presumably “good”) people will congregate and cooperate against the “bad” (she calls them “selfish”) people being talked about.

I suggest that the “good” people cooperating in this scenario are participating in a bad activity that destroys trust in the organization.

Talking about someone behind their back builds personal armies that pit one side against another.  Since you are only talking about my perspective without the wisdom and reality of the perspective of that third person, I am spreading misinformation and contempt against someone who we all need to work well with.

Healthy organizations have everyone working on the same team toward unified goals.  Cooperating against the “selfish people” ensures that we will not work well together to meet our company initiatives.

It relieves stress

Voicing your frustration does relieve stress.

I believe that God gave us stress with frustration specifically so that we would use that energy to solve the problem.  When I instead voice my frustration to someone else in a complaint or gossip, I release that energy that could’ve otherwise been channeled into problem solving.

I feel better, but nothing is solved.  I will be just as upset and stressed tomorrow when the situation happens again, because I didn’t fix the problem.

It fosters self-improvement

The author quotes a study from Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin that states “when people know others may gossip about them, they are more likely to learn from a bad experience and reform their behavior by cooperating more in future group settings.”

My experience is that people seldom improve when they are gossiped about.
First, they typically hear only snippets of the gossip and therefore don’t know exactly what to improve.

Secondly, when we are attacked (and gossip is an attack, even if not an intentional one), our fight-or-flight response kicks in, and we tend to go into defensive mode.

Extremely mature people may be able to calm the amygdala and consider how to improve; but most people instead defend and reject the suggestions.

It is passive-aggressive to indirectly try to improve someone.  We need to grow some balls and talk to the person directly if we want a healthy organization.

It provides a reality check

The author quotes a clinical psychologist who says “If you want to know whether someone else is having a similar experience [with the third person], you can simply ask in a non-accusatory manner whether anyone else has experienced the same phenomenon.  That way, you’re not actually dissing the person, you’re simply inquiring.”

I can just see sweet Southern Belles saying “bless their heart” during this inquiry.

This inquiry always becomes more about building your army against the person.  Better advise is given by Jesus (Matthew 18:15-16): “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone.  If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.  But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses.”

So first, talk to the person directly.  Usually, that will fix it.

If it does not fix it, go back to the person and say “I am still having this issue.  Let’s bring in a third person to help us mediate through this.”

Do not first prepare your “witnesses” of how the person has wronged you – that is building up your army again and breaks trust with the person.  Rather, just bring them in as an unbiased mediator.

Trust will then be maintained, and the mediator can usually bring to light the points that you were not seeing.

Gossip has no real benefits.  It always destroys trust.  True leaders find ways to completely eliminate gossip and replace it with a culture of honor.

You can read more about creating a healthy organization in our eBook, Chief Exhausted Officer: changes to restore a CEO’s energy.

3 Tools Everyone Should Use for Lively Meetings

“I hate meetings”.  I heard it again yesterday.  I hear it frequently, because many meetings suck the energy out of staff.  If your meetings are about status updates, your people are withering on the vine, losing interest in your company and your leadership.

 

 

Because you care about productivity, you created an environment where there is more to do than can possibly get done.  That is a good thing, as it drives people to produce and innovate.  Employees want to do good work and know they are accomplishing something that matters.  And then they see the weekly 9am meeting on their calendar, and they are filled with dread.  Week after week, they attend these meetings that drone on.  They feel that ninety percent of what is discussed doesn’t apply to them, and that which does could’ve been sent in an email.  “Do you want me to get the job done, or do you want me to waste my time in this meeting?”

When done right, meetings are the most important and most exciting part of the work week.  They are where the organizational bus is driven.  How can you convert your meetings into something that energizes your staff instead of deflates them?

Create a vulnerable team

Effective meetings are a food fight of ideas.  In one room, you gather all the people who have the best information on a topic.  Those people then debate and defend what they deem important and share their insights.  That is, they debate and defend IF they are vulnerable enough to say what they really think.  Most people don’t.  They don’t like how VP Mike always condescends to them.  Or they were taught to not hurt anyone’s feelings, and so they never say anything controversial (and somehow see that as a good thing).  Or they know that the leader has already made up his mind and feel it is no use to say why we’re about to make a bad decision.  That can wait until after the meeting, when I complain to my cube-mate about how leadership doesn’t know what they’re doing.

Effective meetings depend on the willingness of team members to step up to the plate and be honest about what they are thinking.  There are many reasons, however, that team members are unwilling to be vulnerable.  Has your behavior as a leader shut them down or made them think their opinion won’t be heard?  Are there factions across departments that haven’t been publicly addressed?

Creating a vulnerable leadership team takes bravery.  As a first step, you have to address tough issues publicly in the group.  You need expertise in handling difficult conversations, where you allow just enough blood and guts to get out on the table, then you give just the right insightful perspective to help people understand the other side and see their own contribution to the lack of trust in the room.  Then you lead them into seeing each other as a team, with the same goals.  You want just enough of a kumbaya experience to bond these folks together and not so much that you create touchy-feely aversion.

And once you have successfully addressed the elephants in the room, the tough work begins.  Daily life happens, where people do things that unknowingly break trust and make me question someone’s motives.  The job of the leader is to continually remind people that we are on the same team with the same goals, showing how each incident of presumed bad motives are actually actions of someone caring about the company but from a different perspective.

When people trust each other, they can share their thoughts openly.  Vulnerability is a fundamental requirement for the path to effective meetings.

Encourage differing opinions

Many managers act as though they are threatened when someone disagrees with them.  Yet disagreement is the fertile ground where better decisions are made.  Prove to your team members that you want them to share their thoughts by welcoming their differing opinions.  Welcome is too weak a word – crave what you are missing.  When you know you are right about a path and someone disagrees with you, don’t get defensive.  Instead, get excited.  The discussion ahead is about to make the path even better.  Understand why the person disagrees.  What danger do they see that you skipped over?  What customer’s need is not going to be met by your solution?  What tweak to your path could we make to better compensate the concerns of the other person?  It is your reaction to disagreement that determines whether your people will speak their mind during a meeting.  Prove to them that you want their thoughts on the table.

Make the agenda about tough decisions

Most meeting agendas that I see are status updates.  While it is helpful to the leader to have everyone in the room at one time sharing their statuses, it is usually much less helpful (and certainly less engaging) to one department leader to hear status updates from another department.  Instead, the team members would become engaged with active discussions about decisions, where they feel their opinion is valued and they are contributing to the company’s direction.

Additionally, regularly place some difficult conversation about people issues on the agenda.  While you don’t want to use the public meeting as a place to triangulate about people not in the room, you do want to show the team that it is ok to discuss hard topics publicly.  By talking about people issues with your full team, you create a terrific opportunity to both brainstorm on people solutions and to teach them company culture and leadership traits you want them to have.

Use team meetings to engage your staff.  Meetings will either deflate or energize them.  It depends on whether you have built an environment for them to be vulnerable, with the freedom to disagree and the empowerment to engage on strategic topics.

 

 

 

To learn more about creating organizational health, download TAC4 Solutions’ eBook about 6 team behaviors that suck the life from a CEO.

9 Ways to Hold Your People Accountable

I hear you’ve had problems with your employees keeping their commitments.  You deal with the same problems over and again, even though you’ve told people what to do and they agreed to do it.

Somehow, every Monday morning is still spent begging for your weekly reports.  How many times do you have to tell someone what their roles and duties are?  Do they really not know your priorities enough to do the basics of the job?

If your staff have agreed to do something once and they don’t do it, that is a lack of integrity on them, showing an inability to keep their commitments.  If, however, your staff have agreed to do something continually and they don’t do it, that is a lack of accountability on you.

“But doesn’t accountability mean that I have to be the bad guy?  Culture is important in our company, and I don’t want to be the heavy-handed boss that has temper tantrums when things don’t go my way.”

Accountability is not being the jerk.  Rather, accountability is requiring people to keep their commitments, showing people that honesty (including meeting deadlines) is a must in your organization.  Below are 9 ways you can build a culture of accountability in your organization.

1. Meeting Action Steps

During weekly team meetings, delegate someone to take detailed notes.  As action steps arise from the discussion, the note taker should pause the meeting to ensure that the person(s) assigned to the action are clear on the task, the deadline, and that they agree to complete the task by the deadline.  The note taker should publicly review these definitive action steps at the conclusion of each meeting and include them in the meeting minutes, sent to all attendees.

At the beginning of each weekly meeting, review the prior week’s action steps, with a status of Completed or Not.  For any incomplete action steps, the person should state what they will reprioritize to ensure completion of the task within 24 hours.

2. Integrity of Keeping Commitments

Most of us believe we are people of our word.  However, our frequent overcommitting and inability to meet deadlines betrays a lack of integrity, with less emphasis on the veracity of our word than we like to believe.  While the leader should not blame, shame, or condemn, he/she should make the strong connection between breaking commitments and lying.  Appeal to the person’s belief in their own integrity, and show them what “a person of their word” looks like.  Explain to them that every broken commitment also breaks trust with those to whom they committed.  Tell them explicitly that keeping commitments is a necessary aspect of keeping your word.  Point out specific broken commitments that have led to this conversation.  Finally, get them to agree that keeping commitments will become a base standard in their behavior.

3. Saying “No”

Most people break commitments not because of intention, but because of a need to please.  When their plate is full, they are asked to do more, and they inevitably and always say Yes to the added responsibility.  At the time of their commitment, encourage them toward the truth of what they can realistically do.  If you, as their leader, frequently demand that they say Yes amid ridiculous deadlines, then you are enabling their inability to say No.  Instead, ask them if they can realistically complete the new task by the deadline; if they are not confident, help them reprioritize their other tasks so that they can meet the deadline for the new task.  By building a culture that is allowed to say No, you are ensuring that your staff can accomplish tasks on time.

4. The Art of Renegotiation

Most of us have a hesitancy toward confrontation.  When people have committed to a tight deadline, they feel the weight of that deadline and a simultaneous fear of the confrontation that will occur if the deadline is missed.  Rather than letting people know they will likely miss the deadline, they often opt for silence, believing that begging for forgiveness is less painful than begging for permission.

The way of integrity is instead truth and renegotiation.  As soon as the deadline seems it may be in peril, the person of integrity approaches the leader to discuss the complications with the task and resources.  Life and business have constraints, and we can only do so much with limited time and resources.  Bringing all information to the table allows those involved to renegotiate priorities, to realign resources, to all work together to find the best possible ways to meet all deadlines.  Renegotiation is valid and keeps us within the bounds of honesty about our deadlines.  Getting all information on the table as early as possible allows us to remain in truth, which is always better than losing our integrity with our coworkers.

5. Project Management of Your Commitments

Think of every committed task as a miniature project to be managed.  Every time someone commits to something, ensure that they write it down.  Have them determine all it will take to accomplish the task by the deadline.  What resources are needed?  Will expenses be required?  Who else needs to be communicated about this task?  Are we relying on others to do something?  Have we checked with them to ensure they can meet the prerequisites I need to meet my own deadlines?  Are there risks to me not meeting my commitment?  If you are going to keep your commitments, you need to know how much of your time it will take and what is involved to meet the commitment.

6. Toeing the Line

When someone does not meet a deadline, go to them to remind them of their commitment to the deadline and ask them what they will reprioritize to complete the task by no later than 24 hours beyond the deadline.  A leader that does not toe the line requiring commitments be made is a leader whose staff will miss deadlines frequently.  While people do not want to break commitments, stresses and realities of an overly-busy work environment guarantee that more will be asked of people than can actually be done.  It is the leader’s role to set the standard for how crucial keeping your word is.  Do not let a deadline be missed.  If someone misses a deadline and it really wasn’t that important, do not just let the deadline be missed; rather, emphasize the importance of having renegotiated that deadline because of its lesser importance.  Your tolerance of missed deadlines will be heard as a lack of criticality on more crucial deadlines.  Toe the line – ensure that your employees’ Yes is their Yes and their No is their No.

7. Peer to Peer Accountability

The leader should not be the only one holding each other to their commitments.  If the leader has created a culture of accountability, then one department leader will be empowered to go to another department leader (without accusation, with humility) to remind him/her of deadlines and commitments.  In a culture of accountability, no one will break commitments without letting the person know of resource or schedule issues and renegotiating.  When I go to a peer (or a superior!) who has missed a deadline, I say “James, from my understanding, you had told me that I would have the report by today.  Could you help me understand why I do not have it?  Also, in the future, if you are going to miss a deadline, let me know in advance.”  There is no blame in the conversation above, yet there is a requirement that we do what we say.  If all peers continually “trampoline spot” each other into keeping their word, the high standards of quality in the organization will exponentially increase.

8. Set Consequences

We mistakenly think that consequences in business equate to firing; yet there are a myriad of ways to set effective consequences when people continually break their commitments.  The most important consequence comes when people innately know that you do not accept a breaking of commitments.  If the expectation is ingrained in the company to honor commitments, then people will do that.  Another crucial consequence is peer accountability – having the entire team (not just the boss) empowered to approach people about missed deadlines.  Anyone should be able to go to anyone else, with humility, and say “You said you would have this to me by today, and it is not here; what will you reprioritize to ensure I have it by end of business?”  Creating a culture of peer-to-peer accountability relieves the burden on you to set many consequences.

If people are outliers from the culture and occasionally miss deadlines, set substantive consequences for them.  Tell them how their broken promise has impacted your trust of them.  Tell them you will ask for the deliverable hourly until you have it.  Reduce bonus pay; withhold some of their authority; remove them from a committee.  Firing is seldom a good answer, though you should be willing to do that for the sake of integrity and accountability in your organization.  The important thing is that everyone in your organization knows that you are intensely serious about people honoring their commitments.

9. Set the Example

No matter how accountable you hold others to their commitments, the loudest voice in your accountability is how consistent you are in meeting your commitments to them.  Hold yourself to the same high standard of keeping your word.  Just as they have a cognitive dissonant belief about their own integrity, you may also think of yourself as more a man/woman of your word than you really are.  Do you find yourself as the primary person who hasn’t completed their weekly tasks?  Do you take on more responsibility as the boss than you can accomplish?  Do you let yourself off the hook for minor missed deadlines?  Then you are sending a strong message to your staff that you don’t really mean Tuesday when you say Tuesday.

Set the example yourself.  Have action steps for your meetings, and make sure you have accomplished your committed tasks each week.  Say “No” to any tasks you are not sure you can accomplish.  Renegotiate any deadlines you are slipping on, as soon as you realize you may be slipping.  Treat your commitments as a project to manage.  Be hard on yourself if you miss a deadline, ensuring that you complete the task by end of business.  The example you set will speak volumes to your employees and will raise their standard.

Accountability is simply ensuring that people keep their word.  So keep yours, and spot them into keeping yours.  Your work life will become immensely smoother and more productive when people treat their word as their bond.

 

 

 

To learn more about creating organizational health, download TAC4 Solutions’ eBook Chief Exhausted Officer: 6 team behaviors that suck the life from a CEO, and 6 changes to restore a CEO’s energy.