How to start team accountability when you never have before

How to Start Team Accountability When You Never Have Before

It’s never too late to begin team accountability.

“Karin and David, can I ask you a question?” We had just finished a keynote where we gave leaders the tools to have the tough conversations. Sarah, a middle-level manager, came up to talk to us, looking nervous. “I’ve been a pleaser manager my entire career, but I hear what you’re saying. It’s time for team accountability, but I don’t know what to do next. Where do I begin?”

What a great question, and one we hear frequently. If you’ve allowed your team to slide and have chosen being liked at the expense of achieving results, you’re not alone. In our surveys of managers, over 2/3 have a preference for getting along over getting results.

The good news is that when you recognize the need to practice team accountability, you can start with a few achievable steps. We have worked with many managers who have transformed their leadership from people-pleasing to human-centered results and accountability. Here are six steps you can take to transform your leadership and your team’s accountability when you haven’t done it before:

  1. Take responsibility

Before starting a new initiative, it’s vital to let your team know what you’re doing. You are a role model for everything that happens going forward so you need to demonstrate accountability right now.

You can say something like: “I haven’t been the best leader in this area. Frankly, I’ve preferred being liked over achieving the results we’re here to achieve. I haven’t done the best job when it comes to accountability, but that changes today. I owe it to you and we owe it to one another and we owe it to our customers.”

You don’t want to say this unless you’re serious about making a change. When you take responsibility and reset expectations, can massively improve your credibility and role model what it looks like to make a positive change. At the same time, if you aren’t serious and don’t back up your words with actions, your credibility will suffer.

  1. Reset Expectations

The word “accountability” can be scary to your team, particularly when you haven’t talked about it or practiced team accountability in the past. Take time to talk about it. Be clear about what success looks like going forward.

Eg: “Accountability doesn’t mean beating people up for poor performance, it means we’re going to keep our commitments to one another. When we do, we will acknowledge it. When we don’t, we will work to understand why and what to do next time (or to make it right, now).”

You may need to reframe or emphasize the values you’re working from. For example: The team’s success is more important than our individual discomfort and when you don’t hold me or one another accountable, you’re hurting the team and the people we serve.”

Finally, start small. Try confidence-burst strategy for accountability. Pick a time period between two team meetings. Eg: “For the next 10 days we’re going to practice accountability. We’re going to keep our commitments to one another, and when we don’t, we’re going to address it directly.”

  1. Equip Everyone with the Basics of Team Accountability

Unless they’ve been part of a highly effective team in the past, most team members won’t have the skills to hold one another accountable. You will need to teach them to Ditch the Diaper Drama and share the INSPIRE model with them. Here is a quick refresher on the INSPIRE model:

I – Initiate: Create space for the conversation.

N – Notice: Make an observation of the behavior in question. Eg: “I noticed that you didn’t bring the report you committed to…”

S – Support: Offer supporting evidence as needed.

P – Probe: Ask “What’s going on?” or a similar question that brings them into the conversation.

I – Invite: Ask them how they can remedy the situation.

R – Review: Check for understanding to ensure you have understood their commitment.

E – Enforce: Set a follow-up meeting when you will both check to see you’ve kept your commitment.

  1. Reinforce expectations

If your team is a rock band, you are the drummer. Keep the new accountability commitment in front of them. For this accountability confidence burst you can literally review it daily. Remind everyone what you’re doing. This is the MIT (Most Important Thing.)

  1. Celebrate every success

You get more of what you celebrate and encourage so be on the lookout for acts of accountability, especially when a team member holds YOU accountable. Stop the meeting, congratulate them, draw attention to it, encourage and celebrate the team for holding one another (or you) accountable. Then return to the meeting.

  1. Practice accountability about accountability

This is a powerful opportunity to reinforce new behaviors. When the team doesn’t practice accountability, stop the meeting. “We’ll get back to the sales strategy in a minute, but first we need to talk about what happened. I noticed that I didn’t bring the data I said I would – and no one said anything. What’s going on?” You’re using the INSPIRE model to reinforce that they didn’t hold you accountable – and they should.

Your Turn

It’s never too late to begin practicing team accountability. When you take responsibility, reset expectations, equip your team to practice accountability, and celebrate as you practice new behaviors together, you create a foundation for transformational and breakthrough results.

Leave us a comment and share your best strategy to start practicing team accountability when you never have before.

Too valuable to fire?

Employee Too Valuable to Fire? 6 Leadership Strategies

Is Anyone Ever Too Valuable to Fire?

Have you ever worked with an obnoxious colleague who seemed to be protected because the employee was considered too valuable to fire?

Maybe you’re a team leader who has one of these brilliant bullies on your team.

If so, you might not be surprised at what I watched happen at a corporate leadership development program I was facilitating. The HR Director had set out materials on every table – including dishes of candy.

A tall, lanky man entered the room, went straight to the back row, asked the HR Director and his own supervisor if he had to attend the program. When they told him he needed to be there if he wanted to lead a team, he threw a tantrum.

He picked up the dish of candy, threw it against the wall, swept the papers from the table, and unleashed a string of profanity.

In most organizations, that behavior would be a “career limiting move” so I was curious how the HR Director and his supervisor would respond.

They walked away.

I asked the HR Director how she was going to address his behavior.

She replied, “Oh that? That was tame. He’s been far worse, but I’m not allowed to address his behavior. The CEO says he’s too important to lose. He’s really smart and we need him on this project.”

Too Valuable to Fire?

If you’re a leader who tolerates abusive behavior, harassment, or bullying because the employee is smart or talented, you’re making a big mistake.

Think about the messages you’re sending to your team.

First, you’ve told your team that you’re weak. You’re not a strong enough leader to create a positive work environment.

Next, you’ve told your team members that you don’t value them. If you did value them, you would ensure they were treated humanely.

Finally, you’ve told everyone that this kind of abuse, harassment, and bullying is okay. You’ve planted seeds for even more chaos and disruption.

The reality is: no one is too valuable to fire. If you’re doing work that requires a team of people working together, no one brilliant person can do everything themselves.

It’s easy to get caught in a trap when you think you either have to tolerate the bad behavior or else lose the talent. Fortunately, that trap is an illusion. You have powerful leadership tools and choices to make. Here are six leadership strategies to help you deal with an employee who seems like they’re too valuable to fire:

  1. Pick Your Problems

Leaders recognize that they don’t get to chose if they have problems. It’s not “if problems” but “which problems.” The choice is Which set of problems do you want to have? Before you can do anything else, you’ve got to face reality: you have a serious issue here and you’re going to have serious problems.

Which problems do you want? The problems where everyone leaves and the team degenerates into chaos or the problems where you figure out how to address the issues and build a high-performance culture?

  1. What Does Success Look Like?

One of your most important leadership responsibilities is to capture, communicate, and clarify what success looks like for your team. When you’re interviewing, when you’re onboarding, when you’re meeting with your people…consistently reinforce what success looks like. What results will you achieve together? How will you achieve them? How will you work together, treat one another, and build healthy professional relationships?

Clarify what success looks like from the beginning and you’re less likely to hire, much less have to fire, someone for abuse, harassment, and bullying behaviors.

  1. Develop Early

As you work with your people, pay attention to their development from the first day. Use the Competence / Confidence model to quickly give them the feedback they need to grow. Brilliant bullies are often in the upper right quadrant because they aren’t as good as they think they are – they’re undermining their own performance by driving others away.

It is much easier to deal with a behavioral performance issue when you first see it than to address it once it is entrenched.

  1. Ditch the Diaper Drama

One of our favorite Winning Well leadership behaviors is to speak the truth directly, but in a way that builds relationships. Don’t wrap the stink in layers of self-protection (the way that modern diaper pails do) to cover the stink, but don’t solve the problem.

Directly address abuse, harassment, and bullying by describing what you’ve observed. Often, just the act of describing what you saw and heard will help the other person adjust their behavior.

I once had a high-value employee yell at me: “I’m tired of you acting like Hitler.” (His report was three weeks overdue and he’d run out of grace period to get it done.) I responded with the “Notice” step from the INSPIRE model: “I noticed that you just called me Hitler. Last I checked, I hadn’t committed any genocide.” Then I followed up with the “Probe” step: “What’s going on?”

When he was calmly confronted with his own behavior, he calmed down and we were able to talk about the real issue and make an agreement that we would never use that kind of language again.

  1. Manage Up – Quickly

If you suspect (or know for certain) that your boss doesn’t want to lose this person, get in front of it. Don’t do anything without their buy-in. You don’t want to have to back-pedal on a major decision and lose credibility. Talk with your boss about the behaviors, the impact on your team, the way it affects performance, and the alternatives they’re willing to accept.

You can also ditch the diaper drama in this conversation: “What level of abuse and harassment are you willing to tolerate for this person’s performance?”

  1. Rally the Team

One of the most awesome examples I’ve ever seen of a manager who had to deal with an employee too valuable to fire was Allan, a senior engineer facing a global product launch. He had a brilliant, but abusive, team member who was a key contributor to the project. The entire team had spoken with him individually about this person. Allan had done everything he could and it was time to terminate.

He spoke with senior vice president who told him: “I won’t stand in your way if you want to let this guy go, but this is totally your call. You are still responsible for getting the product launch done on time. It that doesn’t happen, it will likely mean your job.”

Allan chose to terminate the problem employee’s employment and then met with his team. “That employee is no longer with us,” he told them. “We still have to meet our deadline. I believe in us and I know we can do it, but without him, it’s not going to be easy. How can we do it?”

The team was grateful, energized, and innovative in coming up with ways they could meet their deadline. Productivity soared.

“It was a major gut check,” Allan shared with me, “I was worried about my own job, but I’m so glad I made the decision I did. I chose to believe in my team – and I’m glad I did.”

Your Turn

You might be wondering what happened to the company where I met the candy-thrower.

I explained to the executive team that if they didn’t confront this man’s behavior, they should stop wasting money on leadership development (because your behavior tells your people that you don’t actually value leadership), should spend the money on recruiting (because no one will stick around to deal with that every day), and prepare to miss their next product development deadlines (because the caustic atmosphere was killing everyone else’s productivity).

Leave us a comment and share your best practices when confronted with an employee who seems as if they’re too valuable to fire.

5 Top Leadership Articles Week of Sept 11, 2017

5 Top Leadership Articles for the Week of September 11, 2017

Each week I read a number of leadership articles from various online resources and share them across social media. Here are the five leadership articles readers found most valuable last week. I have added my comment about each article and would like to hear what you think, too.

How to Be Tough When You Prefer Being Kind by Dan Rockwell

Stress increases when leaders can’t bring kind and tough together.

Kind without tough makes you a pushover.

Tough without kind makes you a jerk.

My Comment: Stress increases, yes – and both results and relationships suffer when you don’t combine kind and tough. Without a disciplined focus on results, people lose focus, infighting increases, and your top performers go somewhere where their performance is appreciated. Without healthy relationships, trust suffers, people burnout, they do the least they can to get by, and inefficiency prevails because people don’t come together to solve mutual problems.

Leaders who combine their focus on achieving breakthrough results with a focus on healthy professional relationships with the people they lead give themselves the best chance to achieve transformational results that last.

Employee Engagement: What Story Does the Data Tell Leadership? By Martie Moore

The first time I used the words “resilience” and “engagement” was with my leadership team at the time. I asked, “What can we do to advance engagement and help people to be more resilient?”

Suddenly, everyone around the table had important emails to read on their phone. In essence, this immediate phone reading signaled an uncomfortable discussion — and their avoidance level.

My Comment: While this article was written for leaders in the long-term care industry, the issues it identifies are typical of the reality faced by leaders across industries: constant connectivity, acute margin pressures, increased pace of change, and uncertain futures are challenges you can probably relate to. This article is the beginning of a series that will look at experience, science, and practical action can take for themselves and the people they serve. It looks promising.

Leading in large organizations is tough. It’s easy for people to lose their identity and humanity as decisions are made by spreadsheet. And yet, almost paradoxically, more humanity, more focus on relationships and results, improves that bottom line. It takes courage along with the specific management and leadership skills we share in Winning Well to meet this challenge and succeed.

A Leader’s Job Is Never Done by Jane Perdue

Given that our state was in the path of totality for the August 2017 solar eclipse, people in our neighborhood gathered to watch. The closer we were to the time of totality, the larger the crowd became.

Within five minutes of the awe-inspiring ninety seconds of darkness and coolness, the crowd had largely dispersed.

The lost interest and crowd thinning-out triggered thoughts in my mind of how we tend to think about many things, including leadership, mostly in terms of their headline-making moments.

My Comment: When I was young, a mentor would often share his perspective that you can’t be a hero in the big moments if you’re not a hero in the small ones. Perdue takes a look at many of the ways that leaders build their credibility, influence, and trust in some of the more mundane, less headline-worthy, common moments that you face throughout your day, week, and career. You’re constantly becoming who you will be tomorrow. With each of these moments, you choose who that will be.

How Can You Make Yourself Invincible at Work? by Wendy Marx

Quick question: How valuable are you at work? Hint: It has little to do with your place on an organizational chart.

The new truth is that grabbing a high rung in an organization’s hierarchy isn’t necessarily a sign that you’re indispensable.

What clinches your value at work is what’s known as informal power — the ability to influence people and overcome resistance where you lack authority. It means being able to get someone to do your bidding where you have no formal authority.

Today you can’t lead simply by virtue of your title.

My Comment: While I’m not a fan of the notion of “getting someone to do your bidding” (it smacks of manipulation and a USER approach to leadership) Marx is right on with regard the role of influence. I won’t promote someone to a formal leadership position until they’ve demonstrated that they can get things done without that formal power. Power gives you the ability to deliver an “or else,” but that only gets a person’s minimum effort. Effective leaders cultivate an environment that releases a person’s strengths, talents, and skills toward the mission and the work.

Marx provides a good exercise you can use to assess how much value you are adding to the people around you and how you can address it if it’s out of balance.

Optimized or Maximized? By Seth Godin

I once drove home from college at 100 miles an hour. It saved two hours. My old car barely made it, and I was hardly able to speak once I peeled myself out of the car.

That was maximum speed, but it wasn’t optimum.

Systems have an optimum level of performance. It’s the output that permits the elements (including the humans) to do their best work, to persist at it, to avoid disasters, bad decisions and burnout.

One definition of maximization is: A short-term output level of high stress, where parts degrade but short-term performance is high.

Capitalism sometimes seeks competitive maximization instead. Who cares if you burn out, I’ll just replace the part…

That’s not a good way to treat people we care about, or systems that we rely on.

My Comment: I loved this article. It gets at the heart of why so many managers can turn into jerks, even if they’re not naturally inclined that way. We call it “trickle down intimidation.” In the interest of short term “maximization,” leaders who lack any other tools turn to fear, power, and control to get things done. And it works, at least minimally. As I said in my comments on the second article this week: it takes courage and leadership skills to choose a different path. To, as Godin says, optimize your leadership, your team, and your company for the long run rather than fleeting and costly short-term gain. It takes courage and practice, but you can do it.

Your Turn

What thoughts do these articles bring to mind? Do you see something differently than the author? Did you have a favorite?

Leadership Heresy: A #Winningwell Guest Post by David Dye

I’m in trouble now. I’m about to commit heresy.

I want to address what I believe to be one of the most important aspects of your workplace leadership.

In my work with thousands of business leaders across industries, geography, and over many years, I’ve repeatedly seen people lose their influence because they don’t address this one thing.

In many leadership forums, many leadership books, and not a few social media memes, what I’m about to say would be skewered, and yet… your credibility and influence depend on it.

What is this leadership heresy?

Management.

Why Management Is Vital to Your Leadership

Your leadership depends on your credibility. You can’t influence people if they don’t trust you. Where does that trust come from?

In large part, the foundation of that trust is your basic management competence. That’s why Karin and I wrote Winning Well: A Manager’s Guide to Getting Results Without Losing Your Soul.

I don’t mean that you have to become a certified professional project manager in order to have influence. What I do mean is that if you don’t have the basics in place, you create chaos and lose credibility with your people.

Now, I understand that many leadership texts will tell you, “If you’re not good at management, hire it.”

Hogwash.

If you run the company, by all means, lead and then hire a good operations person to manage. There’s nothing wrong with that.

But if you’re like the vast majority of people with business leadership roles, the idea that you can hire someone to do your management for you is pure nonsense (and dangerous as well.)

Even if you should become CEO, you are responsible to make sure these things happen. If they don’t happen, that’s on you.

The good news is that the basics of management aren’t difficult.

Four Steps to Manage Well and Build Credibility

At its most basic, management involves a few practices that are relatively simple. As the old saying goes: it’s not hard, it’s just hard work. When we struggle as managers, it is often because we have failed to do one of the following:

  1. Set clear expectations.

I’ve coached managers and team leaders in more than 2000 sessions and in 90% or more of those conversations, the problems we’re discussing happened because expectations were not clear.

It happened to me again recently. I was frustrated with my colleague’s work, but when I stopped to think about it, I hadn’t shared my expectations. I had my own image of what the project looked like and when it would be completed, but we’d never discussed it.

Expectations can come from many sources: the team itself, the manager, the organization. Regardless, if they are not clear, they will not be met, and I can guarantee you will be frustrated.

  1. Train and equip your team to meet the expectations.

After clear expectations, the next pitfall is in assuming that everyone has the knowledge or skills to meet those expectations. Ensure your team members are set up for success!

  1. Reinforce expectations.

This may sound redundant, but think about this for a moment. Every second, your mind is inundated with eleven million pieces of information[1]. Think about how easily you can get distracted. In fact, I’ll bet that you’ll get distracted at least once while you read this article. Don’t worry, I’m not offended – that’s just the way we’re built.

Effective leaders and managers know that they must continually reinforce expectations and keep clear priorities in front of their team. We all need reminders from time to time about where we’re going and why we’re going there.

If your team were a rock and roll band, reinforcing expectations is like the bass line or drum that anchors the song and keeps everyone on track.

  1. Celebrate and practice accountability.

Accountability doesn’t only mean discipline – real accountability celebrates our accomplishments and gives us course corrections as needed. We can easily demotivate our teams by failing to acknowledge success or by failing to hold everyone accountable.

Your Turn

Remember: Your leadership influence is built on a foundation of trust. As you wrestle with management challenges, I invite you to ask these four questions:

  1. Are expectations clear to both parties?
  2. Does your team have the skills and equipment to succeed?
  3. Have you consistently reinforced the expectations?
  4. Do you consistently practice accountability and celebration?

How do you ensure you take care of your management responsibilities (it’s not hard, but can be hard work!)

Be the leader you want your boss to be,

David Dye

[1] http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/287907/information-theory/214958/Physiology

 

 

13 Stupid Sentences That Will Derail Your Career

I wish HR would teach a course on the really stupid sentences people say at work. Oh, I’m not talking about he obvious stupidity: “you look hot in that dress” or “hey baby”. There’s training and rules for that. But there’s no code of conduct to protect against the stupid, dis-empowering words I often hear up, down and sideways.

Before writing this post, I decided to do an informal stupid sentence poll through social media. The responses fell into two big categories: Stupid sentences that deny accountability and stupid sentences that prove you are clueless. I’ll start; you add to the lists.

Stupid Sentences That Deny Accountability

  1. That’s Not My Job (#1 by a landslide) – Although we all know this, someone is still out there saying it. Stop it, it’s stupid. Instead, help all you can.
  2. That Decision’s Above My Pay Grade – The really wacky part of this one, is that I hear it most often at the higher levels of the business. Please, please don’t say this. And whatever you do, don’t say it to someone at a lower pay grade than you. They count on you to advocate for what’s right, not shrug your shoulders and roll over.
  3. I Wasn’t Aware – This one is commonly used to throw someone else under the bus. Trust me, you look like an idiot. “Let me find out more”, “I’m digging in”, and “I’m here to help” are all acceptable replacement statements.
  4. My Team really Screwed This Up – No one really says this do they? From my experience and the poll, yes. Sometimes out loud; sometimes by just being silent. Own your team’s mistakes and help them fix them and learn. There’s no better way to gain credibility up and down the chain.
  5. I Can Always Get Another Job At Twice The Pay Some Place Else – Okay, if that’s really true, and you’re disgruntled with the rest of the scene to say that out loud. Just saying. Be careful.
  6. I Just Don’t Have Enough Time To Do That – If it’s not a priority say that. If it’s important discuss what else could move.
  7. It’s Not My Fault, It’s The Other Department’s Mistake – Let’s assume that’s true. Taking the high-road would look like ________________? Who and how would that help?
  8. Stupid Sentences That Prove You’re Clueless

  9. That’s A Stupid Question – As much as I want to throw up every time someone says there are no stupid questions, the truth is leaders keep saying that because other leaders are out there making people feel stupid. Stop it.
  10. What’s Wrong With Them – If your team’s not performing, the problem starts with you, not them. Could be selection, systems, rules, leadership. Figure it out, reverse the direction of your finger-pointing.
  11. That’ll Never Work – If I had a nickel for every time my team proved me wrong or I proved someone wrong, the truth is that just because it didn’t work in the past doesn’t mean it won’t work now. Put away old biases and really listen. Consider a pilot or some other form of toe-dipping. Most importantly, be a receptive and encouraging leader.
  12. That’s The Way We’ve Always Done It – We get that. Now be a leader.
  13. The Employees Need To Realize They Are Lucky To Have Jobs In This Economy – Okay, so grateful (and without choices) that they _____________. I know you’re not saying these things, but research has shown many someones are.

Thanks to the folks at Lead Change and Twitter for weighing in.

In Other News…

bookcoverI was delighted to have been interviewed about my new book, Overcoming An Imperfect Boss on the powerful podcast: The Business of People In Leadership. Amazed at the stories he got out of me including my most embarrassing leadership moment. Click here to hear the podcast.

Want to know more about the book? Click here to download a sample chapter.

Already read it? I would love to see your review on Amazon.

How To Reset Your Team's Expectations

In Friday’s post, How To Transform Mid-Team, we talked about you how prepare your team for your evolving leadership style. But what if you also have new expectations for your team? Not only are you evolving, but you need them to as well. That’s even more difficult.

Perhaps you will be…

  • asking them to make more decisions
  • holding the team accountable
  • stopping the sidebars in meetings
  • surfacing the conflict
  • ?

Resetting Expectations is a Process

The most important part is communication and consistency. Go slow enough to preserve the trust. Following these steps will help.

  1. Explain why you are changing expectations how did you reach this conclusion?
  2. Share your new expectations for you own behavior–what is changing?
  3. Be specific-what exactly are you asking them to do differently?
  4. Be consistent be careful to stay true to the new standards
  5. Ease into it– be clear on expectations, soft on people give them time to grow into it
  6. Ask for feedback– listen and be willing to adjust the approach
  7. ?

This won’t happen overnight, and it will be messy. Keep the conversation open and learn along the way.

How do you work to reset expectations with your team?

How To Reset Your Team’s Expectations

In Friday’s post, How To Transform Mid-Team, we talked about you how prepare your team for your evolving leadership style. But what if you also have new expectations for your team? Not only are you evolving, but you need them to as well. That’s even more difficult.

Perhaps you will be…

  • asking them to make more decisions
  • holding the team accountable
  • stopping the sidebars in meetings
  • surfacing the conflict
  • ?

Resetting Expectations is a Process

The most important part is communication and consistency. Go slow enough to preserve the trust. Following these steps will help.

  1. Explain why you are changing expectations how did you reach this conclusion?
  2. Share your new expectations for you own behavior–what is changing?
  3. Be specific-what exactly are you asking them to do differently?
  4. Be consistent be careful to stay true to the new standards
  5. Ease into it– be clear on expectations, soft on people give them time to grow into it
  6. Ask for feedback– listen and be willing to adjust the approach
  7. ?

This won’t happen overnight, and it will be messy. Keep the conversation open and learn along the way.

How do you work to reset expectations with your team?