I read a letter to the editor in our local paper this morning that included the sentence . .
I urge parents of all children in the district to be activist parents and hold their public schools accountable for the quality of services their children are receiving.
Too often I see the word accountable held up as an initiative that is, in itself, the way to fix a business. I then look for what words appear around it to suggest what else needs to be happening to build this accountability. In this sentence you will see the words activist / hold / quality. So what do you think will be the next step in the minds of the people reading this sentence?
Accountability is important in business, performance, and life – but the words around it are probably more important.
I will do more for you if I respect you and feel your commitment to helping me be successful. I will perform better for you if I get a chance to share my thoughts or if I am invited to a team to solve a problem together. Great teams have accountability, but they also have trust, a shared sense of commitment, and the willingness to listen, to forgive, and to fix.
As a coach, clients will often express the accountability they feel knowing that I will ask the question “What has happened with your commitments since the last time we talked?”, which is good. What I remind them is that there is lots of learning to happen in commitments that do not get done, and rather than feel guilty and view a coach as the accountability police, see me as a partner to explore, understand, and to solve. Great accountability also has a element of safety.
Feel free to use the word accountability as a leader, but I challenge you to examine the words around it first.
My business/mission is being a guide for people so they realize the excellence they were born to achieve and helping organizations achieve their business goals by aligning a people strategy behind them (and helping to build the strategy on occassion). In my experience walking in to unfamiliar territory, I have developed an ear for certain words. Here is a short list:
Get the idea? Sometimes I wonder how many people truly have a mental disorder, because it can feel like there is an epidemic in certain corporate settings. So I googled What percent of adults have a mental disorder?. This brought me to a site that shared the information that in any one year 28-30% of adults experience mental or addictive disorder. Of that group, only 5.4% have a serious disorder that is likely to last beyond a year.
Yesterday a friend shared with me the quote Nobody behaves well in the corner. Another way I say it is that stress does things to people that often are not very positive. Dr. Roger Birkman spent decades perfecting his own assessment along these lines that has become the Birkman Method. This is a tool I use to help people name the source of their stress and the resulting behavior. The Birkman Method provides input on both usual behavior (what people see), needs(mostly hidden, but identify preferred environment; clarify motivational needs, highlight inner strengths), and stress behavior(counter productive, frustrated actions). Here is an example of what these sound like:
Area: Relating one on one with others:
Usual Behavior: Candid and matter-of-fact, minimal self-conscious feelings, outspoken and unevasive, at ease with superiors.
Needs: Frank and direct relationships, genuine praise free of sentiment, direct/straight forward corrections and instructions, candor from superiors and associates
Stress Behavior (happens when needs are not met): Inconsiderate in personal relationships, downplays the importance of personal needs of others, uncomfortable when relationships require sensitive understanding
Any of these sound familiar? When we back people into a corner (low resources, threat of job loss, inconsiderate teammates, no communication, lots of long hours) some strange behavior often results. The Birkman Method has been a great tool for leaders I work with to help them see the sources of their stress and deal with it.
There are some people that genuinely need professional help to address things they are feeling. But beware of labeling without first understanding. If someone is in a corner, that COULD BE the reason for their behavior.
I was listening to a webinar from a seasoned OD/Leadership professional and she threw out a word that made me smile. Her statement was – The #1 hobby in the office is boss watching.”
I was once reminded that people watch leaders. After one of those month-long stretches of dealing with several difficult situations in a row I met one of our team members in a hall and greeted him with a smile and a “Hello Charlie”. He provided a similar reply, and then added “it is good to see you smile. I have not seen that from you in 3-4 weeks.” It had been a tough month for me, and he had noticed.
Remember that 90+% of communication is nonverbal. Leaders that are in a hurry provide information to the people around them in sound bits and actions. It is also natural to gather information and fill in the blanks. I think back to a game played with children where we make a circle and start by wispering a message in the ear of the person next to us. The message returning is always different. Our actions and non verbal cues are like little whispers to our teams.
Here are three purposeful ways to deal with boss watching:
Onboard well: Tell new people up front what your nonverbals are around busy/buried with work, and when it is okay to interrupt. If people know your habits and you know theirs it will be easier to understand/interpret messages.
Meeting Habit: Weekly updates with your team should include a quick around the room What is on my plate this week? to address what stressors everyone is dealing with.
Make it clear – ASK! If you hear a rumor that could have been generated from boss watching, address it openly. Your script should sound like this: “I have heard . . . . . . . . and know that I have been acting like . . . . . this week, so I can see how my actions could feed that. Here is what is happening . . . . . . If you ever wonder about such things please ask.”
What story are your actions telling?
Here is a way to have some fun with this. At your next team meeting ask three questions: How do you know when I am having a good day? How do you know I am having a bad day? What are my habits at work? Just blame it on a leadership blog that talked about boss watching. 🙂
I am a father of four. With a sixteen year-old driver as part of that mix I sometimes think I have seen it all, but I am still hit by things that make me go Hmmmmm. Here is one of those moments . . . . .
At swimming lessons for my 8 year old I looked down and saw 30+ kids, 5 instructors, and in the middle a lone lifeguard watching everything. I saw the need for the lifeguard, but did not recall them being present for past lessons. Later I asked my wife about it because one of her summer jobs was being a lifeguard, and sometimes she has proven more observant than me. 🙂 Her response – There is always a lifeguard because when you are teaching it is difficult to watch all the kids all the time. There is real risk in not watching young children near water, when being 99% safe is not enough because the 1% has a name, parents, friends, and a beating heart.
My mission is to be a guide for others so they realize the excellence they were born to achieve, and in living that mission I often engage with and worry about the safety of new leaders and teams. My world is growth organizations and leaders/teams in transition, and I see the real risk in not having a lifeguard around to monitor safety/progress in their pools. Here are three ways organizations create lifeguards for leaders/teams:
Mentors: Assign mentors(not their boss) to meet frequently (1-2x a month) with new leaders to see how they are doing, watch the team during the transition for evidence of issues, and just provide support.
Six month transition plans: New leaders need to connect with their teams, build the trust of their teams, and get assignments where they can generate wins for themselves/their team. Formal written plans helps make this happen.
Leadership peer groups: Some call it Leadership Orientation or New Leader Training. Fortune 500 companies can afford a program, but the main benefit of these programs is to create a peer support network. Peer support can happen with no impact on the income statment, so any organization can afford it.
One myth . . . Our human resources leader is our lifeguard:You mean the HR leader who has to respond to daily people emergencies, do it now calls from the CEO, worry about legal compliance, and answer frequent questions about benefits/payroll/etc? Reality check . . . Do you want your lifeguard watching the pool 70% of the time?
Lots has been written about leadership transitions. Michael Watkins is an expert in leadership transitions and his research has determined 40% of leadership hires from outside of a company fail within 18 months. Brad Smart is an expert in hiring and his research suggests that it takes organizations 18 months to let go of a bad leadership hire at the cost of 14.6x their base salary.
A 40% failure rate is a lot of drownings. I think organizations need to do a better job having lifeguards around.
I am a big fan of Mary Jo Asmus of Aspire Collaborative Services. She is a great coach and passionate about developing leaders that make a difference. She is also thoughtful and nice. The kind of person you trust as soon as you meet.
I had the privilege of doing a two guest posts on her blog around leadership development and coaching.
Here is the link to the second part of the post:
I am a big fan of Mary Jo Asmus of Aspire Collaborative Services. She is a great coach and passionate about developing leaders that make a difference. She is also thoughtful and nice. The kind of person you trust as soon as you meet. I had the privilege of doing a guest post on her blog around leadership development and coaching.
TrustBUSTER™ #5 – Tells a lot, listens very little
A study was shared with me once that calculated the average time a doctor listened to a patient before making a diagnosis was 23 seconds. For many of my visits that number has actually proven to be long enough. But for a complex medical issue, Twenty-three seconds is not long enough. In my experience working with the results of employee surveys, not enough listening is always a root cause of the top issues.
Here are some broad generalizations on listening.
As people become experts at doing something, they become less adept at listening.
When individuals are rewarded for being great at doing and made a leader, most feel the need to talk louder to make sure things happen.
A high salary has to be justified by knowing everything and never letting people see your mistakes.
I will let someone else to worry about the issue of twenty-three seconds for doctors, lets talk about how this applies for leaders.
LEADERS: The ability to hear what people need and understand what is going on in an organizations is probably the most important skill a leader will need as they move up the organization. Recently a client shared with me that they were concerned about the statistic that 60% of people currently in jobs are open to moving to another job as the economy improves. Their response? Begin to provide the CEO time to meet with small groups of people so he can hear what they are thinking about. Listening for leaders is about slowing down. The cost? Free!
ORGANIZATIONS: The top three ‘listening’ processes in an organization are performance evaluations, one on ones, and staff meetings. Why do I say this? Listening to individuals requires face time in a setting where they are comfortable and the agenda is about them. Ken Blanchard offers guidelines for one on ones of meeting every other week for 15-30 minutes. How many organizations do that? As for performance evaluations, how many managers see this as listening time vs “I have to get through this and get their signature so I can turn it in and get credit for it” time? Then there is the staff meeting. Does the agenda promote open listening or lots of talking with no questions or debate?
Do we need to do employee surveys? They do serve a purpose and there is always benefit in asking people’s opinion. The mistake is leaning on the surveys as the primary way that listening happens in an organization. It is supposed to be supplemental data to ensure that good listening is happening.
How effectively do you use the ‘big three’ listening times mentioned above? How would you grade yourself on this TrustBUSTER™? How would others grade you?
I was facilitating a team building conversation with a group of twelve people. Half of them knew each other well and the other half were new team members who were working in regional offices. For the trust part of the session I asked each person to answer three questions and we went around the room to share answers. The three questions were:
Trust – do you give it automatically or do people have to earn it?
If you give it – how do they lose it? OR If people have to earn it – how do they earn it?
Bonus question: What are “forgiveness factors for you” – ie. If these factors are in place you will forgive trustBUSTING behavior.
There were two A-HA moments. The first was when someone shared her surprise that everyone did not share her answer to the first question. She thought everyone required people to earn trust. The second moment was from my perspective at the front of the room. I saw many of the new people taking note of what their new peers said about trust. For them, the information being shared was helping them understand how to establish solid relationships in a new organization.
So what is the impact of being slow to trust others? I like to focus on transitions(leadership and job) because this behavior will be most evident in the building of a new relationships.
For a new leader, people will sense your lack of trust because of the questions you ask and actions like taking work away from them or micromanaging. If they do not know why you are staying so close their likely response will be to lower their trust in you. This begins the slippery slope of eroding morale and engagement. It can be fixed, but it will take lots of effort on your part.
A good move for a leader is just to be open about it. It could be as simple and direct as saying “I need to see the work your capable of so that I understand what skills you have and what you need from me in terms of support and development.” By putting it on the table your motives become known and might even provide a way for your new people to manage you by keeping you in the loop on things. Remember, your people will judge you based on your actions NOT your intentions.
For a new employee, your peers need to get to know you and being slow to extend trust will slow the building of new relationships. You will need to trust somebody. When I hired people with low trust (we assessed this as part of the interviewing process) I made specific moves during the selection and onboarding process to earn their trust. Things like never missing a committed deadline, over communicating, and being transparent about what was happening. If there is not a onboarding process in place to support your need to build trust quickly, find a way to fulfill your own needs to build those relationships.
For anyone, transparency is the best policy to counteract this behavior. If you are open it can be handled. A good onboarding program greatly lessens the effect of this because trust is being built from the beginning and this should cease to be an issue.