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Archive for February 2017

Creating a Culture of Accountability

“John, I am holding you accountable for this getting done…”

“Who’s accountable for this?!”

These are phrases that you might here in any workplace.    Unfortunately, they are most likely to drum up a sense of fear or anxiety in others, rather than confidence and initiative.

Organizations have struggled with creating a culture of accountability for years.    Engagement surveys continue to show that many employees are dissatisfied in their jobs.   Studies also show that, typically, people don’t leave their organization, they “leave their boss”.   So, clearly there is a personal disconnect that is undermining performance.

Especially in the public sector but also in private industry, there is a sense of poor accountability.   In a 2013 AMA Enterprise study, leaders recognized a significant lack of accountability on the part of employees.   21 percent of respondents stated that accountable employees comprise up to 50% of the workforce.

The reality is, having a culture where people take ownership and honour commitments, is critical to organizational success.   If done well, a culture of accountability would actually be a differentiating factor – and lead to competitive advantage – given that most organizations struggle with accountability.

This article examines three aspects:

(i)             What is accountability

(ii)            What impedes accountability; and most importantly

(iii)           How to develop a thriving culture of organization-wide accountability

What is “Accountability”?

There are varying definitions of accountability but they all have similar themes.   These include:  taking “ownership” (personal responsibility); showing initiative; honouring commitments; doing what needs to be done without having to be told; holding oneself to a high standard; being empowered.

Further research surfaces the following:

“Ownership is about taking initiative and doing the right thing for the business.  It’s about taking responsibility for results and not assuming it’s someone else’s responsibility.  Accountability is also about follow through and getting done what you said you’d get done.   It’s recognizing that other team members are dependent on your work” (Warren Tanner, March 21, 2016 – Make Accountability a Core Part of Your Culture)

What Impedes Accountability?

For many, a lack of accountability is an employee problem.   Managers cite the declining work ethic and a lack of loyalty.   The solution is to set goals, measure success, and manage performance as needed.

But what if there is more to it than this?   What if a lack of accountability is also a leadership problem?

Jonathan Raymond, in his October 13, 2016 article in Harvard Business Review entitled, “Do You Understand What Accountability Really Means”, notes…

“Usually we make the mistake of holding one or both of these hidden beliefs:

  • We have a deeply held association between accountability and punishment – instead of considering it a tool to help people unlock their highest self.
  • We have a deeply held assumption that accountability is a one-off event – rather than thinking it’s a long-term personal conversation between manager and employee.

Randy Pennington, in his September 1, 2015 article in HR Magazine entitled, “Building a Culture of Accountability”, suggests that a different mindset is needed.

He writes, “The difference between leaders who inspire ownership and those from whom employees merely trade time for money has less to do with strategies and techniques than it does with the mindset with which they approach their responsibilities.  The best leaders are guided by the following beliefs:

  1. Employees want to do a good job and succeed.
  2. Discipline should be taught and sustained rather than used to mandate compliance.
  3. Relationships – not position – are the ultimate tool for influencing the performance of others.

Henry Evans, in his book “Winning with Accountability” cites two reasons for a lack of accountability.  He writes:

  1. “Historically, accountability has been maintained through external control.   A goal is set between a manager and his or her subordinate, and the manager’s job is to hold the other person accountable.
  2. Secondly, accountability is determined at the back end of the process.    If the goal is accomplished in the eyes of the manager, then the other person has been accountable.”

He suggests, for accountability to really take hold, it must be internally driven and front-end loaded.

Let’s look at how that can be done…

Developing a Culture of Accountability in Your Organization

Traditionally, as noted, accountability has been driven through external systems and controls.

Organizations continually strive to improve their performance management systems so there is alignment between strategy and goals, and there is clarity between manager and employee on important objectives and related key performance indicators (KPI’s).

This is needed and certainly part of the equation that is required for accountability.

But history shows that it is not enough.   There must also be internal drivers within the individual such that employees feel motivated to perform, even if left on their own.  Ultimately, for accountability to succeed, there has to be a linkage between systems and people.

Let me explain.   In much of my work, I use a tool called the Strength Deployment Inventory (SDI), which illustrates the core “motivational value system” (MVS) of people and their relative focus in three critical motivational “ingredients”:  Process, People, and Performance. 

In other words, we all have a desire to have a plan, help others, and achieve results – but the relative importance of these three drivers, understandably, varies from person to person.   That is why “person A” might go into social work and be very satisfied helping others, while “person B” might prefer to work alone in a cubicle designing a clear process.     Person A sees the value in having a clear process and person B understands the importance of helping others, but the relative importance they place on these two activities is different.

Key to motivation is understanding people’s intrinsic motivators, and then assigning tasks and communicating in a way that links to these motivations.   At their core, employees must see a meaningful purpose in what is being expected of them, for them to truly engage and be accountable.

Personal Strengths Publishing Canada has an innovative program – Core Strengths, Accountability by Choice – which teaches the seven motivational value systems of people, and the 28 related core strengths that associate with these value systems.     In this program, participants learn:

(i)             The core motivations of people in regards to People, Performance, and Process

(ii)            One’s current approach to engaging others and how to broaden one’s approach by choosing to use appropriate strengths, in the right way, at the right time.

(iii)           How to prevent conflict, and how to defuse conflict early so that goals and targets are achieved.

(iv)          Applications of key learning to actual workplace challenges where accountability is weak or lacking

(v)           How to take a balanced approach to leadership that leverages the core motivations of others and builds organization-wide accountability.

About the author: Robert Harris is a highly experienced negotiator who has worked with union – management and other groups throughout North America to teach skills and tools to achieve improved negotiated results and maintain healthy working relationships. Robert has written articles in the business press that relate to interest based and power based negotiating. He is President of Robert Harris Resources Inc. and can be contacted here or directly at (905) 466-3083.

Making a Difference in the Public Service – Impediments and How to Fix

As with all sectors of our economy, the public sector has a unique culture that, on one hand, helps it succeed but on another level, gets in the way of meaningful innovation and change.

The reality is, implementing sustainable change that has stakeholder commitment is one of the biggest challenges – and needs – in the public service.

Part of my business practice involves working with managers and leaders at all levels of the public sector (federal, provincial, municipal).   Frequently, I deliver a program on Change Leadership which receives excellent feedback albeit with typical “qualifiers” such as noted below:

“This program was great but how am I going to be able to apply this learning when the culture of our public sector does not support it.”

“I am excited about applying these concepts but not sure how to get my boss onside… he hasn’t taken this course…”

Recently, I was delivering a three day leadership program in western Canada encompassing leaders of several different public sector departments, where the focus on was on “Transformational Change”.

As part of the program, we engaged in a lengthy round-table discussion on what impedes change success in the public sector (as this was highly relevant to the attendees, given their roles).

Five (5) Barriers to Successful Change in the Public Sector

Participants identified five barriers that must be resolved, for change to succeed in the public sector.   Interestingly, there were “linkages” among the factors (i.e. one factor impacted another factor).  The five identified barriers to making meaningful change in the public sector were:

1. A Sub-Culture of Complacency.   

Although many participants joined the public sector to make a difference, their ability to effect change and improvement was counteracted by a sub-culture that was more focused on sticking with status quo.   Participants struggled with how to overcome an attitude of complacency and even apathy in the public sector as they tried to engage others in change.

The sense was that anyone (regardless of level) who had been working in the public sector for five years or longer, was now steeped in the norm of “not taking change seriously”.   Participants noted that, instead of engaging, employees and managers alike would often resort to “waiting things out”, presuming that leadership would change (literally) or at the very least, would change their minds.

2. “Revolving Door” Leadership. 

Mid-level managers in particular struggled with frequent changes at the senior leadership level.   They noted that short-term leadership changes were disruptive on a number of fronts.   This included a growing cynicism or apathy in the visions being espoused, and a sense of futility of committing to a direction that would likely change with the new leader.   (Note:  Some participants from the provincial sector commented that they had already had four Assistant Deputy Ministers in the past 14 months.)

3. Poor Follow-Through. 

Given rapid turnover at the leadership level, which could include new councils (municipal) or new provincial or federal governments, there was a sense that change is not sustainable because what is “in” today will be “out” tomorrow.

Particularly disgruntled were those employees and managers who worked hard at implementing the most recent change, as well as exhorting their team of the change’s importance, only to discover that “priorities had changed” and the change will not be completed.     Interestingly, these former change advocates became the most intransigent, and difficult to engage, when the next change was announced (feeling that their leadership role had been undermined).

4. Lack of Accountability.  

Many participants noted that there is no system of rewards or consequences in the public sector for whether the change is done well or even abandoned.    This lack of results or action was often rationalized as a “change in plan” or simply swept under the carpet going unacknowledged.

Many participants noted that managers were not rewarded for succeeding at change, nor were they “consequenced” if change was done poorly or avoided.  So, the motivation wasn’t there to be a change champion in an environment where the preservation of status quo seemed the norm.

Newcomers were often told to “slow down… don’t rock the boat”.   Many participants felt that it was almost easier – and more conducive to future career success – to be average from a change perspective, than accomplish a lot.

5. Significantly Inadequate Communications.   

Participants noted that communications at all levels were very inadequate or completely lacking.   Mid managers in particular noted they were often in the dark about decisions or actions directly impacting their work units.

Participants were unanimous in noting that executive communications were typically high-level jargon or “corporate-speak” that said very little.   Furthermore, they noted it was almost frowned upon to get below the surface in terms of details pertaining to the communications.

Participants stated the norm was to keep communications sanguine – as if there is an unwritten rule of “Don’t ask / Don’t tell”.    One participant who was trying to be open in an employee town hall, was pulled aside by his senior manager and advised to “stay on message” (which immediately caused that manager to shut down).

Generally, participants felt there was a lack of transparency and two-way dialogue in matters of importance which caused others to question the truthfulness of what was being conveyed.

Keys to Building Public Sector Change Effectiveness

Impediments to public sector change are not easy to overcome as these are long-standing and inbred in all levels of government (especially provincial and federal).

But there are meaningful actions that leaders can take, which would significantly improve change outcomes in the public sector.   Here are three (3) themes, with supporting actions, that would make a big difference.

I.               Reconnect the Executive Level of Leadership to Middle Management

This is critical.    Participants at our round-table cited a clear disconnect between leaders who determine changes at the strategic level, and mid-level managers who must operationalize those same changes and get others onside.

2016 research from Prosci, a leading change consulting firm, shows that the most disempowered and resistant group to change in today’s workplace is middle management – almost half of all resistance is experienced at this level  (whereas only 7% of executives are resistant to change).

A human principle is that people are always more committed to changes that they have input into.

In reality, it is folly to expect employees to embrace change if they perceive a major disconnect between their immediate supervisor/manager and the executive level.     People will only persevere through change, if they know these initiatives are supported at the highest levels, and that there is cohesion and alignment at all levels of leadership.

Three (3) ways to enhance connectedness between executives and middle managers are:

i.         Leaders must act as “partners” (versus detached decision-makers).   I realize that strategy and direction is the prerogative of executives, but tactics and process must be a collaborative effort with those working at the “front”.  As a start, leaders should involve lower management sooner and give them meaningful input throughout the project in terms of “how” the change should unfold.

ii.         Middle managers must be given more status and leeway in the communications process.   This will reinforce their role in supporting and driving the change.    Leaders need to make more use of joint presentations, and use this author’s “4-Box” methodology to foster a much more compelling conversation. Research shows that front line supervisors have a much greater influence on the attitudes and beliefs of staff, than distant executives.

iii.         Senior leaders need to be much more visible and active throughout.    Typically, they help “launch” the change effort and then stay mostly removed from the fray.  Given the challenges that others will undoubtedly experience throughout the change, leaders need to practise more “managing by walk about” and be much more active and visible in reinforcing the importance of the change.

II.       Significantly Enhance Communications

Communications is consistently cited as a “maker or breaker” of change success.    People can’t commit to what they don’t understand.    Furthermore, trust and commitment require transparency and “safety” in being able to ask questions and present contrary viewpoints.

Three (3) ways to improve public sector communications include:

i.         Start with the “WHY”.    Employees must understand why the change is needed and the dangers, cost or risk of staying the same.   From my experience with public sector change initiatives, middle managers are often in the dark as to why the change is being undertaken; instead being provided with platitudes.    This totally neutralizes their role and their ability to get others onside in a meaningful way.

ii.         Acknowledge and explore stakeholder (employees, managers, others) interests.   The “elephant in the room” must be acknowledged and legitimized.    It is impossible for employees to commit to a change that appears to discount or ignore their needs.

iii.         Do a deeper dive.   Communications with externals is understandably going to be filtered and framed in an appropriate way.   But internal communications can and should go much deeper in terms of explaining why the change is needed, challenges to change success, impact on stakeholders, and what will remain the same after the change is completed.

III.            Establish “Internally-driven” Accountability Systems

Historically, accountability has been an externally driven process involved with setting goals, and then establishing metrics (KPI’s) to measure success.    But the reality is, most people join the public service to make a difference in how societies function and to improve people’s quality of life.

Through externally driven controls, leaders are going to ensure conformance but risk losing the deeper commitment of the workforce who have different motivations in why they do what they do.

External controls are useful, but for true accountability to occur, more is needed.   There must also be internal drivers within the individual so that employees feel motivated to perform, even if unsupervised.

Effective accountability involves a linkage between systems and people.  

In much of my work, I use a tool called the Strength Deployment Inventory (SDI), which illustrates the core “motivational value system” (MVS) of people and their relative focus in three critical motivational priorities:  Process, People, and Performance.

In other words, we all have a desire to have a plan, help others, and achieve results – but the relative importance of these three drivers, and what we tend to focus on, varies from person to person.

Key to motivation is understanding people’s intrinsic motivators, and then assigning tasks and communicating in a way that links to these motivations.   At their core, employees must see a meaningful purpose in what is being expected of them, for them to truly engage and be accountable.

I work closely with Personal Strengths Publishing Canada (PSP Canada), a Canadian consulting firm that is very active in the public sector.   PSP Canada has an innovative program – Core Strengths, Accountability by Choice – which teaches the seven motivational value systems of people, the 28 related core strengths that associate with these value systems, and how leaders can tap into these values systems for greater success – especially when initiating change.

About the Author:   Robert Harris, President of Robert Harris Resources Inc., uses A.D.K.A.R methodology and the “4-Box” Model to illustrate best practices in change leadership.   Robert can be contacted here or directly at (905) 466-3083.

Negotiating with Donald Trump – 5 Critical “Do’s and Don’ts”

For the past 20 years, I have taught negotiating skills – to both novice and seasoned negotiators.

The focus of this instruction was on how to take a “principled” approach to negotiations where the interests of all parties are understood and factored into agreements so there is shared commitment to outcomes. The emphasis was how to maximize results while preserving relationships.

But watching Donald Trump over the past year, it is clear that principled negotiations would be ineffective and risky – Trump would totally take advantage.

Principled versus Power Negotiating – 5 “Don’ts”

Before I discuss best ways to negotiate with Trump, let’s take a look at some key tenets of principled (interest-based) negotiation that would be virtually useless in dealing with Donald Trump.

  1. Don’t Stress Facts or Common Understanding: In most negotiations, agreement on facts can be helpful to both parties and lead to sustainable agreements. However, Trump already suggests there are “alternate” facts – meaning any truth can be rebutted. Trump regularly complains of “fake news” and a dishonest press. So, there would be no benefit of trying to get shared agreement of facts – Trump would only do this if it worked to his advantage, or he could use it to manipulate.
  2. Don’t Strive to be Transparent: In most negotiations, transparency builds trust and enables openness, innovative thinking, and better deals. Trump prefers secrecy to transparency. He refuses to share information (e.gs., his tax returns and other business dealings) that other politicians have shared in the past. Trump holds few press conferences and spends much of his time huddled with an elite few. He tends to “stay on message” at all times rather than explore the legitimate questions of others. Consequently, there is a huge trust gap between Trump’s camp, and citizen’s groups, world leaders, and politicians. Being transparent with Trump would not be reciprocated and, in effect, would put you at disadvantage.
  3. Don’t Focus on Relationship: Getting to know someone on a personal level (in terms of values, interests, etc.) is typically beneficial to both sides. It reduces conflict and allows people to appreciate the needs of those with whom they are negotiating. On the other hand, Trump is highly confrontational and an occasional bully. He is more than blunt, he is aggressive and inflammatory. Not only has he alienated many American and world citizens, he has even alienated many colleagues within his own Republican party. Trump would view “niceness” as weakness and would tend to steamroll that type of behaviour, unless again it worked to his advantage.
  4. Don’t expect Problem-Solving: Trump typically approaches any meeting with his solution already worked out. He is highly positional and refuses to be open to any other point of view. His is unrelenting in pushing others to accept his perspective or solution. Already, leaders of Mexico and Australia, have experienced Trump’s belligerence in imposing his solutions. The antidote is to detailed below – essentially, you need to use every power tactic available to neutralize his positional approach
  5. Don’t expect a well thought out Process or adherence to procedures: Trump has a tendency to “wing-it” and break all the rules. In fact, he purposefully uses an “unorthodox” approach to create confusion and anxiety in those with whom he is dealing. Being unpredictable works to his advantage as it keeps his “opponents” on edge. My recommendation here is for you to build in some flexibility and resiliency in your plans so that you can “flex” as needed, depending on what Trump is doing.

So, how does one deal with Trump? Use Power Tactics – Throw away the “Principled” Playbook!

Power, as a continuous tactic, is counterproductive and ultimately ineffective. But as a situational strategy, power can be highly effective.

In my seminars, I always suggest that a more principled approach will work best over the long run with a majority of people – but not with a “Trump”. Any use of principled tactics could spell disaster.

But when negotiating with a “Trump”, I recommend using power tactics, strategically and appropriately, to further your negotiation results.

I might add that an effective outcome of using power with autocrats, is it forces that person to move into a more reasonable zone.

Trump will only respond to your needs if he senses a power disadvantage, lacks power alternatives on his behalf, and has lots to lose if the other side prevails. In these situations, the “nasty” Donald Trump may become conciliatory and collaborative –but only because he has to!

Trump has clearly shown that he admires people who use power to gain advantage and win. Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, is a good example of someone whom Trumps praises, even though Putin is widely regarded as a self-serving power-monger.

Here are five (5) tips for negotiating with Donald Trump

  1. Keep your cards close to your vest – do not share any information that would give Trump advantage
  2. Ensure you are negotiating with at least one other person representing your side and also an agreed to neutral, 3rd party scribe. The other person on your side ensures that you are both hearing what is said and what is not spoken. The neutral 3rd party scribe ensures that “facts” are verified, otherwise Trump will spin the truth later on in the negotiation.
  3. Establish options that allow you to succeed even without a deal with Trump. This is typically referred to as a BATNA (Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement). Developing multiple BATNA’s reducing Trump’s power since he can’t impose his solution – without a BATNA, you would be in a very precarious situation.
  4. Focus only on task outcomes; do not try to be nice or curry favour through relationship gestures. Being reasonable and pleasant will have no positive influence on Trump; to the contrary, he will see you as weak and harden his position even more. Note: I am not suggesting you need to become mean or nasty– you should still maintain your professionalism – however, do not use relationship to achieve outcomes. The more you keep relationship gestures out of the negotiation, the better outcome you will likely achieve.
  5. Find ways to neutralize his power. You could do this by discrediting his assertions, restricting his options, reducing his bases of support which could be other influential people or sources of supply, or creating time disadvantages to him where he needs your cooperation at some point because he cannot stick with status quo (i.e. no deal would be disastrous to him).

These five “tips” don’t guarantee success if negotiating with Donald Trump but certainly they raise your likelihood of success.

Best case scenario, you achieve needed outcomes which satisfy your interests and demonstrate to Trump that you can “play his game” (this will augur well for you in future negotiations with Trump).

Clearly relationship won’t be enhanced in using these power tactics, but there will likely be a begrudging respect and that is even more important.

I also realize most of us will never actually negotiate with Donald Trump, but many of us will likely negotiate with someone who thinks and acts like a “Donald Trump”.

To summarize, reverse the playbook. In typical negotiations, I recommend a principled approach focused on interests and preserving the relationship. In “trump” negotiations, I recommend a power-based approach where relationship is far less relevant than powerful influencers that cause the other person to “play ball”.

Either way, good luck – and may most of your negotiations be the more principled ones!

About the author: Robert Harris is a highly experienced negotiator who has worked with union – management and other groups throughout North America to teach skills and tools to achieve improved negotiated results and maintain healthy working relationships. Robert has written articles in the business press that relate to interest based and power based negotiating. He is President of Robert Harris Resources Inc. and can be contacted here or directly at (905) 466-3083.