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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.

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.

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