Posts Tagged ‘accountability’

Relatively Better

September 30, 2015

lemonlime

The conversation I had with a board member of a deeply influential organization some months ago was troubling.

In that exchange, he described behavior of senior management as incompetent. Later, he said “But all these organizations are a mess.”

No Worse Than Jones

Relativism is a common discard. You can set the bar anywhere you want. It’s possible to rationalize almost anything by noting those who are also behaving badly or worse. Read this list and add to it the relative comments you have heard:

  • Nope, the Catholic Church has not done right by women. But, look at the Muslims.
  • Yes, teen pregnancy rates are terrible in Michigan. But, look at New Mexico and Mississippi.
  • While cronyism is common, it’s nothing like financial fraud.
  • Football and basketball coach salaries may be excessive, but look at Wall Street.
  • Air pollution is awful in California, but it’s nowhere near as bad as Pakistan.

Insecure people and brittle organizations rush to defend. Regardless of goodwill and constructive capacity, when a critical remark is made, one can expect a counter punch. Unskilled  managers wear an over-sized winner’s ribbon with an inscription proclaiming: “Not the Worst!”

Context Warp

Compensation is a typical yardstick to underscore relativism. Almost everybody looks “up,” rarely down or sideways at money. A bonanza for one man becomes the standard for another’s excess. So when the former president of Yale received an “additional retirement benefit” of $8.5 million in 2013, Columbia’s annual presidential compensation of $3.4 million looked nearly paltry. Does anyone ever mention the context is warped?

Now and then, we hear some contrast. Noting the “best in class” can be inspiring and motivating. It can encourage a different attitude, e.g., why can’t we? If New Hampshire has the lowest teen pregnancy rate, then what’s going on there we might need to learn?

While defending territory can be a common reaction to critical comments, a far more useful response are great questions. A learning attitude and listening ears are important assets. They both have the potential to support improvement which delivers, in turn, results. In serving a planned vision, leaders set standards by word and actions. Everything is not relative. It’s vital to have expectations for what’s right and what’s wrong, not simply what’s better or worse.

 Less Evil

Certainly, acting less evil isn’t the same as being virtuous. Regardless of whether others make the effort, leaders offer a principled example. Recognizing this and pressing for accountability requires important perspective: some people call it leadership.

Lisa Wyatt, Ed.D. is chief strategy officer and partner in Phillips Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems and social change with clients worldwide. Lisa has cross-sector and international experience. She is an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. See: www.pwkinc.com

 

Courage

August 18, 2015

Thuli2

Her official title is public protector.

Her work is a hybrid: “governmental watchdog and public prosecutor.” She has a tough job that relies on vast technical knowledge and vital personal attributes like integrity, transparency, candor. The challenge is tackling corruption at the highest levels of power.

Thulisile Madonsela fills  a role created to help safeguard democracy by the post-apartheid 1996 South African Constitution. To date, the protector’s office has addressed low-level government corruption, but last year a deep investigory report was prepared on activities of  President Zuma.

Prior to the report release, Madonsela (who was appointed by Zuma in 2009) was threatened with arrest. She was accused of being a covert CIA agent, having political motivations, racism and other charges. Regardless, she published the report that identifies both misappropriated funds and ethics violations.

Madonsela said, “The work here has exposed fault lines in our democracy. It has people talking about what kind of democracy we have – and what of democracy we deserve.” Described as being “exceedingly self-possessed” and “deliberative,” she is the first woman in South African history to hold this post. Prior to her appointment the office handled 19,000 cases annually, five years later the volume is nearly 40,000. The president has been repeatedly been the  subject of  investigations, eluding rape, racketeering, money-laundering and fraud charges. For now, the Zuma case is unresolved.

Madonsela’s mother was a maid and father an electrician. She defied her father’s direction to become a nurse. Known as a rigorous student, she secured scholarships for her education. As a young lawyer she helped draft South Africa’s Bill of Rights. Although deeply concerned about her country’s external image, she has said “Somebody had to raise the accountability question.”

Lisa Wyatt, Ed.D. is chief strategy officer and partner in Phillips Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems and social change with clients worldwide. Lisa has cross-sector and international experience. She is an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. See: www.pwkinc.com

 

Play To Win

February 27, 2015

accountsign

“It often happens that I wake up at night and begin to think about a serious problem and decide I must tell the Pope about it. Then I wake up completely and remember I am the Pope.”

This comment by Pope John XXIII makes me chuckle. It also encourages personal growth.

In any organization, performance potential has a lot to do with accountability. It also has a lot to do with individual character and prevailing norms (or organization culture). Accountability is an attitude and it informs behaviors. Successful people and organizations are accountable.

A favorite author, Susan Scott, defines accountability as “a desire to take responsibility for results; a bias towards solution, action.” She writes it is “a personal, private nonnegotiable decision about how to live one’s life.”

In Fierce Leadership, Scott lists some signs accountability may be a challenge for you or your workplace.

  • People play to avoid loss.
  • Productivity and morale are poor.
  • Lack of clarity, lots of confusion, tunnel vision.
  • Nasty surprises and cultural frustration.
  • Bitterness toward coworkers, partners, and failed relationships.
  • Difficulty leading.
  • Rule-driven, dependency and justified victims.
  • Stalled strategies, initiatives, progress.

When people complain they want their organization to be authentic, focused, engaged, on the right issues…but explain it isn’t, then whatever “reason” is offered is an excuse. That person is articulating a belief and acting on it. They may signal earnestness and other manners of a gracious person but they are not a leader.

Accountability is a leadership attitude. It begins with individuals – regardless of title or position. It starts right now  with each of us. It’s not finger pointing at leadership because you are the leader. Leadership has a cost. It’s price is relative but always more than simple self interest. When people “hurt” their self interest to be accountable, you know someone is leading.

Scott points out a sophisticated and too-common version of finger pointing happens. People in “high places” often say, “I acknowledge mistakes were made here.” She says this technique is popular because the passive voice avoids accountability. The trite comment removes any actor. Mistakes are made by individuals – they don’t emerge from thin air. One of the important things about learning is the necessity of noting errors so they can be corrected.

So, this next week, skip the automatic responses like: run, hide, huddle and cover. That’s what animals do when fearful. Choose to build an essential habit. In effective organizations, accountability is a bedrock, pervasive value lived daily by every member.

Lisa Wyatt, Ed.D. is chief strategy officer and partner in Phillips Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems and social change with clients worldwide. Lisa has cross-sector and international experience. She is an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. See: www.pwkinc.com

More Red Flags for Managing Better – Part 2

October 16, 2014

mgmtdrw

One of management’s most important contributions to enterprise performance is talent development. The example we provide is a powerful influence on others. Our choices in attitude and action matter hugely. To discern who needs your leadership, supervision and related attention, be vigilant about signals others display.

In my last post I described some poor examples. Here, I add six more descriptions to point out too-common misbehaviors. Only through awareness and intervention can we enable better attitudes and actions. In bold face, I note the “red flag.”

1.Won’t or can’t articulate ethical or appropriate behavior. Avoids thoughtful observation and commenting on blunders, mis-steps or errors in judgment. Unwilling to prompt exploration, discovery or provide constructive actions. Red flag: Avoids coaching.

2.Never follows through. Offers empty promises. Consistently deceives and simply fails to show integrity. Red flag: Isn’t trustworthy.

3.No updates, context or guidance sets others up to fail. Clear, communications that sense, interpret and support forward action is vital. Red flag: Expects others to mind read.

4.Rigid, uncompromising, limited perspective, won’t acknowledge other experience or situational context. Red flag: Inflexible.

5.Dulling, oppressive, controlling, overly pessimistic, no big view. Red flag: Cannot inspire.

6.Assassinates, plays “keep-away,” grabs others’ ideas, manipulates and puppeteers. Often this kind culture is created if people lack skill and knowledge or are insecure. Little or no accountability accelerates it. Red flag: Bullying.

For me, items 1, 2 and 6 are weighted. Why? Because feedback, trust and competence are essential building blocks for organization performance.

It’s a challenge for all of us to manage better in both our work and lives. Mature, well-intentioned peers and supervisors must speak up. Many of us know amazing mentors and sponsors who do. A little bit of courage conquers any risk and creates trustful interdependence. Things go better if we can rely on each other!

Lisa Wyatt, Ed.D. is chief strategy officer and partner in Phillips Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems and social change with clients worldwide. Lisa has cross-sector and international experience. She is an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. See: www.pwkinc.com

 

Strategy: A Two-Step Dance

September 25, 2014

Very little planned change in any organization, community or individual occurs without strategy. It’s a core competence that requires deliberate attention. Far too often, it shows up in  a simplistic process at the annual retreat. Sometimes it is implicit and embedded in conversations about routine functions.

But, great managers know that strategy is the map that provides direction to daily decisions and actions. Once talent and capital are in hand, strategy is job 1. It has  just two steps and both are critical.

 

strat2x2

The matrix above offers a quick way to think about the two steps. Strategy formulation and execution are equally important. One without the other has little value. When both are sound then there’s “a  good chance” of securing intended progress. When one or both are flawed, we can explain deficits in progress and bad results.

Accountability provides the “glue” for any effort that relies on strategy to improve and perform. It makes both steps relevant by specifying individual and shared ownership. In any organization, accountability occurs through relationships and structures that review performance. Formal and informal reviews specify expectations, competencies, attributes and results among participants. Without accountability –  wander, squander, delays, decline and failure are likely. With it, the “dance” can deliver value.

When assessing your program or organization’s progress, look carefully at formulation and execution. Ensure there are explicit high-quality processes for both, along with robust accountability.

(For lots more on strategy, see past tinker posts, like: Ten Good Strategy Questions-July 2010, Avoid Strategy Sabotage-October 2012, Great Plans Adjust-June 2012)

Lisa Wyatt, Ed.D. is chief strategy officer and partner in Phillips Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems and social change with clients worldwide. Lisa has cross-sector and international experience. She is an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. See: www.pwkinc.com

Supporting Change

August 28, 2014

butterflyGreen bkgrd

In any successful change effort, there are three general stages: (1) design and planning, (2) implementation and (3) review or evaluation. For simplicity, let’s assume the design and planning is strategic and reflects on a clearly framed challenge that’s commonly understood. And, that routine review occurs so feedback for adaptation is assured. Then, let’s point our attention at implementation.

Why does implementation matter? Because the choice to commit resources has significant opportunity cost, and its quality is directly connected to both progress and the ultimate impact. Research indicates that those organizations with strong implementation capabilities are nearly five times more likely to generate successful change. This raises important questions about an organization’s implementation capabilities and practices.

High quality implementation relies on vital practices. They include:

Prioritization & Planning. Strong choices along with great plans are made, widely known and get consistent focus.

Ownership & Commitment. Individuals and teams have cited responsibilities and are passionate about achievement.

Accountability. Results as well as progress are connected to people with both incentives and sanctions. There is urgency – a compelling forward momentum generated by deadlines and other time sensitive pressures.

Effective Program/Project Management. A standard set of actions and attitudes supports work routines. These are integrated with standard cycles and functions of the enterprise.

Sufficient Resources & Capabilities. There are no deficits or limitations in the tools, capital, skills & knowledge essential to responsibilities.

Continuous Improvement. Learning is intentional, improvement is routinely sought and expected.

Sustainability Intent. A long-view, for what serves mission/margin, is present from the start.

Notice  sequence  in the list above. Carefully chosen priorities comes first for a reason. So, getting those clear (and shared) in your organization is job 1. Then, think about building the seven common practices enterprise-wide. Articulate actions that will systematically develop both the discipline and skills to be sure implementation gets attention. It matters.Without it,  changes won’t happen.

Lisa Wyatt, Ed.D. is chief strategy officer and partner in Phillips Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems and social change with clients worldwide. Lisa has cross-sector and international experience. She is an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. See: www.pwkinc.com

 

 

Climb The Ladder

November 11, 2013

skyladder

Don’t do or say anything that you’re not willing to see on the front page. It’s a dated maxim since few people read newspapers. Mostly, people read screens instead. But the  warning remains a current imperative for performance: accountability.

Years ago, I saw a model that work-culture experts used in their training. My version of it appears here. In your mind, picture personal accountability as a ladder with rungs on it. Those on the upper rungs show accountable behaviors. Those avoiding it are on the bottom rungs.

Acctarrow

A few questions can get you and colleagues engaged in important reflection. Which part of the ladder do you spend most of your time? Where do you often see others? Why are there patterns of behavior? What would encourage a higher rung for yourself? For staff, for senior executives and others?

Responsible people make hard choices every day. When faced with a tough one: think about your behavior showing up in high definition on the screen of those who most matter to your work and your life. Professionals embrace accountability. It is a huge factor in any organizations’ success. Step up to the top rungs of the ladder every day!

Lisa Wyatt, Ed.D. is chief strategy officer and partner in Phillips Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems and social change with clients worldwide. Lisa has cross-sector and international experience. She is an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. See: www.pwkinc.com

Feedback Fosters Growth

January 3, 2013

bestopenhands

How would you feel if someone had great information that could help you be more effective in your work but they kept it from you? Would you be: resentful, concerned, distrustful, irritated?

Some months ago, we asked a renowned colleague for his perceptions of a key presentation we had done. He gave my business partner and me some surprising information that nobody has indicated before – ever. It was very useful; we were grateful.

Different from Gossip or Rumor
Feedback is a gift. It is different from gossip, rumor or nagging. Feedback comes from a credible source, has authentic other-centered intent and makes a constructive contribution that’s actionable. It is a particular kind of qualified opinion.

Far too many manager-leaders avoid offering feedback because it is hard to be a messenger of less than good news. It can be uncomfortable and create tension. However, when motivated people get a chance to “fix” something they are generally very appreciative.

Feedback: When & How
Most of the time, feedback has a positive outcome. However, it’s best delivered under certain conditions. Delivery must be from a reliable source in a functional relationship, offered one:one privately and never during a crisis. Feedback should be invited and occur in a context of accountability. Sometimes, feedback is wasted. Typically, this reflects a bad reception by the recipient. Reception challenges happen most often when people are unwilling to listen, the content doesn’t fit with their self image, there’s resistance, denial or no intention for change. It’s always wise to request permission before speaking.

Seek and Discover
In dynamic circumstances, we all must adapt to ensure effectiveness. This means the development of new skills and knowledge are not an unusual event but an on-going expectation we should hold for ourselves. To capture the idea of perpetual learning, Stephen Covey used the expression “sharpen your saw.” We need to model the courage it takes to ask: “How did you experience me?”

Choose When Thoughtfully
In an uncomfortable situation, a colleague took a good idea we’d entrusted to him in confidence. The “thief” took the concept, secured funding, and implemented it poorly. He has avoided us since. We suspect he’s embarrassed. This man never acknowledged his larceny. Others are unlikely to hold him accountable for his lack of integrity.

We’ve considered a face:face conversation. While several of the “tests” for providing feedback are met, the context suggests any additional effort is unlikely to be productive. Why? His reception challenges are among those noted above. There’s no accountability. Further, any comment, uninvited is likely to be considered shaming. Shaming rarely leads to any substantive change. Regrettably, this guy appears to confuse posing and a deep desire to “fit in” with leadership.

Hunger Every Night
Most people go to bed every night with hunger – for recognition. One of the best ways to support people, build true allies and develop your organization is feedback. It indicates you notice the efforts others are making. It supports accountability, employs interdependence and ensures the benefits of synergy. Your colleagues and others have great information that can improve your work.

Get and Give
I once heard former Kellogg Company CEO and US Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez comment on feedback: “For me, it’s like spinach. I don’t always like the way it tastes, but I know it’s very good for me.”

An organization or community rich in feedback supports learning and performance. Make this New Year resolution: Routinely invite feedback. When you’re a credible source and there’s potential for reception – offer it.

-Lisa Wyatt, Ed. D. is chief strategy officer and partner in Phillip Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems change with clients worldwide. Lisa has cross-sector and international experience. She is an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. See : http://www.pwkinc.com

“Tiger Teams” Win Consistently

October 30, 2011

Any “recipe” for high-performance requires a conscious adaptation to context. Coaching in team sports offer wonderful metaphors that transfer to the challenges found with improving performance across the private, government and charitable sectors. Sometimes great examples come from unexpected sources…

Consider Battle Creek’s tiny St Philips Central Catholic High School. Their school mascot is the tiger. It has about 150 kids – in the entire school. It’s small but it’s strong. The coach and students deliver a Class D volleyball state championship team year after year. In fact, five years running. Their example – if you look closely – offers some terrific lessons from the volleyball court that could be useful for managing and leading more effectively.

The Tiger recipe has four big pieces.

1. Team First. Nothing comes before the team. While some “star players” pass through – it’s the whole that gets the most attention. It’s the vital force of cooperative, coordinated play that scores points. While each athlete has a function in their relative position – the entire team, on the court and the bench, wins or loses. To underscore team – two critical, interactive areas are emphasized: practice and culture.

Practice ensures players master the basics. Practice also develops skills and intentional, strategic routines. It ensures interdependence, commitment and encourages trust. Practice takes lots of time. Through practice synchronicity emerges naturally. Culture gets built piece by piece through special traditions. Vital details like an encouraging quote before games, shared meals, common hair ribbons and planned celebrations for a service ace or point-winning block contribute to norms. Discipline is consistent. Late to practice and other mishaps have the same penalty regardless of a player’s proficiency on the court. Negative attitudes and other issues are addressed promptly.

2. Build The Bench. Many students spend loads of time watching, practicing with and cheering on their teammates. In any given season – nearly half a team warms the bench. The team carries extra players to be sure it has deep strength in each position. The coach has an intentional development plan. She isn’t lining up just this year’s win but the next several. All players earn a spot on the court through practice effort and, ultimately, performance. A bench means there’s always a “plan B” if someone moves, gets an attitude or is injured.

3. Test Against The Best. The St. Phil coach seeks a tough game schedule during the regular season. She enters her team in tournaments with far larger, taller, stronger teams from Class A, B and C schools. Some have thousands of students with significant athletic programs.  The Tigers are expected to play well and win often. They intentionally sharpen their game against very tough competition. While consistently smaller in size – the quality of the team play, their nimble synergy and sheer will translates to frequent upset wins. At long odds, the integrated and cohesive whole out-plays other teams.

4. Relentless Positive Focus (RPF). All along the journey of pre-season, the game schedule and into play-offs there is a “relentless positive focus.” When a playing error occurs – teammates are quick to pat a bottom, slap a hand and encourage attention to the next move. There is joyful energy and intensity about the “work” and there’s a shared commitment to the results. The coach’s attitude challenges and encourages the players. She asks for a big appetite. A RPF aims the players at the one reason they play: to win. It translates to a stellar win-loss record of serial state championships.

However, a RPF and the rest of the recipe have many other critical outcomes for these young women. They provide valuable lessons in commitment, equity, interdependence, focus and accountability. These principles are also ones “coaches” in every organization can encourage for consistent wins.

Lisa Wyatt, Ed. D. is a strategy architect and partner in Phillip Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems change with clients worldwide. Lisa has cross-sector and international experience. She is an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. See : www.pwkinc.com

In Praise of the “Datavore*”

January 18, 2011

* [dey-tuh -vohr, dat-uh -vohr]def 1. -noun. One who devours data for decisions.
—————————————————————————
Hunches or gut-feel are great but to accomplish ambitious agendas we need data. It is like oxygen.The teams, organizations, boards, colleagues and clients we work with need it.

Whether promoting or defending your cause it’s important to understand and use data in your work. Data provides confidence in description and measurement. Measuring and managing go hand in hand. To pursue and secure performance, it’s important to both understand and use data in decisions. Data serves (at least) three critical functions that matter hugely in your workplace: (1) to set direction, (2) to monitor and manage adaptation, (3) to define impact.

Direction and Description
Descriptive data profiles your key challenges or need, capacity, the environment and trends. Inputs on these factors advance strategy formulation especially if you seek differentiation or market niche. In any sector, data helps you understand your target markets with precision. It helps to solve the “what works under what conditions” puzzle. Data also provides reconnaissance on competitors, indicates progress and specifies results.

Whether you manage a program, function or an entire organization measuring is integral because it offers vital feedback. Monitoring your program or organization status is best done via something other than whim or fancy. While intuition is valuable – it can be bolstered or discarded with facts. Data provides a compass reading. If you know where you are, it’s far easier to correct, revise or redirect to get where you want to go.

Well-informed Judgments
Although too quickly associated only with educational testing or personnel reviews – evaluation has a vast range of potential use and contributions. Valid and credible evaluation relies heavily on data. Effective managers and leaders make evaluative assessments constantly.

Evaluation is the intentional use of information to support a relative judgment. It can be used as a vital gauge for your most critical choices. Capable managers must be able specify an evaluation system. Any system starts with information needs, users and appropriate indicators. Be sure your evaluation approach includes both formative and summative aspects. Formative focuses real-time on your processes, actions and operations. Summative evaluation refers to the status of outcomes or results. Collectively, over time, these comprise impact.

Friend not Foe
The original Latin noun for data means “something given.” While most people aren’t as delighted as I am when the new edition of Pocket World in Figures (The Economist) arrives — working on your “data digestion” will only improve your management acumen. Your work as a manager and leader requires powerful, viable tools and techniques. Data is far more often a friend than foe. The best advice? Fall in love with data.

-Lisa Wyatt Knowlton, Ed. D. is a partner in Phillip Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems and social change with clients worldwide. She is also an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. For more, see : http://www.pwkinc.com


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