This is the fifth in a series of video blogs on improving your corporate culture by cultivating employee accountability. What a concept!
In the first four sessions, we talked about the importance of being clear with your team about your expectations around accountability.
What Can You Do as a Manager or Supervisor to Create an Actual Culture of Accountability on Your Team?
How to Improve Corporate Culture by Cultivating Employee Accountability?
#1 – Reinforce What You Do Want and Stop Reinforcing What You Don’t Want
We all learned in either Psych 101, or by watching television shows about psychological stuff, that reinforced behavior tends to repeat and unreinforced behavior tends to extinguish (which is a fancy psychological word for “it goes away.”)
Reinforce What You Do Want
If you have employees who are accountable and are doing what you want them to do, you should make sure you notice and acknowledge them regularly. Now you may think, “Why should I have to recognize people that often for doing their jobs? We’re all adults.”
I think all of us appreciate a little recognition. For example, have you ever had a picture or an article about you in a newspaper magazine or in some kind of publication? Let me ask you. Did you buy more than one copy? Well, maybe just one for your mom. Right?
I think that to some extent, all of us are just little babies in big bodies and, like little kids, we all crave a little attention. So, it never hurts to give recognition out and not be stingy with it.
Stop Reinforcing What You Don’t Want
I had a dog some years ago named Jimmy who was the cutest dog you ever saw. Now, we all love our dogs and think they’re the cutest, but Jimmy really was cute. He was also super smart. I loved giving Jimmy little treats I got at the store that you look like little bones. I enjoyed the way he would get all excited and stand on his hind legs when it was time to give him one. He would always let me know when he thought it was treated time by sitting in front of me, perking his ears and giving me that look that said, “OK, it’s bone time.”
After a while, I noticed he was doing this more and more often. Instead of getting one or two treats in an evening, he was coming around four, five or six times. And, of course, since I loved seeing him be so cute, I’d reward him with a treat. And the more treats I gave him, the more he came around.
“Who was training whom here?”
Finally, I decided he’d had enough, so one evening I said, “No! No more treats Jimmy.”
He got this confused look on his face but continued to try to look cute. So, I said, “No, no more treats,” after which went away. Soon, however, he was back looking cute and indicating he wanted a treat. And I said, “No more treats” again. He let out this obnoxious bark to which I said “No! No more treats.”
He walked away but returned a little later and started repeating the obnoxious barking repeatedly. At that point, I said. “OK. Here, take the dang treat, just shut up.” Now, who’s really training whom here? It seems I had created a Jimmy monster by inadvertently reinforcing what did not want.
It’s Easy to Do the Same Thing When it Comes to Accountability.
Let’s suppose you have an employee who chronically turns in reports late. So, you have a chat with him and explain that this is not OK and he agrees to get the reports in on time from now on. For a while, he seems to correct the problem but then starts turning his reports in late again.
If you don’t say something or respond in some way immediately, you will be inadvertently reinforcing the very behavior you don’t want. And the odds he’ll do it again will soar. So, you’ve got to be ready to act on those behaviors that are not acceptable and make sure that the person in question knows you’ve noticed and that you won’t tolerate it.
#2 – Hold Regular Progress Meetings
This helps keep you aware of what’s going on in your team and it helps you track assignments. It also gives you an opportunity to give positive feedback to reinforce what you want and offer advice where there are shortcomings.
Meetings help cultivating employee accountability.
I know, meetings get a bad rap because there tend to be lots of them in many office settings, but I would suggest not eliminating this one. It can be a quick huddle or mini-meeting just to do an update on where everybody is and what they’re doing. It will keep you informed, give you an opportunity to pat people on the back and give you an opportunity to call attention problems when they come up. It’s hard to hold people accountable if you don’t have an arena of accountability regularly scheduled.
#3 – Hold People Publicly Accountable
I’m not suggesting that you chew people out, have disciplinary interviews or embarrass people in public. On the other hand, there’s a certain value to peer pressure.
I’m reminded of an experience I had in graduate school. I had taken an unusually difficult course and was working full time at the time. The first night the professor passed out 3×5 cards, asked us to put down our personal information, then hand them in. At the end of the class, he suggested we read a group of articles. Because I was working full time, I figured I read them over the weekend. So, when Thursday rolled around, I came to class and the first thing he did was pull out that pile of cards. He held the first one up and said, “Larry Johnson” to which I said, “yes.”
He then said, “Mr. Johnson, please explain to us how the author in the assigned reading solved a such and such problem.”
After an embarrassing silence, I responded, “Ah I’m afraid I didn’t read that one yet.” Now he didn’t chew me out or conduct a disciplinary interview in front of the class.
He Just Put a Little Mark on My Card.
Trust me, I was never ever late with an assignment again! Nor did I ever go to class unprepared again.
Now that may sound a little punitive on his part, and maybe it was, but I think it’s OK to use some peer public pressure to make sure that people are accountable, and it gives you the opportunity to reward them when they are accountable.
Savvy sales organizations understand this principle. They’ll put all their salespeople on a public board in the office with a matrix that shows what each person’s quota is and how each is progressing toward it. Given that good salespeople are usually competitive, that is usually a powerful motivator for them.
#4 – Hold People Personally Accountable
By that, I mean if someone is not performing, or not being accountable for their assignment, I think it’s okay to sit down and have a personal conversation with them where you let them know that you feel let down on a personal level. The assignment is more than just an assignment from the company or the organization, it’s an assignment that you gave this person and now they’re letting you down. It’s a kind of betrayal of your relationship.
Now I don’t want you to get super punitive or overly emotional, but I think it’s OK to make sure that we understand that in addition to the working relationship, there’s a personal relationship between you and each of your employees and you don’t want to have that betrayed.
One way to respond when this happens is to ask key questions such as:
“What Can You Do to Fix the Problem?”
This puts the problem squarely in their lap.
Then ask, “How can I help you?” and do what you can to help. Be careful though. You don’t want to take over the problem but you may be able to help them appropriately.
Finally, ask, “Can I have your word on it?” This question puts it in the personal arena and can be very powerful.
Now let me make clear when I say you have a personal relationship with each person who works for you. In this day and age of sexual harassment charges and other kinds of problems in the workplace, I’m talking about a strictly professional relationship. It has a personal aspect in that it’s between you and another person. So, when you give somebody an assignment or they make you promise or you make them a promise, you both expect it to be fulfilled, just like you would with anybody else with whom you have a relationship.
So that’s what I mean when I say that you should hold people personally accountable because the relationship is person to person. Please don’t misconstrue it any other way.
#5 – Watch Out for Jumping Monkeys
This concept comes from a book called Managing Management Time by William Oncken. He describes a work setting where we all have monkeys on our backs for which we are responsible for caring and feeding. The important thing is to not allow monkeys that you don’t own to jump on your back.
This is something that commonly happens with new managers who are a little bit insecure so when someone comes to them with a problem such as, “I tried to get that information from purchasing but I can’t get anybody to respond.” Your temptation may be to say, “Okay, I’ll call them and get that information for you,” That monkey has just jumped on your back.
Better to help the employee learn how to deal with purchasing and in the process, force him to take responsibility and grow at the same time.
#6 – Describe the Gap
If you’re going to have a conversation with an employee about a problem, be able to describe the gap in your head between what you’re getting from the employee and what you want because sometimes we really don’t know ourselves. And if we can’t describe it to ourselves clearly, how can we describe it clearly to the employee in question.
Let’s review the strategies for improving corporate culture by nurturing employee accountability:
#1 Reinforce what you want and stop reinforcing what you don’t want – otherwise you’re going to get yourself a bunch of Jimmy’s in your organization and you don’t want that.
#2 Hold regular progress meetings – it gives you a chance to pat people on the back and celebrate their successes as well as give them ideas and coach them along – it creates an arena for accountability.
#3 Hold people publicly accountable – remember the story about my professor. It sure had a motivating effect on me.
#4 Hold people personally accountable – Your relationships with your team always have a personal aspect to them. It’s you and that person. So, when the person lets you down, it’s sort of a personal thing gone wrong. Ask questions like: What can you do to fix the problem? How can I help you? Can I have your word on that
#5 Watch out for jumping monkeys – Make sure you don’t take the onus of responsibility of the person who owns it.
#6 Be able to describe the gap between what you are getting or not getting and what you want or not want from the employee so that you can describe it clearly to him or her.
Well, that concludes Part 5 of Improving Corporate Culture By Nurturing Employee Accountability.
In the next session of Improving Corporate Culture By Nurturing Employee Accountability, we’ll talk about having that tough conversation with those who just downright won’t take responsibility for what they need to do. That’s a difficult conversation and we’ll walk through specific steps you can take to make sure it’s successful for you.