The Most Important Part of Accountability

08 Jul
by Bridget DiCello

Your team is not being held accountable if they are not the ones doing the talking.

I followed up.

I asked them if they did it.

I told them they needed to get it done.

Still, they didn’t do it.


Let’s revise that scenario.

You: Mike, it’s important to make those sales calls. What are your targets for this week?

Mike: 20 calls per day, 5 appointments set this week.

You: Great, touch base with me before you leave on Friday, hand me a copy of your sales report and let me know how you did. Will you be in the office on Friday afternoon?

Mike: I have a golf game with our largest prospect in the afternoon.

You: Okay, come see me before you leave for that game.

On Friday at 11:15am, Mike stops by your office.

Mike: Just leaving for that game. Here is my sales report.

You: Tell me about your week, and how you did on your goals.

Mike: Mike tells you about some of the calls he made, and talks through the challenging calls. I just got too busy to make more calls. I was out much of the week at events.

You: How many calls did you make each day? Mike responds. And how many appointments did you set? Mike responds. And, what did you accomplish at the events?

Mike: I met some people I think could be good prospects.

You: Great, tell me about them. Mike responds. So what will you do differently next week to fit in your calls each day?

Mike: I might have to make them in the morning.

You: Good idea, what time will you arrive in order to do that? Mike responds. Based on how the calls you made this week, what else could you do differently next week? Mike responds. Okay, sounds like a plan. Touch base with me before you leave next Friday, hand me a copy of your sales report and let me know how you did. Will you be in the office next Friday afternoon?

The sales example above is about a struggling sales person who needs accountability to perform the basic sales activities. He would be perfectly happy to take your criticism and consternation as he sits quietly and listens because it requires no energy on his part. But, we have to get him engaged and talking if we expect him to do anything differently. This same conversation could occur due to a lack of performance in operations, customer service, finance or marketing. Accountability must include the employee’s participation in the conversation where they are thinking about what they will do and do differently.


Missing the Boat on Leadership Skills

16 May
by Bridget DiCello

When you promote your best performer to a leadership position:

  1. Good things happen if they have been ready for the next challenge and maybe even a  little bored or burned out by the routine work they are so good at doing
  2. Bad things happen if they love the work they have been doing and you just added much work (the management) they do not like
  3. Negative repercussions occur when they have no desire to coordinate and lead the efforts of others and/or have no leadership experience, inherent skills or desire to work directly with employees
  4. The biggest challenges occur in the form of company stagnation and mediocrity when they do not possess the inner desire to develop other people and access their potential

Here are some skills that are very often missing as you promote or hire someone to management that you may need to purposefully work to develop:

  1. Communicate expectations effectively.  A manager must clearly formulate their expectations, and verbalize them in a way that makes sense to the employee.  The employee needs to be paying attention, and verbalize back what they have heard.  A head nod means the expectations may not even have made it to their ears, much less their brain to process, voice concerns and in the end – agree to do their best.
  2. Accountability – You can’t hold people accountable to what they didn’t agree to.  You must find a way to measure what you hope to hold people accountable for.  And then you must have the tough, but effective conversations when expectations are not met.
  3. Delegation – In order to effectively delegate, the manager must transfer ownership of the task.  This requires setting the expectation (see above), obtaining genuine agreement from the employee, setting a timetable and following up (see accountability).
  4. Engage in productive conflict –  ‘“Yes” employees’ appear agreeable, yet don’t produce.  Silent employees hope you will go away so they can continue doing things as they always have.  Strong, solid performers honestly believe they know better.  Quiet, undiscovered employees require conversations that push them, and probably the manager, outside their comfort zone.
  5. Setting goals – Managers are often good at accepting the goals set for them.  However, it is never as powerful to work towards something you feel you must do to keep your job than it is to engage the manager in conversation about their goals for their department or area, match those with the company goals, and include goals to help them professionally develop.  And, write them down.  What do your managers see as possibilities in their department?
  6. Project completion – Getting from where you are to where you want to be cannot be accomplished simply by working really hard and wanting to get there.  Ambitious goals require a plan that takes into account where we want to be in three months, and counting back to what we need to do each of the three months, this week and today; and do that daily.
  7. Coaching team members – probably the critical skill most often lacking – but assumed to exist in charismatic and inspirational leaders.  Coaching is having a series of conversations with an individual in order to connect with them, assist them to engage in their professional development, and to be able to discover their potential and accomplish more that they or you thought they could.

What professional development do your managers need from you?

Five Biggest Mistakes made by Successful Business Owners

19 Feb
by Bridget DiCello
  1. Not Following their Vision. A successful business owner sees possibilities, has strong opinions how things should be done and how the product or service should be delivered. Over time, that vision may get eroded due to obstacles, people who tell them their expectations are too high (employees, managers or peers), or getting plum worn out. No one sees the exact vision of an entrepreneur (yes, that can be a lonely place to be), but that also creates an extremely valuable niche and competitive advantage, which should not be ignored, buried or seen as too idealistic. It may not be achieved tomorrow, but if the owner remains the driving force, it will be realized! Their vision of the future needs to be shared, embodied in the written goals which are communicated to the team, and success measured against this vision regularly.
  2. They get bored.  Yes, despite all that is going on, successful business owners have an ongoing desire to innovate, intense drive towards a unique path, and a strong focus on improvement. Because of these factors, the owner may find themselves getting bored maintaining consistent business practices, accountabilities and adherence to quality standards – all necessary to run a successful business well. This is the point where they must have a team who can maintain the success they’ve created and still find time for the owner to innovate and drive new initiatives.
  3. Blinded by success. I would never assume that my four-year-old who plays soccer is the best he will ever be at the game. However, owners may tend to assume that as adults and professionals they have stopped growing. Sure, they may learn new technical skills, but they also need to be willing to work on themselves and their team members, even the star players, to grow professionally. Both successful owners and key team players must be challenged in order to not lose motivation, and this must be a purposeful activity.
  4. Forgetting their least favorite basics.  In order to start a business, you have to get a lot of things right, and not all of them are an individual owner’s favorite things to do consistently and purposefully. These might include:
    1. Hiring the right people, through a careful process
    2. Measuring performance and providing routine accountability
    3. Innovation in sales and marketing
    4. Providing structure to enable the team to be successful
    5. Watching the profitability and not just the growth in revenue
    6. Watching the top-line revenue and not just the profit margin
  5. Too much, or not enough, delegation.  Out of a desire for life balance after working so hard to bring the business to this level of success, owners may move too far out of the business, assuming their wonderful team can handle it without their leadership involvement. On the other hand, the owner may also desire to micromanage what is most important – often an area they may have a greater ability to execute than anyone on the team. Certain things need to be delegated, and others don’t. When tasks are delegated, certain reporting structures and accountabilities must be in place to ensure the owner still experiences the results they desire.

Has your level of success been stalled due to one of these mistakes?

“Good” isn’t enough, bring me the data!

17 Apr
by Bridget DiCello

“How is … going?”  You fill in the blank.  What have you asked your team about?  Projects?  Sales?   Customer satisfaction?   Daily tasks?

And have you heard in response, “Good!” or “Fine.” and wondered just what those phrases really meant?  Sometimes they mean to communicate:

  1. “Things are not all that great right now, but we’ve got a solid plan to address them.”
  2. “I’m really not sure how things are going, but nothing appears to be in fire, so I think we’re okay.”
  3. “If I say, ‘Good!’ or ‘Fine.’ you will not worry as much and give me some room to go figure out how things are really going.

This is not only the case if you have a few slackers on your team who avoid accountability.  In many very successful businesses, even good performers may not have a handle on specifically how things are going.  There is this common aversion to data collection and analysis in many organizations because it requires time and effort that could be spent doing things instead.

Brad Robertson, Chief Financial Officer (CFO) St. Francis Hospital has a sign hanging in his office which reads, “In God We Trust, all others bring Data.”

What data might your team need to bring you?

  • Customer service metrics
  • Sales and Pipeline data and pipeline building activities
  • Profitability, and the related pricing, expenses, execution, rework, delivery
  • Company overall health – current assets, long term liabilities
  • Where we are, where we’ve been, trends, projections
  • Industry specific measurements

How often do you need to see this data?

Part of the objective of gathering data is that the process can become part of the daily routine, so metrics are gathered and reviewed routinely (at least monthly, more often for some metrics), not only by a leader, but by team members as well.  If a doctor had to assess you without any tests, lab results or equipment such as a blood pressure cuff or stethoscope, and only saw you once in a while, an intuitive doctor might be able to make some guesses, but you would not have the same opportunities for good health.  It’s the same for the business or department you lead.

Identify the right data to gather, the easiest way to obtain it, a set time to review it, a consistent way to use it for making solid decisions, and stay consistent in that process.

On a final note, for those of you reading this who think that data is fabulous and you could spend all day just gathering and analyzing because there is so much good information to be gleaned, be careful to balance the value of gathering and reviewing accurate data with the objective of using it to improve business processes and ensure greater success.

Failure-Triggered Enthusiasm

05 Dec
by Bridget DiCello

“Success is about moving through failure, not avoiding it.”

As you end the calendar year, whether it’s the end of a fiscal year or fiscal quarter for you, it is a good time to take a look at what you have achieved both personally and professionally, where you’ve fallen short and what’s next. There is much wisdom to be gained from the areas where you feel you’ve failed.  And if you can move quickly from who caused the failure to how or what to do differently, there is much enthusiasm that can be created by what you didn’t get to this year, what you can and will do next year, and what challenge is not going to get the best of you!

Failure can be defined as:

  • Results are not what you expected or hoped for.
  • Nonperformance of something due, required, or expected.
  • Subnormal quantity or quality; an insufficiency.
  • Deterioration or decay, especially of vigor, strength.

 “If you’re not failing every now and again, it’s a sign you’re not doing anything very innovative.” – Woody Allen

Results are not what you expected or hoped for.

When you identified the results you expected, were they realistic?

Was a plan for implementation created?

Were the right people in place?

What progress did you make? Where have you taken some “practice shots” and gotten better?

Were you able to move through some mid-year failures and tweak your plan?

“Failure is when you don’t learn from a mistake, and continue to repeat that mistake. Life is full of practice shots.”

Nonperformance of something due, required, or expected.

Did you focus on doing what you planned to do?

Were accountability measures in place?

Did regular communication enable people to work together to accomplish the plan?

Did you celebrate success too early and fail to follow-up to ensure continued success?

Success is never final; failure is never fatal” – John Wooden

Subnormal quantity or quality; an insufficiency.

Were the people capable of doing the work?

Did you prepare you and your team sufficiently to do something new, different or innovative?

Did you clearly understand the quality standards expected by your stakeholders?

 “A stumble may prevent a fall.” – Proverb

Deterioration or decay, especially of vigor, strength.

Were you excited about the plan?

Was it just brief excitement, or did you have the full buy-in of the team?

Did something internal or external change that prevented you from executing the plan and you never changed?

Is your culture one of blaming others instead of troubleshooting stumbles?

Did you give up?

A man may fall many times, but he won’t be a failure until he says that someone pushed him.” – Elmer G. Letterman

I can do that better next year!

Start by making a list of your successes and celebrating those. Then, make the list of what you didn’t accomplish, pinpoint what you learned, identify why those goals were important to you in the first place, and test if they are still important (even if they are difficult). Then, let the failures push you forward!

Enthusiasm is an incredible driver of success, and is much more than excitement. It is the inner drive to make a difference, to accomplish great things, to contribute to a vision, and to do what you value and you see as important. Too often we simply follow others’ goals, accept what others say is important and accept the mediocrity that is acceptable to many people.

What is important to YOU? What energizes you? What do you love about your job? How did you feel when you started your job? Who do you need to stop blaming for your unwillingness to think big, and start acknowledging that enthusiasm that would bubble up if you didn’t let the world knock you down?

Test Understanding – The Secret to Accountability

16 Jul
by Bridget DiCello

If you want to be able to hold others’ accountable, you must have something concrete to hold them accountable to.  Most of the time, people are held accountable to what you expect them to do or how you expect them to act.

This requires that your explanation of your expectations is very clear in the first place.  You can plan what you will say, outline your expectations and speak clearly and concisely, but you will not know if your message has been understood unless you test understanding.

The best way to test understanding is to get the other person to talk about what you believe they agree.  You could ask them to just repeat it back to you, but that is demeaning and doesn’t necessarily mean they really understand it.

Instead, ask open ended questions in a curious and nurturing way to get them talking so you can see what they are thinking:

  • What do you think is the best way to approach this?
  • What is the first piece you are going to tackle?  What is the first step you will take?  The next step?
  • What is your biggest concern about that?
  • When would you expect to have that part completed?
  • What do you need from me?
  • It needs to be done in 30 days; can you map out how you plan to schedule the work?
  • What is it that I can do to help/support you?
  • Why don’t you email me with your status update on Friday?
  • Is Tuesday after lunch a good time to stop into my office to share a progress report.
  • What do you expect to be the hardest/most difficult part?
  • What questions do you have?
  • If… then questions:  We can realistically expect [obstacle] to be an obstacle.  If that happens, what is your plan to address it?
  • What will you need to do differently than what you have been doing?
  • How will you approach this differently than the last project like this?
  • How do you feel we can do this even better/more successfully?

This does not mean that we fail to allow our employees to make intelligent decisions or have some freedom in how they operate. It does however, mean that if they are not doing what we expect, when we expect it, we must first go back and audit our own style of delivering the message in the first place.

By asking even just a few of these questions, you may either be pleasantly surprised with the plan in their head or shocked at how little they really understood the urgency, important milestones and timeline.

Build an Expectation of Accountability

15 Jun
by Bridget DiCello

Without a strong expectation of accountability:

  • Performance is mediocre
  • Fire fighting takes a lot of time
  • Lack of ownership
  • Constant follow-up
  • Recreating the wheel
  • Missed deadlines
  • Lackluster results
  • Repeated mistakes

Building an expectation of accountability is no easy task.  You must:

  1. Say It – Communicate Accountability
    1. Share expectations in a written form and discuss these expectations in a forum where everyone is speaking and contributing
    2. Continue to reinforce expectations with ongoing conversations ‘on the go’ as well as in structured interactions or coaching sessions.
    3. Include an expectation of individual professional and company growth in all you write, say and do.
  2. Plan It – Realistic Accountability Roadmap
    1. Create a written plan based on clear goals and objectives, documenting how things will get done.  Testing reality is a necessity and everyone’s input is required.
    2. Literally plot the plan on a calendar or chart and assign responsibilities and deadlines.
  3. Act on It – Do What You Said You Would Do
    1. Identify your problem solving process clearly, and follow that process when it becomes a challenge to do what you had planned or you get off track.
    2. Utilize each person’s skills, strengths and focus on the goals and objectives.
    3. Use the Opportunity Space™ (the moment between when someone does or says something and you respond) to respond purposefully and create stronger relationships within your team.
  4. Report It – Critical to Accountability
    1. Set expected, routine times and venues for each person to report their own successes and challenges.  Create agendas that lead the meeting and hold people accountable.
    2. Identify key metrics, measure and discuss them routinely, and involve others in the gathering of information and reporting, especially their own, results.
    3. Celebrate success and address shortcomings through curious conversations and asking good questions to get others to talk – when they are talking is when they are thinking, committing and engaging.

You lose credibility when what you promise, what you expect or what you set as a goal, does not happen.  Your credibility is very difficult to rebuild.  However, many work environments do not have the components of accountability in place and therefore experience repeated issues, mistakes, frustrations and negative results.

Each individual should demand accountability.  It is an opportunity to celebrate your success, ask for help if you need it, and proactively prepare for others’ changing expectations or disapproval.

Do you work in an organization that focuses on accountability?  What will YOU do TODAY to begin to create that focus?

Chain of Events for Obtaining Employee Feedback for their Evaluation

18 Apr
by Bridget DiCello

Here is the chain of events:

  1. You give them an evaluation form with a deadline of 48 hours to enter their input.  Encourage them to point out their own specific successes to take credit for them!
  2. You draft your evaluation feedback.
  3. They turn in their evaluation with specific examples of successes, and situations that did not go so well.
  4. They pinpoint two areas where they would like to focus on improving over the next year.
  5. You compare their input and your feedback and add their input to your form (the official one) as needed, becoming aware of where you might disagree significantly with the employee.
  6. You deliver their feedback using your copy, and file their self evaluation feedback in their file.

Top 5 Criteria for Great Performance Evaluations

17 Apr
by Bridget DiCello
  1. Use a form that makes sense.
  2. Require employee input for their professional development.
  3. Document very specific examples.
  4. Use metrics to support your feedback.
  5. Obtain commitment to do something differently.

The best performance evaluations are those that directly evaluate based on the job description tasks instead of rating employees from 1 to 5 on vague things like time management.  Regardless of what form you are required to use, start by looking at their job tasks, identifying specific things they do well and areas in which they need to focus or improve.  Brainstorm for specific examples of situations that demonstrate both their successes and their challenges.   This information can be used in just about any form.

The employee should also evaluate themselves.  I often have them complete the very same evaluation I am going to use.  If there is not a good form for the employee to use for self evaluation, ask them to simply email you five specific examples of times they were successful, and three specific examples of situations to support where they would like to improve their performance.  Give them a deadline early enough to be able to send it back for more detail.

Here is the chain of events:

  1. You give them an evaluation form with a deadline of 48 hours to enter their input.  Encourage them to point out their own specific successes to take credit for them!
  2. You draft your evaluation feedback.
  3. They turn in their evaluation with specific examples of successes, and situations that did not go so well.
  4. They pinpoint two areas where they would like to focus on improving over the next year.
  5. You compare their input and your feedback and add their input to your form (the official one) as needed, becoming aware of where you might disagree significantly with the employee.
  6. You deliver their feedback using your copy, and file their self evaluation feedback in their file.

If their job is based a lot on numbers, that’s great because it gives you the objective measurement of performance.  Beyond the numbers, and to support the numbers, you will offer your specific examples of when they did well, in other words, what they did to create the good numbers they have or how they handled a customer situation well.  Do the same thing for the not so good numbers.

The specific examples are what make the numbers come alive and become more personal.  Numbers on their own don’t say much, but talking through what makes the numbers what they are, how the employees contribute to the numbers and what they have control over will be significant.

Then, choose no more than 3-5 areas where you would like them to focus during the next 6-12 months (until the next evaluation).  These may be areas where they are strong and have great ability to get even better; could be places where they are failing miserably and need to get on track, or areas where you see greater potential than what they are putting forward – maybe they are scared to screw up or scared to push out of their comfort zone.   These are not 3-5 tasks.  They are areas broad enough to be the focus for 6-12 months.  Each month or quarter, you spend time with the employee to identify the specific tasks they are to do to make progress on the broad areas.

You determine these 3-5 areas based on your observations combined with their input.  Then, they come up with specific action items that they will implement in the next 30-90 days to make progress on these 3-5 areas.  These must be things that they will do differentlyTrying harder will not cut it.  They should come up with these, with your coaching assistance, buy in and commit to them.

The Accountability Conversation

26 Oct
by Bridget DiCello

The Accountability conversation is one of the most difficult and this is why it does not occur routinely in many companies.  This conversation is the one that comes before the disciplinary situation where you’d like to fire the person.  It comes during the normal course of doing business and should be an ongoing conversation.  It should not be a surprise if you have set the expectation that it is coming.

With that said, start by asking yourself these questions:

  • What is the specific unacceptable behavior that is causing the problem with performance?  Define the specific behavior and avoid accusatory adjectives like “grumpy, bad attitude, lacks initiative, lazy, etc.”
  • Does the employee know what the expectation is?  When have you told them and did they get it?
  • Has the current performance been acceptable in the past?  Still needs to be addressed, but this must be acknowledged.

Accountability works best when both the manager and the employee know it is coming, there is a set routine for doing it, and both people are involved.  These are the steps that are most important.

  1.  Be sure to clearly explain what is expected.  More detail may be required for some front line employees, where higher level employees may have more freedom in how to do the job and the expectation will be more about results.
  2. “Test” understanding.  Not by asking them to repeat what you said, but by asking a question that requires they speak about what they will do first, what they expect to be most difficult etc.
  3. Set a time and date for follow up.  And make sure they realize what they will have been expected to accomplish by that time.  This may be a specific result, progress they will have been expected to make or a task that should be finished.
  4. Stick with the time and date you establish.  At that time, ask them to report on their progress, without you having to prod with a million questions.
  5. Keep the accountability going by setting the next expectation and the next accountability date.  Have these types of conversations all the time, taking just a moment or setting a sit-down meeting.
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