Author Archive

On Accountability and in being accountable

January 28, 2012

In my earlier article on the ‘blame game’, I suggested we never use the term blame, instead replace it with ‘accountable’; as it has an inherent sense of ownership and association with the task assigned such that if it fails, the one would own the accountability of its failure and not pass the buck.

The term ‘accountable’ and ‘accountability’ find different interpretations and applications; most commonly understood with a negative connotation – unfortunately.  Most of us if asked when these words would be used; quick would be our answer to point out situations where something failed or was under delivered and someone were held responsible for it.  Our perception of these terms always associates it with something negative.   What is interesting though is that the system we have implemented in our teams or organizations is largely designed to highlight negatives, failures.  This is because we always fear the worse, as a result we always device mechanisms and processes to prevent the negative.  We are so focused on this that we literally fail to realise that there exists a green zone of positives, of new ideas, innovations and doing something differently.  And it is because our innate desire is to prevent the negative, valuable terms like accountable and accountability bear a negative perception.  Let’s face it, we always use them when we have to find a head to load the failure on; don’t we?

But with the economic conditions and market dynamics changing so rapidly; it needs us as leaders and managers to really stop fearing the negative.  We have been trying to prevent the negative and what happened with the economic downturn worked as a forest fire just ended up demolishing some businesses completely.

What if we were focused on the positives and clearly establish the risks involved; and safe guarded ourselves against the risks but stayed focused on the positives?  May be we could have had very good market conditions.

In this tone, I would like to highlight that accountability and thus being accountable is an extremely powerful thing.  Accountability does not only equal being responsible for something, but instead it means we ‘own’ it and have thus the responsibility to see through its successful completion.  It’s like a father being accountable for taking care of his family; thus making sure there is regular income, proper facilitation of life essentials and security, quality education for children etc. become his responsibilities.  He needs to be ‘accountable’ first – own it first – and then will he become responsible.

Accountability is always towards the objectives and responsibility is towards various goals leading to successful completion of these objectives.  If increasing the volume share penetration within the existing clients is an objective; then ensuring proper delivery processes, maintaining quality standards, process review and audits, team development – training, etc. thus become the responsibilities of a manager.  The thing he would be accountable for is increasing the volume share penetration but everything that it takes to do so becomes his responsibility.

At the same time, when someone is made accountable for an objective, it also requires him to be provided with:

–         Sufficient knowledge, skill sets needed to meet the objective

–         Appropriate decision authority required for successful completion of the goals

–         Autonomy in choosing the approach he as a leader would deploy to accomplish the objective

–         Enough man power and resources needed to get the job done

–         Guidance and knowledge sharing from previous experiences which will come to aide or become a reference point

–         A proper review mechanism and validation framework – built along with the person made accountable

–         An objective assessment of progress and assistance in developing course correction methods

If the above are provided only then can you rightfully call someone accountable, otherwise you are merely finding a head to attribute the failure on to and setting it up for failure.  As a leader assigning accountability to someone in your team, you are responsible to provide him/her with the right framework to ensure success and move forward in the positive areas.

Accountability thus involves a lot of faith, trust and belief from the person above in the corporate pyramid who is assigning the objective and from the people below who would work with the person made accountable to accomplish the objective.

I strongly believe…

Accountability is actions toward or involving others that reflect the integrity of the person you are and what you want to be!

Thus being assigned the accountability and in being accountable for an objective is an extremely powerful thing; because you now ‘own’ something and have to make sure you lead it to success.

Stop the Blame Game, will you…

January 19, 2012

In the recent past I had to sit through a problem solving meeting.  To be honest, I was not keen on it as I could anticipate what would happen.  The meeting felt like a never ending saga without any resolution in sight.  No sooner the problem was put forth, one of the most common things [unfortunately] happened…everyone involved went on defensive and tried to justify that they did what they could do best but it was the other person who did not do the job as planned.  The other person, seeing that all eyes were on him, said the earlier group of people did not provide him enough information and time to finish his job.  This went on for over 2 hours, which was 1 hour over the scheduled time and the meeting had to be ended as there were other things demanding attention and presence.  The problem was not even discussed let alone arriving at the solution.

The meeting, according to me, was a sheer waste of time and energy.  What went wrong?  Well, no sooner the problem was put on the table, various stakeholders involved started to blame someone or the other for a failed job.  They were only focused on ensuring they are not blamed for the debacle.  No one was focused on even looking at the problem objectively and find ways to solve it.  The moderator of the meeting tried to add some focus but in the midst of so much of reactivity the whole purpose of the meeting was side stepped and it turned to a dirty blame game.

Now these were all qualified, experienced people who were sitting there.  But in the spirit of defending themselves, they blamed others for the problem or failure.  They clearly failed to understand and realise that blame game never works.  They ignored a basic element that those who indulge in blame game or those who blame someone else for a failure always fail to realize an opportunity to learn, improve and perform; but more importantly demonstrate principles, culture of accountability.

What is worse is that if one person starts to blame the other, the other will inadvertently blame the third….and the cycle continues.  Blaming is contagious, it is viral.

It wouldn’t be surprising that those teams or organizations where a culture of blaming prevails always fail to be creative, learn from the past and improve, are never innovative and productive risk takers.  In other words, they are the laggards in their stream of business.  By merely being exposed to someone attributing blame for a failure to someone is enough have people turn around and blame others for completely unrelated failures.  Blame game is parasitic in nature, it robs you of a great opportunity to learn from a failure and evolve.

I often asked myself, why someone would blame others for a failure; weren’t they all in it as a team.  But I feel that if the focus is to protect one’s self-image then it is easier for people to be on defensive and the moment they are on defensive, they start to find someone whom they can attribute the burden of failure to.

This can happen in a team or a department or at an organizational level; where the impact grows manifold in the respective order.

It is a lot to do with what culture you have established in your team or the organization.  A culture of psychological security is thus one of the most important things a leader or a manager needs to focus on, it prevents people from worrying about their self-image there by not being defensive and restricting the tendency to blame.

I personally would like to suggest we never use the term blame, instead replace it with ‘accountable’…it has an inherent sense of ownership and association with the task assigned that if it fails, the one would own the accountability of its failure and not pass the buck.

So how do we build this culture to stop blaming and create a sense of security and accountability amongst our people?

Here are a few thoughts I have:

[1]  Set clear expectations and accountability for tasks and define single owners for these tasks.

[2]  Put a blanket ban on fault finding or the blame game.

[3]  Call it a collective failure and DO NOT ALLOW anyone to blame others for a failure.

[4]  Encourage people to own up failures, make it clear and demonstrate that it not only gains them respect from their peers and seniors but also gives them loyalty of their team members.  This sets the tone for security amongst the team.

[5]  It is important to hold people accountable, but do so objectively and with an aim to help them evolve from the failure.  Make sure to emphasize that the goal is to learn from mistakes, not to humiliate those who make them.

[6]  Creating a culture where learning rather than avoiding mistakes is the top priority.  Call a mistake or failure an opportunity to learn and evolve, this will help to ensure that people feel free talk about and learn from their errors.

[7]  Set the right example, reward people those who have made mistakes and have evolved learning from it.

[8]  Share examples of how blame game ruined the opportunity to do well and how someone took the accountability of failure and led a turnaround… share success stories.

What do you think?  How do you propose to stop the blame game in your team or organization?

Please share your thoughts and experiences.

Good to Great

January 9, 2012

Creating an opportunity is not enough, one needs to step up and make the fullest of the opportunity created.  This separates the good and great.

Perseverance and Endurance

January 9, 2012

You have to endure a very tough phase of turmoil, agony, pain, uncertainty … if you can withstand it then there are very rich dividends waiting for you and if you can’t, don’t worry there will be another phase of turmoil, pain and agony awaiting you.  You see life always keeps giving you these chances for ‘life changing’ experiences.

Setting Right Expectations

January 8, 2012

The other day I was speaking to a friend of mine.  She appeared rather upset, so I enquired about it.  She was upset because she had a bad meeting with her boss; in simple words her boss was not pleased with the work she had done on a task that was assigned.  This is a normal scenario you’d expect in a day to day office life.  But was it really a normal scenario?  I asked myself.

I know of my friend to be a very efficient worker, a very good manager who knows her trade very well.  She is very diligent, focused and would her 100% to any task she undertakes or is assigned.  Her record by far as been exemplary with her organization and there has been hardly any instances of failure for her.  Then why did she have a bad meeting with her boss?  What had gone wrong?  I wondered.

When I probed her I realised very quickly that she was meant to fail on the task she had been assigned with.

Her boss was earlier questioned by his seniors for slow progress on a strategic internal project.  He had to react and find a quick solution to address his seniors’ concerns and discontent.  So, as is the normal tendency, he called a few of his team members and started to assign tasks to them…without really validating if his team members were the right ones to handle those tasks.  My friend handles the operations division and is very efficient with it.  She was assigned one of the tasks which a marketing team member needed to handle but because the marketing team did not do their job well on this project, he did not want to involve them or seek their support.  This was not something she had done before or invested any time in learning it – it was never a part of her role.  Her boss wanted quick results, in fact he wanted the tasks to be completed within a few days; which according to me was a tough ask.  In any case, my friend did take up the gauntlet and started to read up on articles and reference materials available to equip her with needed information and thus understand how she can accomplish the task assigned to her.  Obviously she was treading into a territory not of her own and thus would stumble.  And during the very first review discussion, her boss came down on her very hard.  He clearly expected her to be as good at that task as an expert in the marketing team would’ve been.

I am sure by now you would have figured what is wrong here.  An incorrect mapping of complexion of the task with competency of the individuals it was assigned to.  You cannot have a donkey run in a derby; it is meant for horses… just as foolish as having a fighter pilot fly a passenger aircraft; he is not trained and specialised for it.  Now it does not mean he cannot fly the plane or a donkey cannot run the race but more likely that they would do a shitty job at it.  This is a simple thing which we quite often tend to forget in our reactiveness.

But this is not the only lesson learnt.

I think the bigger and a more important lesson learnt here is about setting the right expectations.  I do not think her boss clearly understood what he was doing and in his reaction to the situation, ended up doing a very poor job at assigning the tasks and setting wrong expectations.  But at the same time, I feel, my friend also needed to make sure she understands the task assigned very clearly and help her boss set the right expectations; she should have explained her lack of experience and knowledge on the task assigned and thus established a need for support either from her boss or from the marketing team individual to successfully fulfil the responsibility.

Expectations, I believe, is a two way street.  It just does not have to come from the top to the level below it, but it needs to be other way round too to make sure both the parties involved appreciate what it takes to do the job well and do it right the very first time.  Expectations thus need to:

[1] Very clear, non-ambiguous

[2] Very well understood

[3] Aptly realistic

I believe managers and leaders must work hard to explain their initiatives and create conditions for their people to succeed when they implement them.  But equally so, followers need to work to fulfil their responsibilities and also ensure that they clearly explain areas where they will need assistance, support and direction.  The leaders need to exert their management skills to engage employees and set clear expectations and likewise the employees need to ensure that they confirm their understanding of the expectations and are upfront on seeking any support or training needed to help meet the expectations [at the least].

Here are three questions managers can ask to ensure that employees follow through on their responsibilities.

[1] Do your people [team members] know what is expected of them?  Too often we assume people know their jobs. People may know the specifics, but often lack knowledge about how what they do helps the entire organization.  People need to be told, and reminded, of the importance of their work.

[2] Do the employees know what they can expect from you?  It is important to let employees know that you as their manager are available to them.  The definition of ‘available’ may vary based on cases and from employee to employee.  Like; for new hires you might be more teacher than boss, for experienced team members you will play the coaching role while for the team, you will be the supplier of resources as well as their champion.

[3] Do employees know what is expected of each other? While managers need to make certain employees are doing what is asked of them, employees must also do their part to coordinate with each other.  Whether a self-managed team makes its own assignments or a manager makes the assignments, what matters most is that employees know who does what so work can be completed in a timely and responsible fashion.  This allows for a great opportunity for leveraging experience and skills in the team where every team members knows and understands how their skills can be utilized not only for their tasks but those for others too.

[4] Are there any potential causes for failures?  It is very important to ensure that a manager clearly assesses if the team members are capable enough to carry out the tasks assigned and at the same time carefully evaluate risks and potential causes for failure.  These could be cases like the one explained above where a team member has low or zero experience handling a task but has been assigned with it.  This helps the manager be prepared to provide necessary guidance / training, plan for corrective measures and be a coach available through the course of task execution.

[5] What is/are the support requirements, or is there any training needed to help proper task execution?  This question is more to the team members who need to be upfront and clear about what kind of support they will need from their peers or seniors to help execute the tasks or any training / guidance they would need.  The objective is to make sure the expectations are set clearly by the team members for the managers, who can then help them with proper support and guidance.  It will also enable the manager make sure he device proper checks and measures to help ensure tracking of the task and signal any concerns to aide triggering of backup plan or corrective measures.

If managers expect their employees to be accountable, then they must set the right example.  These leaders need to handle tough issues, volunteer for tough assignments, and go the extra mile to help the organization and more importantly their team members to succeed.  This will automatically set the tone for team members to put in their best efforts to fulfil, meet or exceed the expectations set for them.

‘D I P’ – An interesting phenomenon

January 3, 2012

I have always been intrigued by downturns, failures, slump, downslides; but more than this I am interested in how often we claim to have been caught by surprise when things take a turn for worse.  It’s always been interesting to me to see how some of us consciously try to defend by saying that we were caught unaware, or that everything was going good so far but this sudden slide…or we become creative to find some vague reason to justify that we were or are not at fault for this slide and the downturn.  Then there are some who just don’t understand what happened or why it happened and continue to keep wondering in vain.  And finally there are those little few, who actually tried what they could but still experience the downward spiral.  In reality, no one likes to fail or be a part of a failure.  But what [I think] we do not understand is that a failure is probably the most decisive and an extremely fertile phenomenon; only if we want to make a difference.  For those who don’t understand what happened or don’t care about it at all, they would never ever make any difference; so let us hop over them and move on to those who lose their sleep over this sudden downslide, those who want to make a difference – now these could be those who gave a reason or just accepted the state and want to start looking forward or rather upwards.

We always try to start our efforts in understanding what happened by critically analysing ‘what’ happened and try to establish ‘why’ it happened in a hope that we could uncover the errors, fixing which will help initiate the resurgence.  If so is the case, then why do we continue to see cases of repeated downslides, or why we are unable to successfully resurge.  But on the other hand we see some who have emerged completely rejuvenated, re-energized and firing on all cylinders.  Why do some teams or organizations go through a slow process of recovery while a few come out with a solid recovery and in fact lead a wave of improved services, offerings and performance – they lead the pack in their field of operations and often become the new paradigm thinkers of their space.

The ‘D I P’ thus is an interesting phenomenon.  To quench my curiosity and improve my understanding of this classic and; in some context; a desirable phenomenon, I studied quite a few teams [some of which I have worked with directly or indirectly], a few failed or semi-successful recoveries, a few out and out successes.

Here, I have tried to condense my understanding and present an illustrative schematic with various PHASES in DIP through TIME and have taken a shot at answering the How? Why? What? of this phenomenon.  I am continuing to improve my understanding of this phenomenon and would request you [the reader] to share your experiences and thoughts on this topic.

Stage 1: Ripples [Early Signs]

These are really the indicators any manager can clearly see and thus act.  But because of our method of functioning [in most cases], we generally are found fighting the fire and being reactive.  Fortunately, these ripples start slow and have spaces of time in between them.  But because we are mostly caught up in ‘urgent’ tasks [not necessarily ‘important’ ones] and are in reaction mode, we fail to utilize the period after a ripple to device and implement longer term corrective measures.  Our KPI’s may not always show us the right picture or the gravity of a potential situation or for that matter a pattern which is taking a shape.  With time, the spaces between ripples reduce and they become frequent; and this time they are spanned across different aspects or parameters of service.  It appears like rat holes.  And as always we are busy fighting the fire, one after the other… which exhausts and burns out teams’ and organization’s critical thinking abilities.

Stage 2: Slide … the ‘DIP’

Ripples are the causes and its effect generally is a pretty sudden disturbance.  This disturbance is a downward slide which takes place in a very short period of time, with hardly little time to think and course correct.  It generally results in poor client satisfaction, loss of client confidence and business, teams having very high stretch index with all their time invested in patch work resulting in eventual burnout.  Nothing seems to be going right.  The question thus is, why does this happen?

Dip generally is due to lack of timely course correction when the ripples have started to occur, wanting to address a problem from a longer term perspective instead of a mere short term patchwork.  In other cases, a dip occurs if the teams or organizations are not having enough foresight and agility to adapt to external environment and its conditions.  More often, it is observed that teams which slide into a downward spiral have silos of operations with very little interaction tending to lack of end to end knowledge which is needed to remain agile and in line with market conditions.  In some cases, lack of transparency in terms of organization’s vision, strategy, goals and / or there is no alignment of the systems-processes-people to these goals.  Overall, I feel this is largely to do with ‘culture’ in the teams or organizations.

3: Reconfigure – Restart

But thankfully, a dip always allows for a period of reconciliation, reconfiguration and re-initiation.  It always provides for just enough time and duration to correct the fatal issues, for implementing the right practices both at the team and organization level and set the tone for a desired culture.  If an organization can rightly utilize this patch of time and work hard, they can change the course of their performance from negative to positive; significantly increase client confidence resulting in higher client retention followed by improved client acquisition.  It allows for organizations and teams to reinvent their core and focus on what makes the biggest difference to their clients and more importantly to the individuals in the team, it helps them maximize the utilization of individual talents towards a common unified goal.

As for every situation, there could be one of the two outcomes – Positive Recovery or Negative Slump.

4: Outcome – Positive Recovery

Here are some observations I have made from my analysis of those who have used a dip to their advantage.

  • This is the time for the leaders and managers to show courage and lead by example.
  • Proactively analyse the causes, blanket rule to ban the blame-game.
  • Do not take on or focus on too many things.  Focus only on a few critical and high impact items.
  • Set a very clear direction for the short term and explain its impact on the medium and/or longer term objectives.
  • Be willing to take risks, being unconventional and thinking out of the box… participative management is best suited in such situations.
  • Set clear targets and place accountability, give autonomy and be prepared as leaders to back up the team for what they do.
  • Lay very high emphasis on the right culture and never compromise on it.
  • As a leader, always walk the talk.  Never doubt the potential of the team and their ability to accomplish targets.
  • Continue to instil vigour, motivation, and energy.

5: Outcome – Negative Slump

There are some unfortunate cases where some teams or organizations fail to utilize the most fertile phase of the dip and experience at times a fatal slump.  What I have observed is that these teams or organizations…

  • Have inward looking managers or leaders.
  • Resort to placing the blame instead of analysing what cause the failure and wanting to fix it.
  • Fail to instil right culture or correct the cultural issues.
  • Have a very low or unclear accountability structure.
  • Seldom or are mostly unwilling to take risks or be unconventional.
  • More often than not, lack a strong and proactive leadership.
  • Fail to make hard decisions, like for example weeding out those who do not align with the culture; not choosing the right focus points etc.

Overall, I feel that a dip is like a forest fire.  If it is handled well, it sets the tone for renewed progress and even better prosperity.  It pushes you to the wall, makes you think hard and question yourself – in other words, forces you to think out of the box.  It helps you be lean and agile.  Innovation and foresight thus becomes a part of your team / organization culture, constantly challenging the status quo, seeing through the numbers and understanding the patterns to act now rather than later… and continue to keep pushing yourself upwards.

I believe that the DIP is a very interesting phenomenon, it is inevitable.  Welcome it, be confident through it and make the fullest out of it, it has the potential to change your course forever.

What has been your experience being in a dip or seeing a dip?

The Second Coming…

January 1, 2012

It has been a significantly long time since I last published an article.  Like the last time, it wasn’t a dearth of content which prevented me; instead it was a sense of responsibility towards some feedback I had received and some introspection which made me rethink my approach.  In other words, I knew it needed something similar to a second innings or let’s call it a ‘second coming’.

I dedicated this time to review, rethink and rewrite a lot of my articles with a focus on improving upon the following:

[1]   Being empathetic.  When I wrote in the past, I always used to think about how I normally would read and review an article, the amount of details I looked out for, ease of understanding and interpretation I desired.  I felt that a lot of the articles which I read were at times very thematic, as in they would only touch upon the subject with hardly any illustrative case to aid understanding.  Obviously they lacked a level of details I thought would help a lot of readers like you and me.  This built in me a sense of being very explicit and elaborate.  A tendency which thus resulted in me trying to make my thoughts as easily explained as possible.  But when I read my own articles, at one point I felt that they were longer than the attention span of most of us and was left wondering if it would thus have a lot of readers finish reading the entire article in one go.  It was an interesting awakening of sorts for me.  This made me think if I was writing for myself or those like me who liked things in details.  I quickly realized there are many readers who could benefit from the articles and thoughts I want to share but can only spare 5 minutes to read the article or those who prefer to read it all in one go.  I needed to be empathetic towards their needs, that of time and delivery of the message in the most telling way.

[2] Keeping it short but interesting, saying the story well.  Because I like to have things detailed and sharp, I ended up writing articles which would often span over 3 pages, with two or more illustrative cases to deliver the point across.  I learned that while engaging, but the readers get overwhelmed by the sheer size of these articles.  This would have failed me on my objective of sharing my thoughts and experiences towards continuous knowledge exchange… which the readers of these articles could relate to and learn from.  I once saw a documentary made on life crisis in some parts of Africa [detailed, sharp and perfect… just the way I like it] and I was inspired.  I then saw a short clip with a touching message on the same topic [it was concise, covered my attention span there by gaining fullest of my focus – concentration] and it left me equally inspired as the movie.  And then I saw a 56 second advert on the same theme and the result was same… I was touched and inspired.  This made me wonder if size of an article equalled quality of message delivery.  Some may argue yes, but I felt that it has to do with the objective you are trying to achieve.  If you want to touch someone and inspire a thought then you need to focus on making sure that you are saying the story well; the size of your content then is not relevant but impact you’d create is the same.  This was a vital learning for me from the purpose of my blog and for my personal self.  I rewrote almost all of my pending articles with focus on telling the story well and keeping it crisp and concise.

[3] Validating and re-validating if the article succeeds in its objective of being thought provoking.  If the article does not make you ponder or is not thought provoking then the whole purpose is failed.  I have focused on making sure I guide the reader to a point of correlation and then leave him or her there, for them to finish the rest of the journey from being provoked to finding the answer for their own selves.

[4] Never deviating from the very purpose of the article… isn’t it what it is written for after all.  The best journeys are those of findings the answers and I have ensured that this journey if facilitated by posing the right and sometimes unconventional questions.   Isn’t it the whole purpose of L-E-G, that we first create a sort of a ‘knowledge exchange’ and use it to share mistakes, successes, the experiences in between these extremes, knowledge gained through this course.  It is this exchange which will fulfil the ‘Learn’ phase providing for ‘Empower’-ment and in resulting ‘Growth’.

Think about it for a second, had Steve Jobs not had his ‘second coming’ in Apple, then Apple may not have transformed from a very good technology company to a great of its time.  It is never too late for pausing and restarting on the path you believe.  A second coming always has a very specific focus on things which matter the most.

So ‘fire’ yourself from what you are in your company or the designation/position you hold in family or society; and think for a moment.  What would you like to have a second coming for?  What is it that needs you to stop, introspect and improve upon to make you more effective?