Archive for the ‘Team Building’ category

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.

How to stop your employees from leaving you

July 15, 2010

This weekend I was reading an article on the reasons why employees leave.  The article was developed based on the responses of over 1000 employees which were surveyed on what influenced their decision to quit, switch or change companies.

How often, as managers and leaders, do we come across situations when our team members put in their papers?  It is a regular occurrence in the course of a year, right.

The article also very nicely brought out the seasonality of employee turnover…two phases in particular seemed interesting to me; [a] post annual reviews when it is at its peak and [b] sometime in the middle of Quarter 3 when there is a surge in hiring at lateral levels to bump up the capacity for Quarter 4.  I am sure most of you would agree with this.

Ever wondered what are those reasons why employees quit, switch or change companies? 

The article listed top 10 factors along with their impact on employee turnover in percentage values to overall [percentage values derived on the basis of responses provided by employees surveyed].

Well, I was not completely surprised with what was the biggest reason for employee turnover.  Any guesses?

The most obvious reason that comes to our mind in a flash is Compensation & Remuneration, right.  Interestingly it was 5th in this list of factors driving employee turnover.  Wow…and all along we were worrying about our team members leaving because he/she was offered a better pay package.  In terms of percentage value, it influenced only 9% of those who were surveyed to switch or change their companies.

The top 4 reasons cited by employees were the ones which we know, but are hard to register and measure the impact of as they are somewhat intangible.

Below is the table which shows the top 5 reasons along with their % impact.

 

As it is rightly said…

People don’t work for the company, they work for their leader

…likewise…

People don’t leave the company, they leave the leader

I always felt that pay package was used as a scapegoat to blame for an employee leaving the company but the real reason was mostly never captured and if captured, it was not investigated and analysed and if analysed, no proper corrective measures were put into place – which overall points to the failure of leadership in the company.  I am sure if we review the notes from exit interviews or candid one-on-ones with those who have left the company, what is mentioned in the article would be obvious.

So how do you stop your employees from leaving you? 

This is a vast topic in itself which spans across leadership, systems and processes, performance management, career path building etc. etc.  But if I were to mention one very important factor to curb employee attrition/turnover then it would be faith, trust and belief you share with your team members and employees.  I believe if the team members have faith in their leader’s ability to help them succeed, then I am sure they will remain loyal to their leader despite any odd failures of the leader.

In this article, I have tried to suggest a few very simple things which can help one build and retain the employee faith, trust and belief.  I have tried this and it has ensured one of the lowest attrition rates for my teams across 10 years of my career.  But before I do that I would like to talk about the types of leaders which I think is important.

In my view, there are two types of leaders; Traditional leaders and Transformational leaders.

Traditional leaders see the employee-boss relationship as a transaction, money in exchange for labour.  Whereas the Transformational leaders know and recognize that employees want much more than that.  In my view, it is the transformational leaders who see it as their responsibility to help their team members succeed and provide them with an environment to develop and grow as professionals.  These are the leaders who understand that key to organization’s success lies in providing an environment which ensures the success of his team members, if they succeed – the organization will succeed.

Below are a few things which would help your team members succeed and you in winning their faith, trust and belief as a leader.

Genuine Respect and Affection.  This may sound a little touchy-feely, but if you possess genuine respect and affection for your team members, then you are more likely to have a focused concern that is exclusively for that person’s good.  Your team members would automatically come to see and understand that you truly care about them, believe in their abilities and want to help in shaping their future in the right way.

Spend time understanding each of your team members and developing his/her Growth Path.  No one wants to be exactly where they are forever.  Create a culture that allows your people to grow and expand by giving them challenging assignments, training and developing their skills to maximise their potential to succeed and realise the growth they could have.

Give them a sense of Fulfillment and recognize their Contribution.  A feeling of fulfilment is by far the best feeling you could give your team member, he/she then becomes your believer in your vision and very willing partner in your efforts in building the team.  Also sharing with them what their contribution was and how it helped achieve a unified goal goes a long way in building the trust and faith in you as a leader.  Emphasize the ways that their work matters to the organization and how much you value their contribution.

Share a Vision and give their tasks a Meaning.  We are meaning-seeking creatures.  Share a vision that demonstrates that all of your team members are engaged in a larger purpose – a unified goal to achieve and demonstrate how the contribution of every single individual is equally vital and would help fulfil the purpose.  This will add sense and a meaning to their tasks and their contribution, and will make them feel valued.

Give them a responsibility for something you know they could do well, even when they are about 60-70% ready for it.  Mentor them and stand by their side to help them succeed with that task.  This way you not only boost their confidence but you also are building their skill sets which will help them in their growth.

Let me ask you a question at this point.  What do you expect from your senior?  What would make you decide to move on?  If your answers match the factors and pointers quoted above then these are the same factors and pointers which will apply to your team members too. 

So take a moment and make a decision…would you like to be a Traditional leader and continue losing your valued team members or would you rather be a Transformational leader and retain the talent?

Happy Employee Success and retention! [I assume you’ve chosen to be a Transformational leader]

There’s more to racing than winning

May 29, 2010

I picked this line from the very-famous animated movie ‘Cars’ [2006]. 

I find this movie to be technical masterpiece, a showcase of commitment, teamwork and a drive to excel.  To cite an example… the team at Pixar took almost 17 hours to create one frame of animation only to ensure the lustre and shine on the animated cars mirrors the real world cars, which it superbly does and those who have seen it would agree no less.  They wanted it to look real even though it was an animation – now how is that for commitment and drive to excel.  But there is one more thing which is so very important about this movie…the message around which it is centred, as seen in some of the dialogues in the movie.

‘There’s more to racing than winning’ and ‘…it’s only an empty cup’.

Now it is important to compete, so don’t get me wrong when I emphasize on the message above.  We need to read in between the letters here to understand the implied meaning.  While it is important to compete, work hard towards the goal, be aggressive and do whatever it takes to achieve it; but more importantly it’s about the ethics, the values we bear in ourselves and the very essence of our core – our guiding principles, either as individuals or as teams, which will set us different.  Yes, winning is important but what is more important is to win without compromising the ethics and principles, and put the values at the forefront.

I am sure those who saw this movie, never for once cheered for the winner of the final race.  Instead, they would’ve cheered for the act of the car, who was about to win the race hands down, pulling back inches close to the finish line, driving backwards to reach the car which met with the accident and pushing or rather nudging that car to the finish line. 

Wonder where this came from…well some part of it could be the scriptwriter’s imagination and the other inspired from this real life incident.

This happened during 1976 Special Olympics in Washington. 

Nine contestants, all physically or mentally disabled, assembled at the starting line for the 100 yard dash.   At the gun, they all started out, not exactly in a dash, but with a relish to run the race, to the finish, and win.  All, that is, except one little boy who stumbled on the asphalt, tumbled over, and began to cry.  The other eight heard the boy cry.  A couple of them slowed down and looked back.  Then they turned around and went back.  One of the contestants with Down’s syndrome bent down and kissed him and said “this will make it better.”

Then all of them linked arms, and walked together to the finish line.  Everyone in the stadium stood, and cheered; the cheering went on for several minutes. 

People who were there are still telling the story.  Why?  Because deep down we know this one thing: What matters in life is more than just winning for ourselves.  What matters in life is helping others win, even if it means slowing down, and changing our course.  What matters in life is going by our heart, sticking to our values and do whatever we possibly can to help someone else do better [and succeed].  It gives a sense of fulfilment which goes a long way in our lives and makes us true team players and even better human beings.

Now for a moment, think of a situation where one of your team member, junior, peer, or senior is struggling with something.  He could definitely use some help which will make a world of a difference to his morale and confidence.  How often do we face this in our daily work lives [and also in our lives out of work too]?  Quite often isn’t it. 

How many of us have went ahead and extended a helping hand, helped that person accomplish the task and succeed [in whatever sense it may be]?  Those who have would surely agree with me about the sense of fulfilment and empowerment it gives you, which would definitely have made your day and would have gone down your memory lane forever.  But more importantly, it made you a better and a stronger person from within.

Just imagine, for a moment, how would it be like if anyone and everyone in the team at work is willing and ready to extend the helping hand, support each other what ever it takes and help each other with things to make each other succeed?  I bet workplace would then become a very good place to be and you would love coming to work every day.  And more than that, you would win and succeed more often that otherwise.  The synergy which would then exist would only help improve the morale, the strength and the performance of the team.

I know to achieve this is easier said than done but someone needs to start rolling it.  So why not you? 

Remember, ideal teams [which is always dream of to be a part of] are not available readymade…they are to be built, one step at a time…shaping one person at a time and building on one principle at a time.

If you see the value in it then why not take a step forward and help someone win/succeed.  And please be sure to share with us the experience you had.