Culture is this massive umbrella that covers the actions, behaviours, values, rituals, routines and just about everything people do in your organisation (oy vey). With that comes books, speakers, consultants (howdy), leadership courses and countless other tools for making change happen.
Sadly, this also means people lose sight of what matters most for their organisation, instead getting lost in process.
Want to make a meaningful shift, today? Ask yourself these two simple questions (I’ve included some tips on each).
1. Who isn’t doing what and why not?
This question is one of the most powerful ones you can ask yourself and the team. It covers accountability, assumed roles, real roles (there is a difference), deadlines, targets and just about everything performance related.
A great many performance and growth problems can be linked to someone not doing something they were supposed to do (consciously or unconsciously). This is best demonstrated through a powerful proverb:
For want of a nail the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
For want of a horse the rider was lost.
For want of a rider the message was lost.
For want of a message the battle was lost.
For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.
The smallest of ignored accountability can have catastrophic second and third order consequences.
“Who isn’t doing what and why not” is a simple question that is loaded with potential pitfalls, so here are some tips on making impact with it:
- Look at what result isn’t being achieved – knowing where the issue is will help you move from the what to the who.
- Find out who specifically is responsible – too often informal roles and responsibilities are given or multiple people are “accountable” meaning no one really is.
- Once the result and the who are clear, understand the why – are systems providing the right support? Does the person have what they need? Are people blocking them from doing the “right thing”? Remove barriers and blockers to affect change here.
2. What conversations are we not having that we should be?
After doing the leg work on the first question, the second question becomes painfully obvious in terms of need. If someone isn’t doing something as expected, what performance / coaching conversation aren’t we having and why?
Everyone has at least one nagging issue they’re avoiding.
If you’ve figured out the answers to the first question and aren’t dealing with the second, here are some tips:
- Understand what you’re afraid of – I had the CEO of high-growth medium sized business once respond by saying “but what if they get upset and leave?”. His fear was that building accountability would lead to loss of a key person. Is that fear rational? If it is, do you really need that person in your business; someone who quits because you had a tough conversation? Food for thought.
- Look at it from their perspective – curiosity is key. You’ve done your homework but you can’t have all of the facts. When you finally have that accountability conversation, start with understanding why they are doing what they’re doing. You’ll be shocked how often simple awareness drives behaviour change.
- Reset and agree next steps – come up with a plan for you both to get things back on track. Mutual commitment, support and a clear path forward make a huge difference in affecting behaviour change.
A parting warning
I’ve sat with executives of businesses ranging in size from small through to multi-billion dollars and often hear one of the most painful things in my line of work: “I’m not prepared to have that conversation with x person”. Devastating.
Please don’t be that kind of leader. Your people and stakeholders are counting on your ability to lead, not to avoid difficult conversations. You’ve got this.