Today’s post outlines three benefits of making Daily Accountability a part of your organization’s Lean Management System.
“Accountability turns pain into peace.”
There are people in this world that I believe are truly convinced that vegetables taste really good. So good, in fact, that they would rather eat vegetables than chips or cookies. I am definitely not one of those people. Intellectually, I understand that vegetables are really important for good health, and junk food is really bad for your health. But when I’m hungry and have the option of carrots or potato chips (sorry, not a vegetable), my default behavior is to choose the chips.
Growing up, my parents frequently reminded me to eat my vegetables. My immediate reaction was always one of frustration. Did they really need to remind me that vegetables were good for me? No! I already knew that. But was I eating my vegetables without them reminding me? Nope. And did I eat my vegetables after they reminded me? Definitely.
In a Lean Management System, daily accountability is very similar to reminding someone to eat their vegetables. We all know the right things to do, but we often don’t do them. No one likes to be held accountable, but we can all benefit from it. Below are three benefits of “eating your vegetables” by making daily accountability a part of your Lean Management System.
Daily Accountability Produces Daily Feedback
In most organizations, employees receive annual or (at most) quarterly reviews. Sure, you interact with each other on a daily basis, but do those conversations include following up on commitments? Not only are you unlikely to remember things that happened long ago, but you’re also likely to overemphasize recent events, for better or worse. Daily interactions also provide frequent reminders to your team about the importance of meeting commitments. Imagine trying to teach your kids how to eat better if your only conversations with them only occur once every three months.
Years ago, I heard a disturbing story during an interview about a prospective employee’s previous work experience. She explained how her last position had ended after a tough end-of-year review where her boss informed her that the post-it notes stuck to her monitor made her seem “disorganized”. She was completely caught off guard – in the previous year, not one person had given her this input. Had she found out that her system for managing action items was an issue, she would have adjusted it immediately. But because the feedback was so delayed, she wasn’t able to adjust the behavior until it was too late. It turned out to be good news for me, as she was an excellent (and extremely organized) team member.
Instead of saving up a list of items to discuss during formal reviews, make holding your team accountable a daily routine.
Daily Accountability Is a Two-Way Street
One of the most distressing parts of being a parent is realizing that because I want my kids to eat their veggies, I have to as well. It never fails – when I tell my kids to eat their vegetables, the first thing they do every time is look down at MY plate. They want to know that we’re in this battle against good-tasting food together. Imagine if they looked down at my plate and it was loaded with junk food – how do you think they would respond? The “Do as I say, not as I do” method isn’t an effective one for parents, and definitely doesn’t work for managers, either – especially in a Lean organization. If respect for people is a major part of your company’s culture, one of the best ways to demonstrate that respect is to hold yourself to the same, if not higher, standard.
New managers have very few opportunities to make an impression on their team. Sure – if you want to be a “Fun Uncle” manager, one who doesn’t really expect a lot out of their team, go ahead and don’t hold anyone accountable. But if you want to be a Lean manager of a high-performing team, you have to include daily accountability as part of your personal management style. And just like a child looking to see what’s on their parent’s plate, your team will pay attention to how you handle your own commitments. And don’t be discouraged if they find some “junk” on your own plate that you’ve been ignoring; just clean it up and get back to eating your veggies.
Daily Accountability Produces Results
You’ve probably heard the mantra that “what gets measured gets done.” While we can debate whether that always proves to be true, one thing I know for sure – “what gets talked about gets done.” Ever attended a meeting where you have an action item due, and you haven’t done it? Ever felt like crawling under the conference room table to avoid having to admit it isn’t done? Ever left a meeting like that and not immediately knocked out that action item? I think I’ve proved my point.
My typical response when someone holds me accountable to a commitment that I’m not meeting is a mixture of embarrassment and anger. I’m embarrassed that I haven’t done what I said I would do, and that makes me angry that someone had the nerve to actually hold me accountable. Over time, I come to realize that the purpose of accountability isn’t to publicly shame me – it’s to communicate the status of work, identify problems as early in the process as possible, and find out if people need any help meeting their commitments. By doing this, solutions get implemented, results drastically improve, and the team quickly begins to develop momentum around getting things done. Once you’ve lived in a culture of accountability for any length of time, you come to appreciate the additional support it provides, and really regret it if it goes away.
A Lean manager’s approach to accountability requires several things, and we’ll spend more time on them in a later post. For now, make sure you approach your role in holding people accountable with humility. Remember – you’re opening yourself up to the same level of accountability. Also, people will pay the most attention when things don’t go according to plan. Instead of using it as an exercise in public shaming, think of it as a prime coaching moment and look for ways to help the team better meet commitments going forward.
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