After attending one of my seminars, Jay Bertram, president of the Toronto office of TBWA, the global advertising agency, returned to his office and immediately asked all his people to evaluate their overall job satisfaction, their feelings about the office and (most critically) their overall rating of him as a manager.
Then he dropped the biggest bombshell: as I had recommended, he announced to all his staff that if he did not improve in their ratings across all three measures—by 20 percent within one year—he would resign! He later wrote to me: I was thoroughly moved by your passionate plea for senior management accountability. I want to thank you for encouraging me to be a better manager. It is because of you that I am making a real difference for my employees. I have never been happier and more productive. I have just completed the follow-up survey, and my scores have improved.
The results have been terrific. The office continues to grow rapidly and our employee satisfaction results are all above the corporate averages. We have become a better management team at having direct conversations with our employees, and we face issues rather than avoid them. I believe everyone in the office has become more accountable. They look to what they have done or contributed before complaining about others.
And what had I said that made Jay act on all this? He told me:
You challenged me to be personally accountable for my role as a manager. It struck home when you said that many managers are seen by their people as lying—to others and to themselves—when they publicly proclaim their commitment to standards of excellence or missions for their organization and do not follow through. You gave me the reassurance that living up to my standards, and being prepared to be personally accountable for them, was the right thing to do.
Every manager has room for significant improvement. We must challenge ourselves to stretch past our comfort zone by stating a goal that will generate a real change in our own behavior, for all to see and experience. Managing is truly a race with no finish line. We must keep moving, learning, listening, acting, and growing if we are to fulfill our role. Jay described my recommendation as “the right thing to do,” and maybe it was, but in my seminar I hadn’t been trying to make a moral point but a practical, pragmatic one. When trying to get an organization to move, there is nothing more powerful than a manager who is prepared to lead—by going first! We cannot expect an organization to raise its game, change its direction or pursue new ambitious goals and strategies by saying “Charge! I want all of you, the troops, to climb out of your foxholes and go put yourselves in harm’s way.” Realistically, that’s unlikely to work. Instead of saying “Charge!”, we need to say “Follow me,” energizing others through our own behavior.
In any organization, regardless of its purpose, scale or location, there is great power that comes from creating a culture of accountability. When people in an organization can depend upon the fact that everyone else will keep their word and perform the duties and tasks they have accepted, more will get done with less explicit oversight. People will feel a heightened sense of responsibility and will act on it. And if we want others to perform their roles to higher levels, we must ensure that they know and believe that we are truly being held responsible for performing our role—the managerial role—effectively.
A Specific Recommendation
There are four steps toward making yourself accountable, and in turn, improving your organization:
Step One: Examine the specific statements below, one by one, while putting yourself in the shoes of your employees. Ask yourself whether or not doing well on each of these is an important part of your role—is it something you are supposed to be good at?.....
By David Maister