The Straight Truth


Great Story: YOU Are Not The Problem

Making certain you keep your own personal accountability house in order may mean sooner rather than later you don’t fit where you are.

I threw down the gauntlet by asking, “If everyone in your work life was more personally accountable how many of you would like that?” I could see everyone going to that place in her or his mind’s eye. I pushed.

“What would it be like for you back at work if everyone was more personally accountable?” The answers began rolling off their tongues – “Less stress, less worry, more productive, better retention, I can get my own job done, less rescue fixing and saving of under performance…” and on it went. I carefully wrote each response down as the group imagined their world with more accountability in it. A world they want.

How do I get more accountability in my organization?

How do I get all these things I can imagine having if there is more accountability?

How? My experience is that getting more accountability in your organization is not a “How” question. It is best to approach it from another angle to understand what has been going on and what you really want. This is best accomplished by taking a back door approach. To get through this door you have to bring yourself to a mirror and not worry about them.

Here is the Backdoor

The most important step toward the backdoor of accountability is to consider the downsides.

Consider John, the CEO of a hospital. John would drop everything to speak with a physician who “wanted a minute” or a board member who called him at home because his wife was not getting the level of care the board member wanted.

John would fix presentations if his VP’s fell short rather than give the presentation back and hold the VP accountable. John was described first and foremost as a “nice guy”. His board loved him, the physicians sided with and supported him and all seemed right with his world. But for nursing and quality and patient experience, it wasn’t right. The gap between hospital departments was widening and John’s “nice guy” persona was not carrying the day. He was keeping his most important stakeholders happy at the expense of everyone else. But John was certain “they” who were grumbling needed to be more accountable.

John had me come in to work with his VPs, present to the board, even train trainers in The Accountability Experience so they could bring accountability down through the organization. John is still there and the complaints remain the same. Why? As John’s work force pushed him to be more personally accountable and to stop playing favorites and to stop choosing being liked over being effective, he began to shut the accountability work down. John had no idea the price he’d have to pay to make them more accountable. As CEO, he believed he could be the exception, although I warned him tirelessly, he could not.

Ignoring the Warning Signs of Low Accountability

John did it all himself. No one asked why the CFO or the Chief Nursing Officer didn’t make presentations to the board when reporting time came. Why did all the reports get presented by the CEO? Because John “fixed” every presentation first.

John would not turn back work. Why? “Maybe I wasn’t clear with them. It’s not their fault.” My response, “To increase personal accountability you have to allow failure so direct reports can learn but more importantly so you can learn.” “No,” John said, “I can’t do that.” And to this day, with 2 years left before retirement, John prevails.

This isn’t one of my success stories. It’s real. If the leader isn’t accountable and won’t give up behaviors that prevent accountability in the organization, it’s not going to happen. There were certainly people who went on to be accountable and put accountability in place in their own life and then their professional practice but they had to leave to do it elsewhere.

Here is what John would not give up: Talking to, not about others Meetings after the meeting Rescue, fixing and saving under performance Being the center of any and all interactions with the physicians and the board members Taking “do you have a minute?” meetings from any and all physicians or board members

John saw huge downsides if he gave these things up and fostered personal accountability on the part of those whose job it was to ensure that each area of expertise and authority was administered correctly and with quality.

It Was Personal

John, as CEO, wouldn’t ensure accountability in the culture even though he said he wanted all the things that came with increased accountability on the part of his direct reports. And there was one other element at play. John didn’t like his home life. He wanted to stay at work more than he wanted to go home. John answered his family’s resentment that he was never home with the fact that it gave them all the things they wanted. But in truth, his top priority was being the go to guy for every physician and every board member. If they wanted to stay late, call an impromptu meeting, walk into his office at 5:00and ask if he “had a minute” he loved to oblige.

Are YOU really needed?

In his executive coaching time I asked if he would put into place a consequence for not leaving by 6:00 to force him to “let go” and allow his VPs to do their job. It lasted a week. A physician intimated to John that he was not committed to their success when he rescheduled a meeting for the next day to go home by 6:00. And, as the next board meeting loomed, he saw that his CFO’s presentation was not what he wanted so rather than hand it back and take time to be clear about what he did want he changed it and presented it himself.

Deep Down Change

John wanted everyone to get the message of accountability so that he would not have to hold anyone accountable. The Board and physicians did not stop their demand for direct access to John. Several of the VPs have left. John claims it is because they did not want to be accountable.

What’s wrong with this picture of “I want more accountability in my organization?” What’s the problem? The problem is the leader. If the leader is not going to let go and expect accountability and take the downsides that come with it, forget about it.

In every instance if the leader isn’t coming along, it’s not going to happen. That does not in any way, shape or form, have to stop you. Making certain you keep your own personal accountability house in order may mean sooner rather than later you don’t fit where you are. Trust that there is a place and go look.