How and to whom should you be accountable

How and to whom should you be accountable?

When it comes to leadership, a sound understanding of accountability is paramount. In senior roles, clear accountability is critical to organisational structure and performance.

Most organisations hold people accountable by having them report to someone more senior. I’m a strong believer in an alternative view. In my mind, the highest performing organisations allow people to hold themselves accountable. More so, the very best leaders are those who can hold themselves accountable and draw confirmation from those around them, rather than those more senior.  Accountability is something that must sit with someone. It’s something people carry. It’s not transferable, nor can it be effectively managed through someone else’s oversight.

The way people behave is very much driven by the way they are assessed. Creating an environment where people act in a way that satisfies those more senior, to whom they report, drives negative behaviour. Often these behaviours are isolating, confining, and focused towards satisfying one individual or small group. It forces people to protect or hide problems, filtering only positive information upwards, and influences people to behave based on how someone more senior would behave.

The alternative, and far more effective approach, is allowing leaders to be accountable to themselves by gaining confirmation from those around them. This removes the stigma of worrying about how something will be received or interpreted by those more senior. It encourages people to take responsibility for decisions, acting authentically to the problem, without fear of being judged. It brings problems more readily to the surface, for resolution rather than avoidance.

Many organisations talk positively about delegating responsibility. This alone is not enough. It’s how you deal with accountability that either restricts an organisation or allows it to prosper. The ultimate benefit in allowing accountability to sit with someone, is the gain in trust that results, and how it can empower people. The concept of reporting upward to someone is flawed. Having a more senior person holding someone else accountable, is undermining and erodes trust.

So, to all the aspiring leaders, I offer simple advice. Be comfortable carrying accountability, and don’t expect anyone else to hold you accountable for it.

Performance measures for leaders. Learn how to teach.

Performance measures for leaders. Learn how to teach.

A close friend of mine is a primary school principal. I had the privilege of working with him for a number of years as chair on the school board. Recently, he mentioned something that resonated with me. He said “Arthur, they say the most important person in the classroom is the teacher, however they become the most important by ensuring everyone else in the room is more important.”

This statement captures so much of what many define as good leadership. It recognises that a role is more important than a title. Its message is focused on the performance of others, rather than the individual. It highlights the value of humility, of sharing and empowering. It identifies the importance of transferring knowledge and experience onto others.

When leaders consider their own performance, it is important to keep measures in perspective. Is the performance of a leader more important or less important than the group? Sometimes leaders become too focused on their own performance. It is relatively clear the performance of the group must be the true measure, not the individual.

Leadership phrases such as “make yourself redundant” or “make sure you’re the weakest link or the least capable” all carry similar messaging; however, the classroom phrase is more profound. It implies that for those in leadership roles, ultimate performance is achieved through the performance of others, and we should measure leaders who have wisdom, knowledge and experience by how willing they are to develop others around them, without need for recognition.

So, why do the best classroom teachers act this way? They only have students for one year generally, and then pass them onto the next teacher. The answer lies in what motivates people. Do they gain satisfaction and self-reward through their own performance or through the performance of others? Good teachers, as with good leaders, are motivated to see others develop, improve, and perform to their highest ability.

If leaders need direction on how to improve culture, and how to develop high performing teams, they should look no further than this classroom reference. It is no coincidence that my close friend has been a highly successful and respected principal for most of his career.

How many P’s in Leadership?

How many P’s in Leadership?

While it may seem an easy question, leadership requires a few key attributes that change the obvious answer. My experiences and observations have taught me that there are three essential traits a leader must exhibit to be effective.

The first relates to energy and drive. A leader must be PASSIONATE. This characteristic is important not only for the individual, but also in how they influence others. Leaders who lack passion for their role are less likely to reach their full potential. This passion also contributes to effectiveness. Without showing passion, it is very difficult to yield influence.

Secondly, a leader must be PRINCIPLED. Clarity and consistency in actions and behaviours are crucial to gaining the confidence of others. This instils a sense of dependability and assuredness. It provides guidance for leaders in decision making, while building reputation and personal brand.

The last attribute is functional – a great leader must be PERSONABLE. In modern society dictatorial, demanding and commanding roles are unpalatable and usually ineffective. Collaborative, team oriented, and persuasive influencers draw the best out of others, while gaining respect. They exhibit empathy and engage sincerely. They build relationships either directly, or indirectly through their words and actions. They connect with people.

These are the three P’s in leadership – PASSIONATE, PRINCIPLED, and PERSONABLE. Does this mean everyone with these characteristics is a start-up leader? I’d suggest not. I know many people with these attributes that neither are, should be, or would want to be a leader. However, if you are in a leadership role or you aspire to be one, then it’s important to recognise some key traits that you not only must have within yourself, but portray at all times to ensure you remain as effective as possible. Display these three P’s and you’ll give yourself every chance of being a successful leader.

Virtual Intelligence – will it render professions irrelevant?

Virtual Intelligence – will it render professions irrelevant?

Rather than talk about Artificial Intelligence (AI), I prefer to reference Virtual Intelligence (VI). Artificial implies fake or unnatural, whereas Virtual implies computer generated or simulated. Virtual suggests a replication of the real world. I believe the term VI better represents the transformation we are currently witnessing in the digitalisation of society.

What will VI mean to the professions and what impact will it have on those professionals and their careers? I believe the impact will be profound.

Many professionals believe their roles within society will forever be safe based on the presumption that judgement, creativity, instinct and experience will always prevail and never be digitally replicated. This misconception may be the undoing of many.

To understand this better, we need to clarify why these human attributes exist in the first place. Primarily, humans use these terms to explain their lack of processing power. People who perform at the highest level, use judgement or instinct to make decisions. Similarly, a person who generates something that hasn’t been seen or done before is defined as creative. So how can computers replicate these attributes?

The reality is that computers don’t need these attributes. Their processing power is infinitely higher than a human and continues to grow exponentially. Rather than be creative, a computer can generate infinite options to an open problem. By applying defined parameters, infinite options quickly converge on the best solution. Without the ability to generate every possible option the human relies on creativity alone.

So, will VI render the role of professionals irrelevant? In my mind this will ultimately be determined by how the client uses the technology. If the client perceives any level of risk or uncertainty in using the technology, then the client will expect the uncertainty and risk to be carried by the professional and hence their relevance will be maintained. If, however, the client is willing to accept that there is no risk associated with using VI, the professional will ultimately be rendered irrelevant.

Responsibility will transfer over to the client, virtual will become real and the only thing artificial will be the professional.

Newton’s 1st Law of Business

Newton’s 1st Law of Business

One of the key elements to a successful business lies within the laws of physics. Between Galileo and Newton, the Law of Inertia (Newton’s First Law) was developed to explain how bodies behave. Interestingly, while inertia is not directly measurable, it can be calculated, and it is critical in describing outcomes and fundamental in determining behaviour. The principles of this theory are overwhelmingly relevant in business.

We should not confuse inertia with momentum. Momentum is a measure of how quick you’re moving relative to mass. Inertia is how much force is needed to impart change, or similarly, how resistant it is to change. It’s inertia that needs to be monitored to ensure it’s not detrimental to your business.

While most businesses see momentum as desirable, consideration is needed towards the resulting impact on inertia. The momentum a business can experience may often hide the dangers of building inertia.

Using Newton’s 1st and 2nd Law as the analogy, business inertia can be explained. Bodies with large inertia require a great deal of force to move. Without the application of enormous force, bodies of large mass take a long time to slow down, speed up and more importantly, change direction. Large inertia can make organisations slow to react. With the same level of inertia, adding mass slows them down.

Hence, business inertia is an important characteristic in predicting outcomes and assessing behaviour.

Managing inertia, while maintaining momentum, is one of the keys to success.

So did Newton have a deep understanding of business? I’m not sure. Does his theory relate to business as much as it does to physics? Absolutely.

Accountability vs Responsibility

Accountability vs Responsibility

Managing a business and the people within it can be challenging to say the least.

Understanding your business and then communicating and implementing strategy effectively is critical to success.

One approach that can be effective in understanding, communicating and implementing, lies within the interpretation of, and understanding the differences between, accountability and responsibility.

Empowering people, establishing trust within a relationship, while allowing autonomy within roles are key attributes of a thriving workplace. Identifying and articulating the meaning of these two terms can create clarity for one role while defining and appreciating the roles of others around them.

In simple terms, responsibility should lie with the person doing the work. Accountability should sit with the person responsible for those doing the work.

When articulated in this way, the messaging becomes very powerful.

For those taking responsibility for their own work, there is a clear recognition that autonomy exists. Understanding that accountability rests with someone else establishes trust and authentic empowerment results.

For those responsible for people, recognising that accountability lies with them, but without responsibility for doing the work, provides powerful guidance on how they should act and behave. Handing over responsibility for the work in a genuine manner, while remaining accountable for the outcomes, is extremely effective in defining the role of those accountable for others. Importantly, this acknowledgement helps those responsible for work, to appreciate the trust bestowed on them by others.

While titles and management structures will vary significantly between organisations, the fundamentals outlined above provide clarity for most within the business. From those who take full responsibility for only their own work, through to those that remain fully accountable for the entire operation.

Defining these two simple terms succinctly and using them to provide guidance on people’s roles within a group goes a long way to establishing respect, trust and teamwork within the workplace. Characteristics that all organisations strive for.

Don’t underachieve for fear of failure

Don’t underachieve for fear of failure

Has society become too risk-averse?

Do people have expectations on safety, compliance and equalisation to the extent that trailblazing is frowned upon, while risk-takers and outliers are ostracised?

Conservatism is the antithesis of aspiration. Australians are ashamed of failure. Other cultures wear failure as a badge of honour, a sign of resilience, resourcefulness and strength.

Generationally, children are brought up in an ever-increasing protected and sheltered environment, where adversity, hardship and disappointment are avoided. Exposure to these experiences builds resilience. History has shown that through these experiences, true innovation and progress flourish. Are some of the essential qualities, that remain critical to people’s wellbeing, being filtered out?

When I speak to people, be it young people, business people or others, decisions and expectations are often set on the basis that they shouldn’t fail or carry any risk. Aspiration is often replaced with certainty. But with certainty comes conservatism, which can often lead to underachievement.

So as leaders, I believe it is critical that we encourage aspiration and risk-taking in others. Leaders should provide the experienced support, foresight and reassurance to allow others to manage and accept potential failure, and in the process build resilience.

Our advice should be “Don’t underachieve for fear of failure”.

Accepting potential failure is the prerequisite to overachievement. Resilience is the essential ingredient in realising it.

Don’t request the sacrifice, accept the offering

Don’t request the sacrifice, accept the offering

How do you get the best out of people? It has long been a question in business, with many varied opinions and points of view.

Is it through motivation, reward, incentive? Does it result from creating the right working environment? Is it all or none of these things? My feeling is we are asking the wrong question. We shouldn’t be seeking to draw the most out of people, but rather have them be willing to offer as much as possible.

Everyone has different expectations on what is normal acceptable effort. If we set our own measures on what we want out of our people, then neither party is content. There is either more to be offered, or there is a feeling that expectations are too high.

Alternatively, we can build relationships with people and make them feel committed and willing to contribute. We can show them how their efforts positively impact on others and the business overall. We can create a sense of belonging and have them recognise that what is good for the business is good for them.

This is what brings the best out of people. Achieve these things and the best outcome will be delivered. There will be no reluctant, unsustainable sacrifice, just a willing, ongoing offering.

Promoting the Value for Money Proposition

Promoting the Value for Money Proposition

Professionals, and more particularly consultants, are in a privileged position of providing services to clients that can have a significant influence on the client’s success, both commercially and reputationally.

However, in engineering as with other professions, the true value of a professional’s service is being misunderstood or more concerningly, ignored.

For reasons that are unclear to most in the profession, decisions involving the choice of consultants and the role they play in an outcome seem to be mutually exclusive in the eyes of many decision makers.

Choices seem to be made on the basis that irrespective of who is engaged, the same outcome will eventuate. For some informed and sophisticated clients this is clearly fantasy, but alarmingly many clients do not understand or recognise the true impact of their naivety.

So, the first step to promoting value for money is ensuring the client acknowledges that decisions produce different outcomes.

Secondly, making a decision with respect to professional appointments carries accountability, without any guarantees or surety of a particular result. Those deciding who to entrust as their consultants are often fulfilling this role on behalf of others. Here lies a further challenge in authentic decision making. The problem is not in the ability to decide, it is in the avoidance of making a decision that carries both accountability and uncertainty.

With more regularity we see decisions being made that are easy to justify, but fundamentally flawed.

When a decision is made by an individual for the pure benefit of the individual, there is comfort in accepting responsibility for that decision. You generally choose a Doctor, Accountant, Lawyer or Dentist for specific reasons; sometimes based on referral, but rarely based on price.

When choosing certain products such as a house, car, boat or even clothes, price range matters but value for money usually governs.

So, the final key step to promoting value for money is to engage directly with clients and individualise the decision-making process. Allow the client to carry the responsibility and only be accountable to themselves, with full self-acceptance that by making the decision, they are realising true value for money.

Where should the priority lie? Product or Service?

Where should the priority lie? Product or Service?

Most professionals know exactly how to execute their skills and deliver a high quality product. But what about providing a service to their clients? How much formal training do professionals receive in understanding and executing the highest level of service? Do they really understand its value and importance?

I’ve always been a strong believer in prioritising service for 3 simple reasons, and they all relate to the client.

Firstly, in many instances, clients don’t have an intimate understanding of our skills or how we go about our craft, therefore have limited ability to assess what we do. When it comes to service however, they have all the knowledge required to assess and evaluate our performance. Everyone knows what they want when it comes to service.

Secondly, in professional services, comparisons of product are very hard to determine. Rarely are two situations the same. Comparing service is much easier. An unreturned phone call or broken commitment can be easily related and assessed against others.

Lastly, poor service can’t be rectified. Returning a phone call too late or not delivering on an undertaking is irreversible. Rectifying an incomplete or sub-standard product can be fixed and made good later.

So as professionals, once we understand the importance of service, we can then afford it the attention and priority needed. Well, almost.

There is one key ingredient in implementing the highest level of service, and that centres around the client’s expectations. Without effective management on what is expected as good service, meeting those expectations is extremely difficult. As we all know, unrealistic expectations can never be met. The key to good service is not delivering quicker or working harder, it’s managing the client’s perception of what is realistic and achievable.

So next time you have a time commitment that can’t be met because the product isn’t ready, what will you do? Will you let the client down on service and deliver the finished product late, or will you deliver the unfinished product on time?

The real answer is; you should have agreed earlier with the client that the product would take longer to deliver.