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Top companies already use detailed performance metrics (Analytics), benchmarks and individual quantitative performance measures. Yet, accountability continues to invoke fear and trembling in the minds of many managers and staff members. One reason that performance ratings are so threatening is that internal performance reviews are often done so badly. Managers frequently see them as bureaucratic exercises to check off the boxes for salary purposes. Accountability is often thought of as a way to justify blame, pass the buck or cover your butt (CYA). Phases such as, “Not my job,” and “Good enough for government work” serve to reinforce inaction and continued failure. Ask people how work is going and you are likely to hear something like “Same shi*, different day” (SSDD). A lack of accountability has destroyed job fulfillment and pride in work.

A lack of accountability allows individuals to justify entitlement thinking, such as, “I have been here longer than anyone else; I should be next in line for promotion.” Fear is a major impediment to individual and organizational success. Howard Lewis, author of Technological Risk, contends that we have become a risk-adverse culture. This is completely understandable when one considers how much we are pelted by frightening media reports, homeland security alerts, economic crises and “lite” wars (similar to lite beer with reduced calories, lite wars have reduced casualties). Lewis contends that we have become afraid of risk and that fear, more than anything else, impedes a nation’s progress. Nothing weakens an individual’s or an organization’s resolve more, than the rejection of accountability. Accepting accountability empowers us.

Twenty years ago Intel was the leading manufacturer of memory chips. Yet, the writing was on the wall. Intel would lose the chip market to cheaper, more nimble Asian competitors. That business model no longer worked in the new globalized market place. CEO Andy Grove was accountable to shareholders and employees for sustaining Intel’s success. Grove took action and replaced Intel’s old business. Intel focused all its resources from making memory chips to making microprocessors. The rest, as they say, is history. Andy Grove’s decisiveness put Intel on a new trajectory of success that continues today.

A great definition of accountability can be found in the Wall Street Best seller The OZ Principle. The authors Roger Connors, Tom Smith and Craig Hickman define accountability this way, “A personal choice to rise above one’s circumstances and demonstrate the ownership necessary for achieving desired results.” Accountability is the first step to ownership. It is understandable why all high-performing organizations build a culture of achievement by increasing employee accountability and empowerment.

Here is how they do that.

Create a Culture of Achievement, Not Entitlement
Top ranked companies use strategic pay to link employee goals and interests with the goals and interest of the organization. Paying people to show up reinforces entitlement thinking. Over time this type of thinking sets people up for failure and evolves into a victim mentality. Have you ever heard someone say, “I did not get the increase/promotion because my boss doesn’t like me”? Performance goals strengthen ownership and accountability. S.M.A.R.T. goals are even smarter when they contain at least two of the four performance criteria (quality, quantity, cost or time). Setting measurable and reasonably challenging goals ignites the passion to extend one’s knowledge, skills and abilities.

Appraisals are Job Specific and Measurable

Effective appraisals are job specific measures of skill and motivation. This ensures performance decisions are fair and transparent. See for more details. One reason accountability releases such strong resistance is the result of poorly defined performance appraisals. Generic appraisals based on general traits or competencies encourage rater bias. These appraisals are more of an opinion poll than a performance assessment. The courts may eventually dismiss management decisions based on broad definitions and biases in favor of those that are job-specific and behavioral.

Generously Reward Your Top Performers and Performance Improvement

Linking pay and benefits with individual performance and strategic goals increases engagement, or in some cases, disengagement. It is a good result either way.

Briefings on “Lessons Learned”

“My great concern is not whether you have failed, but whether you are content with your failure.”
- Abraham Lincoln

Using exploratory questions shifts the focus away from defense and onto rational deconstructing of successes and failures. These meetings should focus on finding solutions, not scapegoats. Performance metrics and reviews should not be intended to "name and shame." Leaders can provide safe havens in which dialogue can take place without making anyone feel “put on the spot,” and where difficult issues can be discussed without assigning blame. The goal is to solve problems, not to hurl accusations or tear people down. Creating such a positive climate calls for a matter-of-fact, objective manner: assume that people want to do the right thing and that data helps them know what the right thing is.

Measure Progress
A Harvard Business Review study found that motivation increased when employees felt they were making progress. Break strategy and objectives into job specific steps, goals and actionable behaviors. Make progress more tangible with “Progress Charts” measuring improvements. Turn routine tasks into a race to achievement with team performance points reviewed weekly. Analyzing the details that accumulate to produce either success or failure can make it easier to identify steps for improvement — and allows people to feel proud of the things they already do well.

Replace entitlements with performance based rewards (both financial and nonfinancial). Entitlement thinking is only reinforced by paying people to show up regardless of their performance. Reward each employee’s performance with incentives fulfilling their likes and lifestyle needs. This makes it easy for employees to simultaneously work for the benefit of the organization and themselves.
“If you do not know what motivates your staff, you could be feeding bananas to your tigers.”
- Rod Waddell

Walk the Talk

Model what you want more of. It builds confidence in leaders when they name problems that everyone knows are there. Put performance data on the table for everyone to see, and refuse to shift responsibility to us or them. When leaders accept responsibility by sharing their own contribution to failure, it helps other people get over their fear of exposure and humiliation.
Continued fear and resistance to performance scrutiny simply enhances feelings of victimization and skill decline. Improving internal performance measurement and discussions pave the way for ongoing performance improvements and sustainable business results. Individuals that embrace accountability, relishing achievements and learning from mistakes, are already on the performance path.

“Making your mark on the world is hard. If it were easy, everybody would do it. But it's not. It takes patience, it takes commitment, and it comes with plenty of failure along the way. The real test is not whether you avoid this failure, because you won't. It's whether you let it harden or shame you into inaction, or whether you learn from it; whether you choose to persevere.”
- Barack Obama

“It's a sad day when you find out that it's not accident or time or fortune, but just yourself that kept things from you.”
- Lillian Hellman

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