Analytics in the business world serve many purposes, and a survey by the American Management Association uncovered the top five reasons business leaders say analytical skills are necessary today.

Which of the following create the greatest need for analytical skills in your organization?

  1. Accountability for results 67.0%
  2. Competitive environment 61.6%
  3. Complexity of business environment 52.6%
  4. Increase in customer data 51.3%
  5. Risk management 50.7%

business analytical skillsI found the results intriguing, because while we say we need accountability first and foremost within our organizations, many leaders often do a poor job of actually communicating that need. Oh, they’ll tell people they need to be accountable, but when it comes down to time to measure performance, they’ll think about things that don’t really tie into accountability for results. Having analytics to drive those sorts of decisions will be a positive overall; however, it will also mean that leaders and managers can no longer rely on other unimportant “measures” of performance.

  • Bob has been in the office for fifty or sixty hours a week for the past few months. He must be doing a good job. [Is it possible that he’s just horrible at managing his time/workload?]
  • I know she doesn’t write well, but Mary responds to emails 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. She’s really dedicated. [If she’s not sending out the right message, maybe “number of emails sent” isn’t a good measure of her performance?]

In some positions, it’s relatively easy to measure outcomes (sales, for example); however, in others it’s more difficult. For instance, how do you tell your administrative assistant to be “nicer?” Can you quantify that? How do you get an engineer to work “harder?” Those subjective measures are a pain for managers to enforce and a pain for employees to have to ascertain. You need to give them some actual targets to strive for that they understand.

ROWE me, baby

I had a discussion recently with some friends about the ROWE (results only work environment) movement, and it was quite an interesting conversation. A ROWE is a workplace where you work when, where, and how you want, as long as you meet your business objectives/goals. It sounds nice, and I love the idea, but it’s not necessarily easy. The key to making this work is holding each person accountable not for how many hours they log in the office, how long their butt is in the chair, or how long they are logged into their work computer; it’s about the results they accomplish. Again, it sounds like an excellent idea, but managers quickly become anxious at the thought of removing some of the traditional barriers and measurements for employees, even though in the long run the focus is to get employees to focus on the one thing that actually matters: results! This conversation keeps leading me back to accountability, and I’d like to share a few resources with you on that front in case you, like those who answered this survey, are interested in moving toward a culture of accountability.

4 accountability examples, ideas, and suggestions

  1. How many times have you heard a leader in real life or fiction demand: “I don’t care how you do it. Just get it done!” Many times, organization charts and job descriptions push people to perform a set of tasks. This mindset leads people to believe that if they perform their functions they’ve done what they’re supposed to do, whether or not the result was achieved. Effective leaders operate on the premise that their people must focus on achieving results. They lead and inspire them to pursue results by creating an environment that motivates them to ask, “What else can I do?” over and over until the results are achieved. They manage their people so that their “job” is to achieve results. Each person’s daily activities must be in alignment with the targeted results.
  2. In the book Turn the Ship Around, we learn about David Marquet and his attempt to remove the leader/follower model from the operation of the submarine he commanded. When he first took command of the ship, nobody was held accountable for anything, which correlated with the ship’s poor performance record. He began taking steps to give people accountability and oversight of their own areas, freeing him up to be a commanding officer instead of a 24/7 manager of minute details. It’s a great book if you are interested in seeing how other leadership/management approaches work.
  3. Several years ago I wrote about asking better questions to get better results. It’s still one of the most popular pieces, and for good reason. People are hungry for ways to help drive accountability within their organizations, and simply asking different questions is an easy way to start moving into that sort of mindset. More here: Asking Questions at Work.
  4. Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton often talk about the data that drives great companies and great teams. After researching extensively, they developed a model that described how the best managers led their teams. The key elements? Goal setting, trust, communication, recognition, and accountability. So not only is it something that helps on a personal level, it also helps managers to get the most out of their teams! More of this found in The Orange Revolution.

 Wrapping up

Back to the study, I would be interested to hear your feedback on some of these items. Do you see any of these five areas playing a part in a need for analytical skills within your organization? Why or why not? What drives accountability in your organization? Is that driver toward an accountable workforce actually getting results?

real patriots ask questions carl saganIf you’ve never thought about the impact of asking questions at work in a better way, I’m going to help change that today. Consider the following list of questions you’d hear in the average day:

  • Why do we have to go through this change?
  • Why can’t we find good people?
  • When will that guy do his job right?
  • Why don’t they communicate better?
  • Who messed this up?
  • When is someone going to train me?
  • When are my people going to get their act together?

Any of these questions seem familiar? We’ve all heard a version of them at some point in time. The theme running through these questions is twofold. First, there\’s a definite negative connotation. Second, and most importantly, they are structured to place blame and accountability on someone else.

That’s not a winning plan.

If you’re trying to be successful as a leader, you\’re going to have to hold people accountable. Letting them ask questions like these is a surefire way to ensure that they never learn self accountability.

It doesn’t always fit, but the majority of the time questions that begin with “who, when, and why” are potential problems. In the examples above you’ll see that play out.

The point is to turn the questions around and find ways to hold yourself accountable for the results. Try starting the questions with “how can I…” or “what can I…” and you\’ll see that the responsibility immediately shifts from someone else to you.

You’re the one in charge of making the change at that point.

It’s a radically different mindset to ask questions like these. Why? Because you have to care. And you have to be willing to hold yourself and your people accountable for the results. It isn’t easy, but it’s worth it.

Here is the same set of questions rewritten with accountability in mind:

  • What can I do to make this change easier on others?
  • How can I help us find better people?
  • What can I do to help that guy do his job better?
  • How can I help to strengthen communication?
  • How can I make this right?
  • What can I do to pursue training?
  • How can I help my people be better at their jobs?

Foster a culture of accountability with your people and reap the benefits of stronger individual and team performance.

Finally, here’s a great example of how one company does this on a daily basis.

WD-40 practices the democratic principle of Accountability. To that end we ask every tribe member to own and act passionately on the Maniac Pledge. The pledge states: “I am responsible for taking action, asking questions, getting answers, and making decisions. I won’t wait for someone to tell me. If I need to know, I’m responsible for asking. I have no right to be offended that I didn’t ‘get this sooner.’ If I’m doing something others should know about, I’m responsible for telling them.” Source: WD-40

Challenge: Can you choose a question from the list above and put it into motion today? If so, which one did you pick?

Studies show that athletes who train in groups perform better than athletes who train by themselves. This is true not only as an athlete, but at work as well. I’m currently training for the 2012 Andrew Jackson Marathon in Tennessee. While I would have been able to get enough training under my belt to finish the race, there’s no way I would have trained as hard as I have without the great companions I have. When March 31st rolls around, I am going to be ready for my first marathon. How can we translate the success that I’ve seen as an athlete to the workplace for all of us?

A sales pitch for accountability partners

Dale Carnegie, one of the most successful businessmen in American history, attributed much of his success to what he called a “Mastermind Group.” He would routinely gather fifty successful people at his home and discuss issues and solutions to problems. Those interactions and relationships were continuously providing new ideas and alliances to help him in his leadership position. Benjamin Franklin did something similar with a group he called “Junta,” and there are stories of other leaders in history doing the same sort of thing.

Hint: You don’t have to be a millionaire steel magnate to pull this off or see the benefits. Having just two or three people you can rely on as a sounding board for ideas can help you become more successful. If “mastermind” sounds a little hokey, feel free to call them your “personal board of directors” or “peer reviewers” or something else more innocuous.

When I speak I usually mention this hard-hitting quote by Jim Rohn: You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.

Want to be great? Spend time with great people.

Pick wisely

Finding someone to hold you accountable probably won’t be very hard. It’s finding someone with the judgement and ability to add just the right amount of pressure to keep you on your toes. This is true for mentoring relationships as well. Too laid back? The protege won’t get anything out of the relationship. Too tough? The protege will start to resent the forceful relationship.

Ask questions. Dig into motivations. Find out what short and long term plans are and how those intersect or parallel with your own. If it looks like a fit, move on to the next step below.

Pick a priority

Let’s say you find someone willing to work with you. They don’t have to be a mirror image of your own dreams and aspirations. They can have one specific piece that aligns with your own goals. For instance, they may want to return to school for their graduate degree, or maybe they want to pass the PHR or SPHR exam. Whatever the case, you are free to work with them through the specific “project” and then find someone else for the next stage of your career.

With a little work, you can find someone to team with for higher performance. And you’ll be following in the footsteps of some of the most successful people in our history. Pretty neat, eh? I have correlated running to work performance before in a post about keeping a “running” log of your performance. If you enjoyed this post, you might enjoy that one as well.

Anyone thinking of a way to harness this sort of relationship? I’d love to hear about it!