Don: [00:00:00] Hi, I’m Don Rheem, CEO of E3 Solutions and author of the book, “Thrive By Design.” I speak across North America on the neuroscience of engagement at work. I’m passionate about helping leaders at every level to create engaging workplace environments where employees feel safe, recognized and validated. Employees who feel safe at work are happier, healthier and more productive. Each week, my team and I take on topics impacting managers and offer solutions to your biggest workplace challenges.
Kelly: [00:00:01] Welcome to Thrive by Design, the podcast.
Kelly: [00:00:06] We created this show to give managers, CEOs and leaders the tips, tools and strategies you need to create a more engaged culture at work. I’m Kelly Burns and I’m here as usual with Don Rheem.
Kelly: [00:00:19] Today we’re tackling a really important topic in terms of leadership challenges, Accountability.
Don: [00:00:25] Good morning, Kelly.
Don: [00:00:26] Morning Kelly. I want to start with a story. It had a big impact on me and led to digging into a lot of the research behind this phenomenon. We do a lot of work, as you know, in the healthcare industry and we were working with a chain of acute care hospitals about 80 or so across the United States.
Don: [00:00:46] In this one particular hospital, their engagement scores were very low, the working conditions they considered to be very poor. The employees complained quite a bit about their pay. It was just, morale was low. And at one point, I just thought oh my gosh, and I asked one of the nurses that I was meeting with this group, and I said, “Well if it’s this bad, why do you still work here?”
Don: [00:01:12] And, she looked up at me and she had just crystal clear gaze, she looked right into my eyes and she said, “The patients. I’m here for the patients.”
Don: [00:01:22] Now, what does this mean for accountability? It’s the crux of accountability. Accountability, when it occurs in individuals, is always in relationship to something else. It’s so important for leaders to understand.
Don: [00:01:38] Accountability is not a freestanding subject or topic or human behavior. It’s a behavior that is triggered by a relationship to something else. And, in this case, in this hospital, for these nurses, the reason they still came to work every day and gave as good as they could get was because they cared about the patients and the quality of life that those patients experienced.
Kelly: [00:02:01] How much greater would it have been though if every other aspect of their work life aligned with that same devotion and care? It feels, just hearing about this story and hearing about the experiences in the organization, it feels frustrating when you think about a lack of accountability, people dropping the ball, people not caring, people not showing up to do what they’ve said that they’re going to do. And, that lack of accountability causes such strong emotional reactions in people, such strong frustration, and that’s what we want to try and avoid.
Don: [00:02:34] Exactly. And, in this case, one of the areas that was the most damaging to this culture and the experience of going to work, was the fact that the leaders, for example, nurse supervisors or floor nurses, floor managers of nurses weren’t caring for the staff. One of them commented when things get really busy when everybody is flying around on the floor and it’s really, really busy, the lowest scores of the work groups in that hospital were nurses that the floor nurses’ supervisors were in their rooms, in their offices, with the doors closed. Whereas the nurse supervisors had much higher scores were the ones that when things got busy, they were out on the floor changing bedpans doing whatever it was.
Don: [00:03:18] Did the leadership, does leadership exemplify and demonstrate the same level of care to their employees, as they are expecting their employees to care for the consumer, the customer, the patients.
Kelly: [00:03:34] You said earlier that accountability is always in relationship to something else. And, in the example, it was the patients that the nurse felt accountable to. What are some other things that might be that relationship connection? What are other things people are accountable to?
Don: [00:03:52] This is a great opportunity for leaders is to determine what is that something else? For each of their direct reports, because it’s probably going to be different by individual. So, for example, for some individuals, they’re accountable because they want to just do the right thing, so it’s very principles-based, I’m going to do the right thing. For others, their accountability is going to be in relationship to people. That is, I don’t want to let the team down. For some, it’s the leader. I don’t want to let the leader down. I’m going to do the right thing for the leader. In the nonprofit sector, we see this other thing that people are accountable to, is often the mission and vision of the organization. That is, what population are we serving? What need in society is my organization helping to solve? And, that’s what they’re accountable to. That’s why they show up and do what they do every day.
Kelly: [00:04:48] Regardless of what an employee might feel accountable to, accountability falls short all the time and it’s a core role of a leader to help hold their employees accountable when that accountability falls short.
Kelly: [00:05:00] You have this workshop that we do with our clients, a half-day workshop on accountability, and you have this practice of how a leader can practically have a one-on-one conversation with an employee when they’ve done something where accountability has fallen short. They haven’t done what they’ve said, they’re violating team standards, company standards, and they need to have this one-on-one conversation.
Kelly: [00:05:22] Go through this process with us, this ABC process, that you talk to clients about.
Don: [00:05:27] I’m never a big fan of acronyms because they’re often tortured, and this is certainly a case where it is.
Don: [00:05:33] The ABC stands for, the “A” is for appreciate. I’m sitting down with this employee and I want to appreciate something that they do well. That may be the biggest challenge in many cases. The “B” is to be real. That is, after I appreciate what they do well, I’m going to zero in on the thing that I need behavioral change around. And, then the, “C” is to be curious. That is, I’m going to use a frame of curiosity to try to get them to shift and look at something new. Now I want to state the overall goal here is to prevent the triggering of the limbic system the threat detection wiring in the limbic system that would say I’m under attack or I’m getting hammered here which just triggers people’s defensiveness.
Don: [00:06:19] This is what it might look like, and can I use you as my foil, Kelly?
Kelly: [00:06:23] You can always do so.
Don: [00:06:23] Okay. So, I’m going to say, Kelly, “I really appreciate the way you get to work on time every day. And, I know it’s hard when you have young children to do that and the weather that we have here, so I really appreciate your attentiveness about being at work on time to support your team members. I’m curious though, I’m not seeing that same level of tendency around when you leave work. It seems like you’re not often staying the full day and that has real consequences.
Kelly: [00:07:01] Is this a real example or hypothetical?
Don: [00:07:02] This is just hypothetical, Kelly.
Don: [00:07:06] I’m curious though, so I need to understand how we can get more of a full day’s work out of you because it’s a challenge for the rest of the team when you’re not here when they can count on you. So, help me understand about why I’m not seeing the same level of attentiveness around your departure time as when you arrive?
Don: [00:07:28] The goal of this is, I want to start with a strength. Any time you’re trying to change or alter someone’s behavior you want to lead with a strength. Then, I’m going to be real about the impact. I may not have articulated it very well in this example, but the impact was on the team, when they need to rely on you for the talent the expertise that you bring to the team, and when you’re not here and, that’s something that we need to address. And, then I used a frame of curiosity. I’m curious why don’t you bring that same level of attentiveness to your departure time? The curiosity frame is one that evokes a conversation and not a defensiveness. Now a lot of managers I’m sure are saying well no I’m just going to hammer them you stay here the full day or I’m going to write you up. And that’s the old top down hierarchical punitive model, which is fear-based and punitive, and it may get them to change their behavior in the sense of they’re going to stay until five o’clock. But it what it ignores is what they’re going to do behaviorally while they are still there until five o’clock and they’re certainly not going to be engaged.
Kelly: [00:08:34] How does the role of mindset come into play when you think about accountability?
Don: [00:08:40] You kind of hit it on the head. You must have attended one of these workshops. Accountability is a mindset. It’s not an event. It’s a mindset for employees to be accountable to something.
Don: [00:08:55] I’ll give you an example of how managers can look for this and try to identify it with their staff. Look for a time when a team member or multiple team members are really happy and celebrating something that’s happened at work, what would be considered solving or a challenge or getting across the finish line. And, simply be curious with them and say, “Hey Laurie, why are you so happy about this? What’s so exciting about this?” And Laurie will say, “We came together as a team and the team made it work. It just feels so good when the team comes together like this.” But I might reach out to someone, Daniel on the team, and say, “Daniel, why are you so excited?” And he said, “Well, we met a really tough challenge. I love tough challenges, and, we got there. People said we couldn’t do it, but we did.” So, now I know for Dan, it’s just meeting the challenge, whereas for Laurie, its the team dynamic of the team coming together.
Don: [00:09:53] And then you might ask Michelle, “Michelle, what are you so excited about? She said, “Well, I didn’t think I could do it. I really didn’t think that I could get this done, and, I’m just so proud of myself that I got this done in the timeframe.” So, for Michelle, it’s about her and her own capability and capacity. But for each of these individuals, they were accountable to something. And one, I call it an opportunity, but a responsibility of a great manager leader is to find out what their team members are being held accountable to. For some, it may simply be their family and being a provider and not getting fired and doing the right things so that they get a raise or whatever. And that’s OK too. I just want to know what it is.
Kelly: [00:10:33] Sure. On the other side of that coin, what are some of the obstacles that create barriers to accountability? We talk about three specific ones when we’re working with clients. We talk about learning helplessness. We talk about the victim mentality and we talk about grudge collectors. Could you give us a little bit more context on each of those?
Don: [00:10:52] Sure. We want to help managers. And, by the way, this is not just in that workshop and the workbook. We also have the same material on our managerresourcecenter.com where it’s available for managers.
Don: [00:11:08] So, learned helplessness. What we’re trying to do here is we’re trying to help managers identify behavioral categories that are common across employees and different companies. One of these categories is, learned helplessness. Learned helplessness is where the employee they feel helpless. They feel they don’t have the capacity to get it done. You ask them about this, well, I’m just not smart enough or I just can’t do this alone. And, what we do is we show managers how to reframe that learned helplessness. Another one you mentioned is the victim mentality. I’m the victim of an organization, or of managers, or of my coworkers. We show managers how to reframe that. A manager would start with a strength, and I would say, “Kelly I see you as one of the strongest employees we have when it comes to the ability to create these materials. I’ve just never thought of you as a victim. And, sometimes the way you talk about yourself, it feels like you see yourself as one. And I’ve just always seen you as such a strong powerful individual and person, just doesn’t make sense to me.”
Kelly: [00:12:14] And that’s where that phrase, I’m curious, comes in.
Don: [00:12:17] Exactly. I’m curious. The other one is, grudge collecting. And that’s an interesting one. There was an article years ago in the magazine, Psychology Today, on the science of grudge collecting. And, it’s worth pulling up if managers have grudge collectors on their team. But the issue here is, employees that no matter what management or others or even co-workers do for them, they find the negative side of it.
Don: [00:12:42] We discovered this first as a company working with an electric utility. It was a, not that this has particular merit, but it was a union-based environment, and a new CEO came in and met with the union members and said, “Hey what are the big issues? Tell me what’s going on.” And they said, “Well, the maps and the trucks are terrible and if management really cared about us, we’d have better maps. We get lost. We’re trying to get places on time. You want us to be productive we need we need better maps.”.
Don: [00:13:15] And, this new CEO said, “Hey no problem I can take care of this.” And he put state of the art G.P.S. systems in the entire fleet so people would have maps that were entirely up to date. Now, as a grudge collector, this is when he discovered this concept in his company. How does a grudge collector view having a state-of-the-art mapping system in their truck? Well, the response was, “Oh you didn’t do it because you cared for us, you did it because you want to track us. Now you know if we’re parked in front of the donut shop or not. That’s all you care about.”.
Don: [00:13:47] And, so he said, “Wow, I really learned my lesson after doing that. You just can’t buy off a grudge collector.” But then, he did it again the next year he met with them, and now they were complaining about the radios. They can’t reach their families to let them know what’s happening in a blizzard in an emergency and when they’ll be home. So, he said, “Look I’ll fix this.” And, he got all of them smartphones. How does a grudge collector view getting a few free smartphone? Now they’re tracking us as individuals. Now they know we’re not only parked in front of the donut shop, they know I’m at the counter. And, I’m on call 24/7 and they can reach me anytime. I can never get away from work.
Don: [00:14:26] So this concept of grudge collecting makes it very difficult for leaders to try to approach and tackle what might be considered a morale issue. So, you have to go out the grudge collecting as a concept. How do you reframe that? How do you deal specifically with grudge collectors? We show managers how to do that.
Kelly: [00:14:48] A lot of what we’ve been talking about is reacting to, or responding to, shortfalls in accountability. Are there some clear ways that managers can lead a team from a proactive mindset to build in strong accountability to begin with? Giving them clarity on outcomes, behavioral expectations. What are some ways managers can set standards from the start to have a strong accountability culture?
Don: [00:15:13] Yeah. We listed a number of them in you. You mentioned one of the big ones that’s providing clarity for employees. So, they know, and this is accountability around expectations. Most employees want to know what’s expected of them when they when they don’t have specificity on expectations. Much harder for them to be accountable. They may be attempting to be accountable, but then they find themselves unsuccessful in that effort, when they realize that what they thought the objectives were, were not the ones that their manager had in mind. You can also determine goals more collaboratively and do it with the group. When people are involved in setting goals, they are typically more accountable to them. We see cultures and managers where things are done to employees and where they’re done with employees, and whenever things are done with employees in a collaborative and an inclusive way, accountability goes up.
Kelly: [00:16:11] There are certainly times where a team or an individual might have really strong standards around accountability, but the organization itself probably has some things that they can work on that impact the ability for the entire organization to be an accountable-driven organization. A lot of that often looks like unclear or competing priorities or a silo mentality. Those are both ones that we’ve seen pretty regularly.
Don: [00:16:36] Yeah, there’s often some sort of embedded dysfunctions within a culture. One of them is this silo and I see this all the time in our employee engagement survey, when employees are asking for the silos to be torn down. They want more communication between departments. We want to be sharing more information with employees.
Don: [00:16:59] I’ll tell you another interesting story. I was doing a debrief for a construction company. In this particular case, they’re road builders. I mentioned some comments that came up in the open-ended questions in our survey, where employees were asking for more information on the company’s strategy. Where are we going as a company? What’s happening in other locations? How are we doing competitively? And I asked some members of the senior leadership team. Where do you think these questions are coming from? And they thought, middle management middle managers, maybe some of the millennials that are that are very curious. And I said actually, no, this is coming from your truck drivers of the cement trucks. They want to be a part of a vibrant organization. They want to know what’s going on and we’re going to be more accountable to an organization when we feel a part of it. And to feel a part of it we need to know more of it. And many leaders are ignoring that all generations are much more curious and interested in the company than ever before. It’s less and less a job for people, than it is a career or a choice. And we want to go home and be able to tell our family, oh I’m working for a really vibrant company we’re expanding in three different new regions, we’re in two new states this year alone. I’m going to be more accountable to a thriving organization than one where I just feel like I’m a cog in a large machine.
Kelly: [00:18:28] What a perfect tie into the very beginning of this conversation where we said accountability is in relation to something else. That clearer you are on your outcomes, your direction, your mission, your purpose, the more every employee in the organization buys into that mission and purpose and feels accountable to the organization because of who they are and where they’re going.
Don: [00:18:50] There’s one exercise, in particular, that I like in the accountability workshop, where we talk about creating a shared sense of social identity in order to increase accountability. And this is a really simple exercise but it’s very powerful behaviorally. It’s usually best done around one of the core values of the organization. And, I’ll just pick a core value, I’ll pick integrity. And, so I’m meeting with my team, could be a department and I say, “We need to spend more time talking about our core values and I want to talk about integrity today.” And you write integrity down on a flip chart. And then you turn to the group and you say, “How many of you see yourself as a person of integrity please raise your hand.”
Don: [00:19:35] And what happens is every hand in the room goes up. Integrity in these values that are at a high altitude, almost everyone ascribes to them. No one really wakes up in the morning and says, “No, I don’t want to have integrity today.”.
Don: [00:19:50] So I’m picking a value that virtually every normal human being would want to have and share and believes that they do. And when all those hands go up when I raised when I asked that question, that’s a shared sense of social identity. Everyone in that room just said, yes, I’m one of those I want to be a member. Now what the manager leader does is say, okay, I saw all of you and I think of all of you as being people of integrity.
Don: [00:20:16] Let’s talk about what that means in the workplace. What’s an example of someone who has integrity at work? If I saw it what would I be looking at? And you ask this of the team. And you’ll get things like, typically they say they do the right thing even when no one’s looking. They’re honest, they’re transparent. They own their mistakes. They support other team members. And then it sometimes gets very just cognitive and detailed. They meet deadlines you know they might get down to that detail level. So, the process here is, I’ve created a sense of shared social identity. Everybody said, yeah, I’m one of those. But the key part now is to fill that in with behavioral examples of what it looks like at work. And now everybody’s going to be more accountable to each one of those bullet point items, because it’s a part of being a person of integrity at work.
Kelly: [00:21:07] And those items were determined by the leader and shared with the employees, but the employees themselves, were the ones who said this is who we want to be.
Don: [00:21:15] Yes. Which means that you know it just increases their accountability too, it means they’re more likely to do it. Now, there’s another part of this exercise it can be really interesting. And, that is if I’m trying to get at a behavior that is not helpful, then I’m trying to put a stop to or to restrict or reduce. So, for example, we’ve been asked a number of times to reduce gossip inside a culture. What I’m about to show you is the only way that we’ve discovered that’s really effective at reducing gossip. So, I’m going down this list of what a person of integrity does at work, and they’re saying does the right thing, supports others, own their mistakes and then I pause, and I turn to them and say, “hey what about gossip.?” If someone is gossiping, is that an example of someone with high integrity? And all the heads in the room shake, no it isn’t.
Don: [00:22:05] What I’ve done here is I’ve used contrast, which is one of the easiest ways for adults to learn and embed new learning is to show when something is not. And, so now I’ve identified that gossip is not an example of integrity. And this helps to create what we referred to as a point for our clients. If an employee is going to gossip now, what they have to say about themselves is, I lack integrity. And that new motivation to be a person of integrity, will hopefully trump, the old motivation or reward to be a gossiper. But it doesn’t have to be something like gossip. It could be showing up on time for meetings. It could be any number of ways.
Don: [00:22:43] But I’d want to specify, Kelly, I’m doing two things here. One, creating a shared sense of social identity around a core value in the organization that will improve accountability to it, but then also perhaps using this to get it some behavioral issues that have felt intractable before.
Kelly: [00:23:00] And, thus, creating and embedding a culture that you actually want to show up to every day and where people are actually accountable regularly.
Don: [00:23:06] Yeah. The future of work is about what it feels like. And we need people to look forward to coming to work every day and this is one of the ways we’re going to do it.
Kelly: [00:23:18] Thank you, Don.
Don: [00:23:19] My pleasure, Kelly.
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