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: [00:00:17] Good morning, Don.
Don: [00:00:18] Morning Kelly.
Kelly: [00:00:19] Last week, we talked a lot about an introduction to accountability. Holding people accountable. It’s something that leaders have to do all the time in the workplace. But accountability in the workplace is more about a mindset, a structure of supporting conditions, not simply, a way for leaders to punish or be punitive to employees who have fallen short on their targets, on their team collaboration, on their behavior. But ideally, employees want to be accountable, rather than being forced to be accountable. How do we make that happen in the workplace?
Don: [00:00:50] Well, in science, Kelly we talk about nature or nurture and some people seem to have been born with a very high sense of and commitment to personal integrity. And, personal integrity is the foundation of accountability. These people that we’re born with it, that is by nature, they just seem to do the right thing by just automatically, on their own, unconditionally without any particular reason other than it’s the right thing to do.
Don: [00:01:17] But others may not be as focused on their personal integrity and not because they don’t value it, but because they have different motivations that more regularly influence their behavior.
Don: [00:01:27] Let me give an example. For some people being popular or authoritative may rank higher on their needs scale, than just an inherent drive to do the right thing. These individuals are perfectly capable of being accountable that is acting with integrity and commitment. But, they need to be nurtured to bring it into focus as a top priority. This is typically done, for example, through the influence of a strong leader, a powerful connection with a cause or a mission or a personal commitment to a specific outcome, like social status or income level. But remember, what we said in that earlier podcast and you mentioned here again this morning. Accountability is always in relationship to something else and that’s what we need to dig deep on.
Kelly: [00:02:16] How would you describe what it looks like when someone is accountable to a task or another person?
Don: [00:02:21] When someone’s accountable, they’re being held to account to a certain level of behavior or an outcome. That is, they’ve made a decision and it’s not just a cognitive, intellectual decision it’s an emotional decision, to follow through and to do a task well and to the best of their ability. And, especially in our case, we’re looking for this to happen when no one’s looking. They have to be willing to do this on their own.
Kelly: [00:02:44] That’s such an ideal workplace condition that you’re describing and many of us not obviously here at E3. Many of us still work in those ideal conditions. And when you have a lack of accountability, whether in an individual team member or in a team, there’s a lot of negative impacts on the workplace. Frustrations, a downfall of collaboration, people not showing up on time or prepared for meetings or to do the work that they’re contracted to do. There are so many ways in which a lack of accountability impacts both individual emotions in the workplace and the bottom line.
Don: [00:03:19] One of the most expensive places for when there’s a lack of accountability is around our top performers. What we would call are actively engaged and engaged employees. This Is where accountability interfaces with employee engagement. Your top performers in an organization, call them your A and B players, they work with a very strong sense of accountability. But more importantly, they want to work with others that demonstrate the same commitment to doing the right thing. When they are forced to work with low-end performers, people that aren’t committed to doing the right thing, aren’t giving anywhere close to what their full capacity is. And you use the word, it’s frustration. And it’s a chronic level of frustration in the workplace it has an impact on their performance. And this is why we like to measure engagement. In fact, in our tool, we ask 28 questions. We do have a cluster of questions that help us identify what we would call an accountability score for each workgroup and maybe if we have some time at the end of this podcast we can come back to that.
Kelly: [00:04:23] Is there a difference between personal or individual accountability and your team’s accountability?
Don: [00:04:29] Well people individuals have their own sense of accountability to doing what they’re going to do, but then because we’re hardwired to be social animals, when you get people in a high-functioning team, the team itself develops a sense of accountability that can reinforce and support, and in fact increase and expand, personal accountability. That is, there are some people, for example, who when we mentioned what are you accountable to, and it’s the team, it’s the other they’re people it’s the other players. So, it adds on to this additional layer. The first layer, if you will, is I’m going to do the right thing because I want to. And then there’s the I’m going to do the right thing because I need to help fulfill the needs and expectations of my co-workers.
Kelly: [00:05:16] There is no denying that there are some people who are simply accountable to making sure they get that paycheck every Friday. But that doesn’t mean that they’re going to show up and actually do their job well they’re just going to fly right above the radar to ensure that they don’t lose that paycheck by getting fired. How do we work with those employees? How do we increase their level of accountability? Or, when do we decide they’re not going to be the right fit or change their stripes?
Don: [00:05:39] You can call it an opportunity or obligation of managers, is to identify for their team, what are they most likely to be held accountable to? And there’s a whole group of employees, that when we say you know what are you most accountable to? And it’s not a paycheck, it’s not even their teammates. It might be the mission and vision or the purpose of the organization. Something we see a lot for example in the health care industry, where nurses tell us that they’re accountable to the patients, not necessarily to their own leaders or the nurse supervisor or even the docs. They do what they do because they care about the patients and their quality of life. And also, anybody who’s ever worked in or with a nonprofit has probably met a lot of people who are in that business, the nonprofit work, because of the mission and vision of the organization and that’s what they’re accountable to.
Don: [00:06:34] To get to your question, if they’re only showing up for a paycheck it may be that the first order of business is to talk about accountability to their family and they need to provide for their family. And, I’m not against that. It’s just not the highest order of accountability but there are some people who will come to work and work hard just so they don’t get fired, because they want to be good providers.
Kelly: [00:06:56] How does a leader and I assume this is the leader’s role maybe you should say otherwise. How does the leader draw those connections to that higher calling that sense of meaning and purpose that might drive a deeper level of accountability than simply a paycheck?
Don: [00:07:13] This is something, by the way, if I can just do a little side sidebar if you will.
Don: [00:07:17] For Millennials and Gen Z. Millennials, anyone below 34 years of age, Gen Z anyone 22-23 years old in age and younger. This issue of meaning and purpose is huge. And they want to have meaning and purpose in their life. Gen Z for example, these are the folks that were born after the recession or have not experienced the recession is as cognizant adults. They don’t look at a job as a survival issue. They’re looking at a job in part to help define who they are as a person. So are we providing that meaning and purpose for these new generations of workers and organizations that do that well we’ll find that their retention rate is much, much higher? So, we do want to be very, very cognizant of that.
Kelly: [00:08:05] And how does the leader do that? How does a leader draw those lines those connection points to meaning and purpose?
Don: [00:08:10] So this is one thing that we suggest leaders do in our workshops. We have a workshop on accountability. And, I’d say look for times when members of your team are very excited. They’re like celebrating a success or a victory and be curious, don’t just look at their smiles and their high fives and think that that’s enough. Be curious about it. Ask them, “Well what’s the most exciting thing for you there?”
Don: [00:08:35] Now some will reply, “Well it was a tough challenge and I just didn’t know I could make it. And I’m just thrilled that I was able to get done what needed to get done.” That’s about them and their own capabilities. Another will say, “I’m just so excited about the way the team came together, and we all pulled together and as a team we got this done.” So, for that individual, what they’re most likely to be held accountable to is the team. Others will talk about the customer, the client, the outcome, the level of quality of the product or service. So be curious and explore what is it exactly that they’re celebrating.
Kelly: [00:09:10] If you don’t know why each of your team members is lighting up then you don’t know your team members well enough.
Don: [00:09:16] You don’t. And you don’t know what’s motivating them really at an intrinsic level.
Don: [00:09:20] And, those are just golden nuggets, is to know what people get excited about. There are some people that are just going to be excited about getting across the finish line, you know, on time and on budget. They’re just very detailed and transactional-oriented and that’s okay. They’re not necessarily fun people to work with, but they’re still accountable and they want to get the job done.
Kelly: [00:09:44] But if they’re never lighting up that’s when you need to have a different kind of conversation. What is it that they’re missing in their roles? What is it that they could be doing that they’re not doing to tap into their strengths that would drive that sense of meaning and purpose which would also drive their sense of accountability?
Don: [00:09:59] There are so many issues here in the human condition.
Don: [00:10:05] One example, for some individuals they haven’t been praised or validated in many ways their whole life. For their parents, they never quite measured up. They’re not sure what their capabilities. When a leader is, for example, positive leader and gives validation and recognition to an employee, they may start to discover that they have capacities and capabilities and things that they do well that they didn’t know before. Didn’t realize that were there. This is one of the joys frankly of moving into this new future of work. The leadership role is to explore things that actually help people feel good about themselves and expand their own understanding of who they are as an individual.
Don: [00:10:51] We know that many workers get more praise and validation at work than they do at home. And this is one of the things that makes work compelling. We talk about creating a workplace where people look forward to coming to work. One of the ways to make that happen is work may be the only place where they get validation and praise. And, of course, they’re going to want to be a part of that.
Kelly: [00:11:12] What a mission for leaders themselves to be able to provide that for their employees who are lacking it in other areas.
Don: [00:11:18] It may be the highest mission.
Kelly: [00:11:20] You mentioned earlier that we have some questions in our survey data that relate to accountability. I want to talk about two of those. I want to talk about the accountability question that we ask that gets the highest score amongst our global data. And, I want to talk about the one that gets the lowest score. And I’d love to hear your thoughts on why this question ties to accountability and why you think it’s one of the higher scores that we get.
Kelly: [00:11:42] The first one is, I know how my work contributes to organizational goals. That’s the highest accountability score that we see in our global data. Why does that point matter to accountability and why do you think that it gets such a high score?
Don: [00:11:56] This is something that when we talk about alignment in our work. Are the employees aligned with what the organization is doing? When an employee knows what their role is and how it fits the company’s mission, then we’re kind of connecting the final dot. Let me just explain that a little bit more. It is true that some leaders are very good at articulating the mission and vision of the organization. And that certainly is absolutely essential. But if employees don’t know that dotted line for them to that mission, they don’t get that same connection about why I should do what I do very well every day.
Don: [00:12:35] We want employees to know, and this is something that has to be done at the managerial level, the supervisor level, CEOs and senior leaders just can’t do this for every employee, but managers should be articulating why a particular job, no matter how granular, is important to the overall mission and vision of the organization.
Don: [00:12:53] I’ll give you a simple example. Sometimes the people at the lowest end of the food chain if you will in terms of salary and position and title and perception are people who are doing maintenance and cleanup in an organization. And I worked for one great work with as a client one great organization, and they told these people that they’re not just maintenance people. They’re actually part of the safety team. And that what they did was absolutely crucial to the safety and preventing and reducing accidents. One of the big missions, goals for the organization were no accidents. And people going home as healthy and safely as they arrived. When these maintenance workers realized that was a part of what they were doing, the nature of their work and the esprit de corps and that group went way, way up.
Kelly: [00:13:44] Yeah. Their purpose their story shifts for why they show up to work every day and gives them that purpose.
Don: [00:13:51] And some of them said they went home and told their family members, I’m part of the safety team. That elevated their own sense of self-worth but pride. And the beauty of it is, it was true. It’s just that no one had articulated that role in that way before. But it did change the way those people showed up for work.
Kelly: [00:14:10] It’s not just semantics it’s truly giving somebody a story giving them a purpose to live into every day.
Don: [00:14:17] Companies should be providing a narrative for their employees about why they do what they do.
Kelly: [00:14:23] I’m gonna open up a can of worms here, I’m afraid, because the lowest score of our accountability questions that we see in our global data, is senior leadership’s behavior is consistent with our organization’s mission vision and values. If that accountability isn’t seen and played out at the top, how does that impact an organization and why do you think this score is so low?
Don: [00:14:46] Yeah this is a tough one for senior leadership. I mean I guess we could let them all off the hook and not ask this question. But it is really important for senior leaders to walk the talk, not just have a good verbal game or narrative, but actually, be living up to it.
Don: [00:15:06] I was with a company earlier this week in Los Angeles. They are repositioning themselves and what they do as a wellness company. They’re not in the health care business. Let me just say what it is. They make mattresses. And, so they’re repositioning themselves as a wellness company to talk about the narrative. Because what they realize they do when they elevate the end use and value their product, is they’re allowing their customers, the people that buy their mattresses, to get up every day, live to their fullest potential in a healthy way that has a big impact on their quality of life.
Don: [00:15:48] The challenge, of course, is you can’t reposition yourself as a wellness company if you’re not practicing that for your employees and if the leaders aren’t congruent with that message. If you have a leader who has anger management issues, is top down, punitive, yelling, whatever it is. That leaders can have a really hard time convincing employees that their company is all about wellness when in fact there’s disease in the organization. Having said that for this particular client they’re well-positioned. This rebranding is going to work very well for them because everything about their organization and their culture and their leaders is congruent with it. But I would hate to see another organization that got really low scores on this number try and do that.
Kelly: [00:16:35] Well there’s no denying that there are senior leaders in organizations across North America who do tend to demonstrate more toxic or less accountable behaviors.
Kelly: [00:16:45] I think in many ways there is a barrier between senior leadership and frontline employees that may prevent frontline employees from seeing senior leaders walk the talk every day.
Kelly: [00:16:58] Senior leaders are in meetings, they’re on the road, they are behind closed doors and they may just not be as visible. Do you think that is impacting this score for some organizations? And, if so, it’s still impacting the experience of those frontline employees. So how can senior leaders step out of their normal day to day experience and begin to manifest this accountability to their employees at the frontline level?
Don: [00:17:23] Yeah, it’s a good point. We see it in our surveys, you know Kelly, we ask some open-ended questions at the end of the hardcoded questions. And, one of the questions that clients often select to ask is, if there’s you know, one or two things that we could do to improve the leadership role of your immediate manager supervisor what would it be?
Don: [00:17:42] And, the most common word is, communication. And, digging deeper in that with employees and doing some mini and micro-focus groups and talking to those employees.
Don: [00:17:53] Many times what they’re talking about is what you identified. It’s access to the leader. They don’t see the leader, they don’t have access to the leader, the leader may be there but behind closed doors or the leader may be traveling a lot as you mentioned. How do we provide that kind of access? And, it’s not necessarily because they have a lot of questions for the leader. But what we know, is they want the leader to see them working hard. It’s a part of how they validate themselves and they feel validated if their leader is there and seeing them do good work. That’s really important.
Kelly: [00:18:27] You often say that one of the primary nutriments of any an A player, is attention, and when the senior leader is not there to give that attention, it has an impact on how much effort an employee wants to put in every single day.
Don: [00:18:43] That’s an interesting point. You know when we do our boot camp, I ask leaders, can you think of an A player on your team and just raise your hand, and they do raise their hand. And then I say, are they an A player because of what they’re paid and their benefit package? And everyone shakes their head, no. But that raises the question. Even though I grew up in an industrial manufacturing family, I’m trained as a biologist and ecologist, so I want to know, there’s the A player, they’re not there because of what they’re paid. What’s their primary nutriment?
Don: [00:19:15] What drives them? What restores them? What allows them to recharge and refuel at the end of what is obviously a metabolically exhausting day? And it is, as you say, it’s attention, in the form of validation, recognition and supportive feedback. That’s all they need. They need to be seen. And it’s often not even a conversation but just seen and acknowledged for working as hard as they do.
Kelly: [00:19:37] I want to hone in as we wrap up this podcast on the practical side of that particular low-scoring question and I don’t want it to just be about senior leaders but about leaders in general.
Kelly: [00:19:47] If leader’s behavior is consistent with the mission and vision of the organization, employees will be more engaged because the leaders are demonstrating accountability to who they are and who the company is.
Kelly: [00:20:00] If you think about two different leaders, one who’s not necessarily as accessible as they could be and one who is more toxic than they should be. What some practical advice you would give to each of those leaders as we think about helping elevate their behavior being consistent with the mission and vision of the organization?
Don: [00:20:19] Let me deal with the first one. So, this is the leader that is just really busy and doesn’t have time. That’s a really tough one. There are some simple things, for example, we have some leaders that actually have to schedule it. So, they put it in their Day Timer, in their outlook calendar, or their Google Calendar, every Wednesday at eleven thirty.
Kelly: [00:20:41] They tell Siri to remind them?
Don: [00:20:43] Probably. So, you schedule it to make it happen.
Don: [00:20:48] If you can’t be there physically, you can still reach out to people by phone. Phone is better than an email, a video conference or video call is better than a phone call. So, just try to reach out and do things that way, would be better.
Don: [00:21:04] Now, your second question, about if someone’s a toxic leader, tell me, what are you asking me there again?
Kelly: [00:21:10] If somebody is not demonstrating accountability in their behavior, that’s consistent with the mission and vision of the organization. So, say, one of the core values of an organization is collaboration, and there is a leader who doesn’t take into account other people’s opinions, who hears from teams on their recommendations but then decides to forget what that team recommended and go their own way without thought or explanation for what they’re doing. They’re not demonstrating collaboration. They’re making unilateral decisions that are really damaging a team’s effort. That would be an example of somebody not walking the talk.
Don: [00:21:48] I think the key thing to do is we have to make that person, number one, more self-aware of what they’re doing, their process. And secondly, what the impact of that process is on people around them.
Don: [00:22:00] So, for example, and this was in a call I had yesterday with a client doing a debrief on their survey. One of the senior leaders we’re looking at the data for their work group and they weren’t very happy about a low score. And the question was, my opinions are valuable to leaders, my opinions count. And the score was very, very low. And, so I simply asked the leader, help me understand what’s going on there. And, he immediately kind of owned it. He said, “Yeah, I’ve been working on this for a long time. I make decisions, I make them quickly, I’m highly confident in my decisions and I don’t always bring people in, in a collaborative way.” But he owned it immediately, said this is something I’ve got to continue to work on. But this is one of the things I love about the survey. The data was right there in front of him. The other question that was low for him, is employees are treated as valued partners. That was another low score. So, we’re going to make people self-aware by measuring and showing them their data and then we’re going to talk to them about the impact of that and what that has on engagement, which in turn has a direct impact on performance and outcomes.
Kelly: [00:23:07] And, if he’s owning it to you, he also needs to be owning that to the team and actively working alongside the team to make those shifts in order to increase those scores.
Don: [00:23:16] He was actually looking at the other members of the senior leadership team when he said that. He wasn’t talking to me, he was talking to them. Saying look I’m going to work on this you guys, I know this about me. But if that score hadn’t been there, I’m not sure we would have ever had that conversation, or he would have been as nearly as self-aware about the impact of his behavior. Strong leader, but not a collaborative leader. And that has consequences.
Kelly: [00:23:41] What a powerful way to tie in accountability. He owned that himself. He looked at the other leaders and asked them to hold him accountable, rather than being told he needed to be more accountable to this. When somebody has that intention themselves, that’s when you’re really going to see the benefit and impact an increase in accountability.
Don: [00:24:00] For some of these leaders, they’re accountable to the tool, to the measure. They want a higher score next year and they’ll end up doing the right thing simply because they want to get a higher score.
Kelly: [00:24:10] Well we can get more of that. Thank you, Don.
Don: [00:24:12] All right, thanks Kelly. It’s been fun.
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