Accountability – Six Things to Get Right – 4. Begin with the End in Mind

‘A goal without a reason is like a car without an engine.’
Erik Therwanger

When a company has the right vision, team and process, success is kinetically charged. This success can be many things but typically means increased sales, higher quality or higher profits. Defining that success specifically with dates and assignments is the catalyst to action. Goals define success. The actions you need to take to reach goals are measured by Key Performance Indicators. Andreas Franson defines Goals and KPIs as follows:

  • Goals – The desired final outcome.
  • KPIs – Key metrics indicating whether your performance is good enough to achieve your goals in the end.
  • If you do not have your goals fully defined, then start with your vision. Remember why you serve and find a goal or goals that reflect the vision. Since they support your vision you have the motivation to achieve them. For example, if your goal is to be a leading provider of something, then one of your goals may be to achieve a certain level of sales to a certain group of buyers. The sales measurements can usually be gathered from the accounting team. As you begin to track progress towards the goal, there will be a need to present the goal according to those that worked to make it happen. Such reporting can take the form of departments, regions, districts, teams and individuals. Such reporting is addressed in the tracking portion of accountability.

    It is certainly useful to see goals attained and understand who is contributing towards the attainment of important goals. The problem, however, is that managing a goal is not directly actionable. Instead, we manage actions that lead to the goal. For example, qualified sales opportunities can be managed. Tasks and responsibilities can be created that together result in activities that lead to the goal. We call such activities leading indicators. As opposed to broad goals, very specific actions can be monitored to ensure proper execution. Choosing the right actions and picking the right people to do the work is the key to achieving the goals. Hence, KPIs are usually harder to select than goals – we want to ensure we are overseeing the action that really matters. For established and successful companies the path towards success is well defined. Top companies will measure the actions taken and compare effort and results to monitor progress, train staff when needed or address other shortcomings – the management of the actions that lead to success.

    For new goals there may not be a proven set of actions (even with proven actions competition and technology may create changes that require new activities to be taken). In these cases the work must be defined. Most people will try tactics that have worked in the past, use client feedback and add a few innovative ideas from other experiences. At some point, a set of actions must be defined and expectations set. These actions must be measured to learn how they are working and to see how teams are performing. Over time, the tracking of the goals will prove the effectiveness, allow for management to take action to reward top performers and make corrections when things are not working as needed.

    The measurement that allows accountability to work requires goals and KPIs to be established. Regardless of whether there is a proven process or not, the measures will clearly show what is working and what is not. The bottom line is that plans must be made and set into motion. Using goals and KPIs provide clarity as to what is expected and allow objective analysis of the results. Both established and successful goals as well as unproven ones benefit when objective information is available to assess results. The point is that working without specific goals and KPIs reduces your ability to implement accountability. Even if the goals or KPIs are not perfect, by using them learning occurs that enables progress.

    One simple reminder as you move forward in setting goals and KPI’s – be sure to use smart goals. Such goals make it easy to track. A smart goal is specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound. For more information see Chris Yates article on the origin of SMART goals.

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Accountability – Six Things to Get Right – 3. Process

Process – one thing that everyone knows is important for someone else to do. It may be the most unglamorous part of business that gets more bang for the glory than anything else. Most business people know that creating a process is very important, but writing down the steps in a process may be the most difficult thing for any business to accomplish. It certainly can be a challenging and tedious task. Nothing has so many reasons for delay or avoidance that is so critical. By examining the ‘reasons’ that we delay or avoid writing a process we find the motivation or justification to allocate the time and resources necessary to get it done:

  • We have other jobs to do
    We cannot expect different results if we do the same things. Making time to make changes needs to reflect the costs in time associated with the change. Management needs to provide time or extra money to make it happen. It is not fair to expect staff to do extra work if they are not compensated for it or provided time in their schedule to make it happen. The conflict resides in accomplishing all the other work that is required while this work is done. If management does not prioritize the work, then staff cannot be expected to do so either.
  • We may not agree with all the steps
    If there is disagreement, then there are probably inefficiencies that have not been addressed. We may never get everyone to agree to every detail. The willingness to listen, compromise and support new ideas is essential. We have to consider the options and work hard enough to address the important points in order to find an agreeable way to accomplish the work. Working hard and collaboratively increases the ownership of the process and thus the desire to use it. Some argue that a bad process that is followed is better than a perfect process that is ignored. Having a consistent approach allows assessments to occur. When a consistent process is used the results and the process can be measured for effectiveness. If the results of the new process do not meet the expectations, then modifications will occur. With the need for future improvements and the inevitable changes in technology and markets, the process will likely be updated anyway. Make it good and follow it consistently. Measure the results and continue to improve. Do not allow perfection to prevent progress.
  • Resolving conflicts in writing requires agreement
    One of the important reasons to write the document is that it forces the understanding to be clear. Discussions do not mean agreement until they are written. A benefit to this clarity is the ability to schedule work fairly which leads to reduced stress. A common example is the expectations of management versus expectations of staff regarding how much time is required to do a job correctly. If there are obvious conflicts with expectations of how much time a job requires, then more resources may be needed and/or different assignments may be necessary. The process clarifies roles and responsibilities. Once all the steps are listed with enough detail, it is easier to understand the total time required to perform the work. It may become clear that some staff are over or under-utilized. Without a clear definition of responsibilities it may be that those doing the work and those managing the work do not have the same expectations. Once both sides are in agreement in regards to the steps and responsibilities there is a better chance to agree as to how much time is necessary. Having these discussions establishes expectations for both those doing the work and those managing it. This can result in modified assignments, different staffing, more training and many other changes to allow the work to improve.
  • It takes time for everyone involved to review
    This issue is similar to the first one with a slight variation. Some of the work to document a process will likely be done individually. Once a document is written it must be reviewed to ensure it was captured according to the agreement of the entire team. Otherwise, that one person can write the process according to his sole perception which may not reflect the group’s intention.
  •  Writing is hard for many people.
    There is a minimum skill required to document a business process, but it does not require literary perfection. Start with an outline and use screen shots if a computer program is involved or just add pictures if the process involves only people or machines. Write a straight-forward list of steps in the simplest terms possible. Sometimes a simpler less erudite approach is the most helpful to those doing the work.

The bottom line is that the process definition is the means to clarity of roles and responsibilities that defines how the work of the business is done. Taking time to document it requires communication, clarification and decisions. It provides a foundation to measure expected effort and ascertain if the process is efficient. It lays the ground work for future assessments that may lead to additional improvements.

For those companies that do not have written processes, start small. Identify the important work and break it into smaller pieces. Start with an outline and do not set the expectation for perfection. Establish a schedule to accomplish the process documentation over a 6 month period. Set milestones and follow-up. Make sure the work is spread across enough people to avoid unfair assignments and burnout. Celebrate the work that is done and allow time to make revisions so that no one feels paralyzed that they must write perfect documents initially. If you become completely stuck, find a sample document online that you like and use that for a starting point.

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Accountability – Six Things to Get Right – 2. The Right Seat on the Bus

How do you put the right person in the right seat? Everyone that hires and manages wants to have the perfect fit. There are two parts to it:

  • the right people and
  • the right seat.

Right People

Using a strong Vision, it is possible to define both the work that needs to be done and the people that will work well together to make it happen. With so many companies and people, it is important to know what you desire – both from a company perspective and from a staff perspective. There is nothing intrinsically better about one type of company over another. A company driving to provide great value has clients that need their solutions just like a company that focuses on innovation. The people they hire, however, may not be the same ones.

With a clear vision, it is easy to explain to a potential candidate the traits you are seeking. What is not as easy is assessing the real traits of someone seeking a job. The old saying ‘hire slowly and fire quickly’ is geared towards ensuring the right people are selected. Not everyone is great at reading people and there is often intense pressure on those seeking a job to try to make themselves fit. Just like all other jobs, make sure those responsible for hiring know how to do it well. For small companies, the costs of a bad hire is so big proportionally, they must work very hard to get it right. Hire someone to help you if you can, but always take enough time to do your very best to pick the right people in the beginning.

Right Seat

While the vision helps to identify the right people in terms of goals and characteristics. The right seat involves the processes used to achieve the mission. Finding the right seat is about having both skills for the job and the willingness to do the job. Ideal seats match great skill with a passion for the work. Add to the right seat a person that believes and desires the company vision and you have a powerful match.

Wrong seats

Unfortunately, there are numerous cases of great people in the wrong seat. A common example is a terrific sales person that is promoted to sales manager and totally fails. The skills needed for selling are not identical to managing a team of sales people. Learning management skills is possible, however, hence the issue is how much time and investment to make with such a transition from doing to managing.

Other factors that affect the seat selection involve management positions. Rather than doing versus managing, there are different types of management. Setting a vision, establishing resources and establishing priorities is critical for leadership. Likewise, scheduling tasks, assigning work, resolving conflicts are critical project management tasks that cannot be taken for granted. Just like the difference between selling and managing, these differences cannot be overlooked when assigning work.

One other area of seat assignment skills relates to starting versus finishing. Many jobs such as programming, engineering or business plan development have challenges that are different at the beginning of a project versus the completion. The person that can take a vague assignment for a new product or issue may be great at trying different options. This person does not have an excessive fear of failure, but rather relishes the challenge of seeking an innovative approach or solution. However, once the pathway is found, the details of making a solid solution and getting it done on time requires a lot of details, coordination and teamwork that may not fit perfectly in the same skillset. Understanding both the different challenges that occur during projects as well as the skills of those in charge is important as the seat may need a different person at different points in the journey.

There are many opinions about dealing with seat placement. Some argue that once a key person is no longer able to grow and fill new seats, then they must go. Others argue that loyalty warrants finding a seat for a proven performer. Certainly having great accountability will help to identify when a person is in the wrong seat. Having a shared vision may help that person to identify which seat is the right fit. The choice one makes will define the how or if the vision is realized.


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Accountability – Six Things to Get Right – Start with Vision

Your vision is the picture of your preferred future. Establishing the right vision for your company is the first of six critical ‘getting it right’ steps to achieve great accountability. Establishing the vision draws a clear picture that empowers a team to make decisions and act in a cohesive manner. The vision is tightly aligned with one’s mission and core values. Glen Smith of Houston defines mission as the reason you exist and core values as one’s guiding principles.

Why define a vision?

The whole purpose of the vision is to empower your team to make decisions. Of course, the vision is not sufficient by itself; there are many other issues for empowerment and accountability. It is the place, however, to start to create the picture of the destination that will guide decisions for the steps along the journey.

How does a team create a shared vision?

While a leader can certainly write and share a vision individually, it is recommended to take time to include as much of your team as possible in the process of creating a vision. For small companies, this may involve 100% of the staff, while larger companies may be restricted to a smaller portion of the entire organization. Regardless of how much participation is included to create the vision, everyone must be involved in knowing and acting upon the vision, once it is defined. When the vision is firmly established, many companies use it to screen and select new staff to ensure a good fit with the company.

The process should take 30-90 days to collect input from everyone involved.  Start by creating a set of questions that elicit

  • core values,
  • unique offerings to your clients and community,
  • the type of company that you desire to be,
  • the manner in which you work and
  • benefits to the staff of working in such a company.

If possible, research other great companies to understand their vision and how they use it to drive their success. Hiring a consultant that specializes in facilitating the vision-creation process often helps to accomplish greater participation and frank dialog.

What should the vision include?

The process of creating the vision needs conclude with a written document that can be shared and reviewed. Include these four sections to provide clarity to the team as they build an accountability culture for success.

  • Summary – In your first paragraph write 2-3 sentences.  Characterize your clients and define how you help them. Describe your team, how you work and your values. Finish with a summary of your approach to work.
  • Describe the future – Narrate a work day in the future when the vision is realized. Include the accomplishments of the team, the benefits to your clients and the manner in which you work.
  • Gifts – List the gifts and rewards that result when your company fulfills the vision.
  • Key points – Illuminate the critical things that the team must remember and do in order to accomplish the vision.

In addition to the detailed vision, take a little extra time to create a single sentence that captures the essence of the vision that can be easily shared and remembered.

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