By Mike Stonecipher, Project Manager, Georgia Manufacturing Extension Partnership (GaMEP) at Georgia Tech
Imagine you are the Plant Manager. It is 8:30 a.m., Monday morning, and you set out for a gemba walk. On the way to the factory floor, there is a small group of managers, supervisors, and operators huddled in the hallway conversing with great emotion about the weekend performance of their favorite football team. Okay, it’s Monday. Upon passing through the double doors and entering the factory, a place where value is created, the first thing that catches your eye is an overflowing garbage container. Okay, it’s Monday. At the first stop on the gemba walk, you notice that the metrics on the team communication board have not been updated since last Wednesday. Okay, it’s Monday, and not a very good one.
At this point, you make a quick stop to the nearest rest room and walk away appalled by its condition. The toilets are not flushed, paper towels are on the floor, gloves are left on the sink….you get the picture. Then it happens: the frustrating realization that safety, quality, delivery and cost are all in jeopardy because there are clear signs of a culture where accountability, at best, appears to be optional. The remainder of the day is consumed with questions such as: Is the team capable of being held accountable? What do I change or implement to create a culture of accountability? Why are the gains not sustainable? WHERE DO I START???
I like to refer to the above condition as the “law of least resistance” for manufacturing. This law manifests itself in the form of shortcuts, sloppy work and poor housekeeping. Left unchecked,
the emerging culture, one that lacks accountability, does not just sit quietly on the periphery. It will creep into the product or service and potentially cause devastating results. What is visible is only the culmination of much deeper issues, such as a lack of leadership, processes, mission, standards and values. However, as a leader, when you go home and look in the mirror, you will find the answer to where the journey for achieving a culture of accountability begins. Yes, you own it. Now for the good news: You are the captain and can turn the ship around by navigating through the Seven C’s to the Land of Accountability.
Similar to Newton’s Third Law “for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction,” every action taken by leadership creates a reaction. However, unlike physics, the reaction could be desirable, undesirable or indifferent. The elements outlined in the Seven C’s to Accountability are designed in a way to create a desired result. In essence, they are results driven. How each result is managed and responded to will create a certain behavior, some more desirable than others. Therefore, the objective is to create a process that generates the right results and is managed in a way that creates a repeatable, desirable behavior. This cycle, repeated over and over, fosters a culture of accountability that will overcome the biggest and ugliest challenges. When integrated into a business model, it has the power to transform a mediocre performing team to one that exceeds expectations.
Let’s begin at the foundation of the Seven C’s with Common Purpose. Most individuals perform stronger and are more engaged when there is a sense of belonging and purpose. This sense of belonging can come from shared interests, common goals or similar situations, which create an environment centered on a common purpose. The natural outcome is a synergistic team that supports and relies on each other to achieve an objective or a grander vision.
A good start towards creating a common purpose is to identify and clearly define the mission of the company. A mission defines an organization’s purpose and the reason for its existence. It is often inspirational, ambitious and unique. After the mission has been crafted, preferably through cross-functional teamwork, communicate the mission in a way that involves the entire organization. Everyone in the business should be able and willing to speak about the mission with passion. Leaders also should become mission-driven, thus maximizing employee engagement. The objective is not to simply recite the mission when asked, but to explain and demonstrate what it means to team members, their family, friends and society. President Kennedy, while he was visiting NASA, came across a janitor working his shift. The President stopped him and asked him what he was doing. The janitor replied, "Well Sir, I'm helping to put a man on the moon. “ Clearly, the janitor understood the mission and took pride in being a part of the team to achieve the objective.
You may be thinking: How does a common propose through a mission driven company translate to measurable business results? Intuition and experience are sometimes good enough, but data is always best. The Gallup organization matched its Q¹² employee engagement survey results with business performance and discovered the following: A mission driven company with highly engaged employees is 22% more profitable, has 37% less absenteeism and experiences 48% fewer accidents. If you do the math, the impact is huge! For many companies, this can make the difference between success and extinction.
Early in my career I recognized that some of the best teams demonstrate a wonderful blend of Capability, Chemistry and Character. These three factors are the DNA of a team. Many of the high performing teams that I have observed and been privileged to be a part of were a result of getting this right. However, for the purpose of this topic, I will focus on the importance of capability and its link to accountability.
Expecting accountability when a team or individual is not capable is not only futile, but can be demoralizing. Having been a Little League Baseball coach for the past decade, I see this unintended consequence quite frequently. Some children would rather be anywhere on earth than at bat with a ball being forcibly hurled at them. They are scared stiff, sometimes even teary eyed, and the team has a defeated look on their face knowing that it is a guaranteed strikeout! Compare this scenario to the neighborhood team that grew up together playing baseball, have a love for the sport, and work as a team complimenting each other’s strengths and offsetting each other’s weaknesses for the sole common purpose of having fun while striving to win the game. This is the art behind forming and developing a winning team that will hold themselves accountable, deliver results and enjoy the challenge.
Capability is the combination of having the right skill set for the job, receiving proper training for the tasks to be performed, and being provided with the necessary tools to be successful. A gap in any one of these factors can create a situation that limits or prevents the individual from performing their role. In essence, what may appear to be a lack of accountability can be simply the result of not having developed and acknowledged an individual’s capability as being suitable to perform the job.
Now that a common purpose has been established and capability is achieved, it is imperative to develop and agree on a documented set of Clear Goals and Responsibilities. This serves as a compass for what to do, where to focus, as well as how and when to measure success. Goal setting should be collaborative and follow the SMART goal setting technique. This takes additional time on the front end, but the clarity and joint ownership is well worth the investment. I don’t recommend psychological games such as setting unachievable stretch goals where success or failure becomes vague. Goals, however, should be set high enough to encourage elevated yet attainable performance. Later I will discuss positive recognition and its powerful impact on overachievement.
Responsibility left undefined leads to confusion, frustration and poor performance. Creating a role description is perhaps the most popular method of capturing and defining responsibility. It should not be a long, boring description of an insurmountable job that Superman would not even have the skills to perform. Rather, it should describe what you are accountable for and what you are responsible for. These terms often get confused. I like to think of accountability as “the buck stops here,” meaning you own it. Responsibility defines the task in which you are the doer. For example, the VP of Engineering may have the accountability for the capital plan and different members of the engineering team have responsibility for project execution. For interactions between roles, I prefer using a RACI matrix which defines who is Responsible, Accountable as well as whom to Consult and Inform.
If there is a secret sauce to success, Communication has to be a major ingredient. Many leaders tend to rank themselves high in this category and are often surprised at the disappointing results when conducting an employee satisfaction survey. Communication takes time and effort on behalf of the message sender as well as the message receiver. It is the responsibility of both the sender and receiver to make certain that a message is clearly understood. Several years ago I realized something was missing in the send-receive model and added “seek” to the process. The new model became “send, seek and receive” thus eliminating the old adage of “no one told me.” The best culture is one where team members are encouraged to seek out an answer or advice to a question, problem or concern.
For messages of significant importance, an excellent guideline is to communicate the message Seven Times in Seven Ways. This has become very important and easier to do due to advances in technology and social media, plus the fact that we have different generations working side by side such as millennials and baby boomers with varied preferences of communication venues.
Knowing when and how to Coach can significantly improve the strength, leadership and performance of team members. Coaching done well brings a team together and instills a sense of accountability for individual and team performance. There are several forms of coaching, such as coaching for personal growth and development, team development and daily operational performance. In all cases, coaching is most effective when the coach is respected and skilled at coaching.
Tips to effective coaching:
- Be specific. Define what you want to achieve regarding performance and behavior.
- Make it measurable. How will you know when success occurs?
- Establish a process for feedback. How will the team or individual know when success occurs
- Create motivation. Design the process in a way that promotes a “want to win” scenario.
- Analyze the process. What worked well? What opportunities were identified?
This next “C” may come as a shock: Ditch the antiquated annual performance review and adopt a Constructive Review process that is both perpetual and timely. Annual reviews are like a typewriter - slow, cumbersome, limited in capability and obsolete. In a society where the average millennial changes jobs approximately every 2.6 years, the tired and retroactive “annual” review method means that there will be only two opportunities to provide feedback and establish goals and objectives. How effective can that be? Since feedback and data is now available virtually instantaneously, why hold on to a process that managers and employees often find awkward, after-the-fact and unnecessarily time consuming?
A better approach is to implement a Quarterly Check-In process that is real time, data driven, results oriented and behavior sensitive. To do this, refine the annual strategic plan into quarterly functional goals and objectives. Next, establish a calendar to review status against plan and the behaviors demonstrated to achieve the plan. It helps to have the company values well defined as a benchmark for measuring behavior. When executed properly, this Check-In process eliminates surprises, is more efficient and creates opportunities for positive reinforcement.
The word “consequence” typically carries a negative connotation. To be fair, leadership has frequently used the term in a manner that has earned the dreadful perception. However, Consequences in the form of Positive Reinforcement has the phenomenal power to break barriers and move mountains. Positive reinforcement is an experience that most everyone desires to receive and it comes in various forms. Let’s explore the power of positive reinforcement by using the results model that Conners, Smith and Hickman made popular in their book, “The OZ Principle.”
Remember the earlier example of being the Plant Manager, conducting a Monday morning gemba walk, and discovering that the team metric board had not been updated since Wednesday? A typical reaction begins with asking “Who” when it should be “Why”. For example, the question becomes, “Why have the metrics not been kept updated?” Let’s imagine that after asking this question to a couple of team members, the popular response was, “We just didn’t make updating the metrics a priority.” Now for the next question, and perhaps the most revealing regarding beliefs, “What was the reason for not making the metrics a priority?” To your surprise, the answer is, “No one uses the metrics so they must not be important.” You then ask, “Why do you believe that no one uses the metrics and that they are not important?” You then learn that their experience is one where leadership lost interest, had stopped conducting gemba walks and that the support groups were no longer responding to issues. In this case, by changing the experience to one that demonstrates positive reinforcement – e.g. consistent gemba walks, taking proactive measures and providing encouraging feedback - new beliefs will be formed, actions will be taken and results generated.
Positive reinforcement comes in many forms and isn’t limited to just the traditional forms of rewards and recognition, although both are great tools if used properly. For example, winning is a positive experience and effective reinforcer. So, take advantage of a winning experience by structuring the day and week in a way that achievements become wins that are celebrated.
Great organizations realize the value of creating great experiences. Great experiences are the fuel for big achievements, success and accountability. This is how world class companies are able to unleash and capitalize on their team’s discretionary efforts. These companies are the elite and have developed a culture that goes beyond the basic requirements of the job. In this type of winning environment where processes are in place so that team members gladly take accountability for delivering results, the “Okay, it’s Monday” syndrome has been eradicated and replaced by the Land of Accountability.
This is part of a series of articles for manufacturing improvement. Download a pdf of "Navigating the Seven C’s to the Land of Accountability".