The profile of a 'Complete' Manager
The Complete Manager 14 of 14: Accountability
This week we conclude our examination of the profile of a 'complete' manager - one who daily achieves Predictable Success® for herself, her team, and the organization she works for.
Over the last couple of months we have taken a detailed look at the core competencies that the 'complete' manager will exhibit. This week we are looking at the linchpin of all of the competencies; Accountability.
(If you want to follow along the connections between the 14 characteristics, you can download a copy of the Complete Manager Brain Map - a pdf version of the graphic at top right).
You can track the series using this progress bar:
"It is not only what we do, but also what we do not do, for which we are accountable." - Moliere
As a child I spent many a weekend making toy models. Cars, boats, planes, you name it, I built it. First I would paint all of the individual pieces, then lay them out on the table in front of me in the order they had to be put together. Finally, I would glue all of those pieces together.
The last part (gluing all the pieces together) was by far the fastest step - much quicker than painting the individual pieces. Yet without it, the process was wholly incomplete. All I had was a bunch of nicely colored bits of plastic. Not until they were glued together was the model complete.
Adding accountability to your repertoire of Complete Manager competencies is like that final step of gluing all the pieces of the model together.
Accountability is the glue that holds together all the other competencies. You may have spent hours and hours honing your skills in the other 13 competencies but until they are glued together, they are nothing more than 13 individual competencies.
Accountability is the competency that aligns your personal activities, and the activities of your team, with the overall goals of the organization.
The Complete Manager holds himself and his team accountable to every commitment and milestone, and establishes a reporting mechanism that will keep him and his team honest in delivering on what they say they will.
Just as importantly, the Complete Manager is visibly accountable not just on those projects and tasks and projects he deems important and or/exciting, but for all tasks and projects he has committed to.
Accountability is often presented as a fuzzy and amorphous entity. Business gurus talk about 'creating a cuture of accountability' but seldom provide practical suggestions for implementing it. Here are five things that the Complete Manager will do to develop accountability for himself and his team:
Please note:The best practices below apply equally to the delegated tasks and responsibilities you receive from your manager, and to those which you delegate to your direct reports. Take time as you read to reflect from both perspectives on the examples we give.
1. The Complete Manager takes ownership of delegated tasks and responsibilities
Four years ago my wife and I bought our first house on American soil. For the six years prior to that we had been renting. Throughout this time we rented a series of nice houses and did our best to keep them presentable, and more importantly, habitable.
At the time we believed that we were doing what we should to maintain each property we rented. However, when we bought our house we noticed a substantial change in our outlook towards maintenance and upkeep.
Take ownership of your tasks!
When you rent a property your thoughts are to keep it in the the best condition as possible for the lowest possible investment. The scrapes and scratches on the walls don't bother you too much. The leaking pipe in the garage can probably go another couple of months before it needs fixed, and the gutters surely have another season in them without cleaning. You do enough to 'get by.'
When you buy a property, your mindset changes to one of investing for the long term. Scrapes and scratches get painted before they begin to peel and cause a bigger problem, pipes get fixed right away to prevent flooding, and the guttering is cleaned regularly. This is your house and you know that if you don't take care of it, no-one else will.
The same applies to the tasks and responsibilities that you have within your organization. If you approach them with a 'renters' mindset, you will do enough to get by, with the least amount of investment necessary. Tasks may get done eventually: execution will be 'good enough' but not necessarily the best it can be.
Conversely, when you approach tasks and responsibilities with an 'owners' mentality you find that you are dedicating the time, skills and expertise necessary to achieve at the highest level. You take the long term view of someone who is investing in their personal development, and in the organization as a whole.
Of course, this is easier to do when the task or project is something that you are personally excited about. As a youngster, I wasn't as diligent in cleaning my room as I was in building my model airplanes. It's natural - we all feel a greater sense of ownership over those projects in which we have a personal interest. The real difficulty comes when the task in question seems laborious, boring or repetitive.
Yet it is in these circumstances that the Complete Manager shows their true colors.
The next time you are delegated a task or responsibility (even one that does not particularly excite you), approach it with an 'owners' mentality. Take the long term view that you are investing in yourself and in the organization and dedicate the time, energy, resources and enthusiasm you need to complete it to the highest level.
2. The Complete Manager reports regularly on progress with delegated tasks and responsibilities
Having taken 'owner'-ship of your delegated tasks and responsibilities, the next stage is to build a formal (and informal) reporting structure: answering to another about the progress of a task, responsibility or project will exponentially increase the likelihood of it being completed.
Think about it in personal terms...how many resolutions or commitments have you made this year alone, only to see them fade away as your own motivation decreases? Whether it's losing weight, exercising more, building a new shed or just finding more time for yourself and your family, even our personal goals are a lot easier to accomplish if we have a 'buddy' (or a nagging spouse!) to report to regularly on our progress and give an account for our successes and failures.
This is accountability in action at a fundamental level.
The same holds for all of your managerial tasks, projects and responsibilities. You should at the very least have scheduled monthly meetings with your direct manager to discuss your progress, and the progress of your team. But don't stop there - within the boundaries of reasonableness, you should ensure you have frequent and regular contact with all your material 'internal customers': peers, direct reports, customers and any other stakeholders in your success.
the main benefit of giving regular updates on your progress isn't for the people to whom you're reporting, it's for you
Don't get hung up on form - concentrate on content. Forgo conference rooms and strict agendas if you can and instead use every chance you can get to keep the key stakeholders updated - at the water cooler, in the lunch room or even in the corridor.
Remember: the main benefit of giving regular updates on your progress isn't for the people to whom you're reporting, it's for you. Developing a regular reporting habit will focus your thoughts on what you need to achieve by the next 'update'. You don't, after all, want to be in a position where you have nothing to report.
Action point: Sit down now and make a list of all the main areas of responsibility and project you oversee. How many of the items on your list do you provide regular updates for? How many of the items have been on your list for more than a month and haven't progressed in that time? Just think; if you were reporting on a regular basis on the progress of every item on that list, how much more likely would it be that they would all move closer to completion?
3. The Complete Manager ensures reports on progress with delegated tasks and responsibilities are clear and comprehensible
So as we've seen, to build accountability, after taking 'owner'-ship, the next important step is taking responsibility for consistent reporting. However, those very reporting systems and processes can in themselves be detrimental to high quality accountability.
How so? Well, think of how many times you've listened to someone make a so-called 'report-in' (some organizations call it a 'report-out'), and ended up frankly less informed than you were at the beginning - and maybe even confused and bewildered.
your reports must be clear, concise, comprehensible and correct
To counter this, the most important element of your 'reporting-in' process must be to ensure complete clarity.
It's not enough to report regularly on you progress, your reports must be clear, concise, comprehensible and correct (there you go - four 'C's to help the old memory cells).
Now, despite much recent (and dubious) management advice, this doesn't mean your reporting in needs to be 'compelling'. Sure, some people are born with the 'gift of the gab' - we all know someone who can talk fluently and make it sound like they're doing something impressive, but when you try to peel back to the real content of what they're saying there is little or nothing there.
That's not what we're talking about here - we're talking instead about a lucid, straightforward presentation of the facts that leaves no-one in any doubt as to the exactly where you are with the task, responsibility of project under review.
Think of it this way - how clear, concise, comprehensible and correct do you want the instruments in your car's dashboard to be? When you glance down to see your speed, your gas or oil level, or to turn the windshield wipers on, do you want to be entranced, engaged and entertained? Or do you simply want clear, concise, comprehensible and correct information available 'at a glance'?
Too many of the accountability report-ins that I attend leave me feeling like I'm looking at a car dashboard where all of the important information has been lost among wizz-bang graphics and unintuitive gauges and widgets.
4. The Complete Manager sets achievement milestones for delegated tasks and responsibilities
Any decent productivity or project management coach will tell you that the number one key to any successful project is to set up achievable milestones.
There's no rocket science here: the absolute best way to achieve your goals (personal or professional) is to break them into distinct, manageable activities with an associated completion date.
To use a simplified example, let's return to my sticky, paint-spotted model-making days. The overall goal (if inchoately expressed) was for me to 'Have fun playing with the completed, painted knock-your-socks-off model plane/boat/car/train/whatever.' But even as a kid it was clear that to end up playing with the model, I had to work through intermediate, achievable stages - paint the individual pieces; lay the pieces out; glue them together: wait till morning (always the hardest part).
the best way to achieve your goals is to break them into distinct, manageable activities with an associated completion date.
In the Complete Manager Program, we teach managers to break milestones down a step (or two) further, until you arrive at a list of implementable actions (we call these 'Next Actions').
In our model-making example, 'Paint the pieces' is a good milestone, it in itself it is not a single achievable 'action': rather, it is a series of individual actions (locate the paint pots; buy replacements for any old dried up pots; locate the brushes; clean the brushes from the last time (!); find a suitable surface to work on; cover the surface so Mom won't...well, never mind...; paint piece one, paint piece two...paint piece 'n').
Translate that into a business task, and you'll see how important this 'granularity' is to success in achieving milestones:
Let's say you have a delegated task to fill a vacancy for a senior sales rep. You have the seemingly simple single milestone: "Hire a replacement senior sales rep by February 1st." How many single actionable steps ("Next Actions") can you break this down to...?
- Review the job specification.
- Identify 'must-have's' for the position.
- Identify an interviewing panel.
- Design behaviorally-based questions for the interview.
- Review the compensation package.
- Develop a costed recruitment plan.
- Liaise with third parties (recruitment agency, advertising agency, HR department).
- ...and so on
...And we haven't even got out first batch of resumes yet!
Now imagine you're sitting down on Wednesday morning to address your action list item of "Hire a replacement senior sales rep by February 1st." What's the percentage chance of completing this task and striking it off you list? Nil. You're going to look at it, realize how much needs to be done, and roll it forward to the next day. When you will do exactly the same thing...
Contrast this with sitting down to do only the next 'Next Action' on that list ("Review the job specification"). What's the chance of you completing just that item and striking it off your list? Very high!
Many managers who appear to lack accountability in fact simply lack 'granularity' - they fail to break a task down to achievable Next Actions, and instead drown in unachievable too-high-level milestones.
The Complete Manager knows at any given point what 'Next Action' is needed to move forward any and each of their projects. This is the key to overcoming procrastination and moving the project toward completion.
Take a look at all your areas of responsibility, your projects and your tasks. Have you broken each of these into achievable milestones? Do you know what the next action is to move each of these projects forward? If you don't you should probably take the time to do this over the next weeks and months.
5. The Complete Manager consistently meets achievement milestones for delegated tasks and responsibilities.
The final step toward achieving accountability needs the least explanation. Once you've broken your achievement milestones into a series of 'Next Actions' the final step is to complete them. How you complete your next actions is up to you. There are numerous different schools of thought surrounding how you should execute individual actions - from Steven Covey's urgent and important matrix to David Allen's contexts.
It doesn't matter which system you use. The important thing is that you utilize a system that makes sense to you. One that helps you achieve your goals.
If you've implemented the previous four steps to get to this point, the simplest advice I can give is to borrow the slogan from a certain large American sports apparel company
"Just Do It!"
We've put together five questions that will help you to diagnose your accountability skills. Take a look below to see how you're doing.
Members: click here
to download a workbook containing these and other questions covering all 14 Complete Manager key skills
If two or more answers are in the 'Never' or 'Sometimes' columns, consider getting help. If three or more answers are in the 'Never' or 'Sometimes' columns, don't consider not getting help!
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