A "benefit" of being a CEO is that publishers send you copies of all the new management books, presumably so you will recommend them to your colleagues. Most are not very good. If you are lucky, a book will have one good idea that is stated in the introduction or first chapter. Then they fill the book with poorly edited repeats of the same concept. Often, they use a large font so the book will have more bulk.
This week's book is by Quint Studer and is called Straight A Leadership: Alignment, Action, and Accountability. (Fire Starter Publishing, Gulf Breeze, FL) I skipped the first two topics but found the chapter on the third. I have been thinking a lot about accountability and was curious to see what he said. The crux of his case was, "What we find is that most organizations fully grasp the importance of accountability, and they put guidelines into place to hold people accountable to -- but somehow, they fall short of closing the loop."
Over the past few months, I have come to a conclusion about accountability that is at variance with most management guidance on the subject. That guidance suggests, as in Studer's book, that a successful organization depends on holding people accountable to do good quality work in support of corporate objectives. I'll assert instead that it is not only impossible to hold people accountable in an organization, but trying to do so is a misallocation of managerial attention.
You say, "What? How will you make sure people are performing up to spec if you don't hold them accountable?"
I view the job quite differently. I view the leader's job as helping to create an environment in which people are so comfortable with their role in the organization, and are given the right tools for doing their job, that they hold themselves accountable. After all, most people want to do well in their job and want to do good in fulfilling the values of the enterprise. Why not trust in their inherent desire to be successful personally and collectively? Instead of focusing on measuring their performance against static metrics, why not create a setting in which they use their native intelligence, creativity, and enthusiasm to solve problems in an inevitably changing environment? Then, spend your time praising them and making sure they get credit. (See John Toussaint's and Paul O'Neill's thoughts here for variations on this theme.)
People who have heard my speeches know that I often make analogies between running a hospital and coaching a girls soccer team. (Regular readers know this all too well!) Your purpose as coach is not to criticize by pointing out errors and areas of deficiency. The players (workers) already know when they have made a mistake or are not performing up to par. Your task, instead, is to give them the chance to learn tools that enable them to meet a high standard, both individually and as a team.
I'll stop here for now on this topic and take your comments on my premise and on how it feels to work in your organization. Do you know what your role is, individually and with respect to the institution's objective and values? Are you respected and treated with dignity, regardless of your position in the organization? Are you given the tools you need to do the job? Are you recognized for what you have done?
I'll be the first to admit that our hospital leadership team still falls short in many respects. We are trying hard, but we are neophytes in this new mode of management. We need to learn to listen better so that we can be better coaches. Our goal, though, is to make it possible for each person to answer these four questions with a resounding "Yes." If we can do that, there will be no need to hold people accountable.