Ever notice how we are all prone to fads? Whether it's clothes or music or beards (for those that can pull that off), we see fads come and go. The same is so for business and, in particular, leadership. There have been all kinds of trends, and they come and go, but what about the things that work? How do we know there wasn't something there, that when stripped down to its core, was really something that is a best practice behavior?
Metrics = Accountability?
Let's take the issue of metrics, for example. In my work in human-centered leadership and organizational effectiveness, metrics are core to those processes. Yet more often than not, we use our metrics as lagging indicators and never really explore how to use them as leading indicators that can drive performance improvement. Metrics, by their nature, are lagging indicators. They measure something that has happened. It could be the number of widgets made or the timeline for an order to be filled. In these cases, the effectiveness of the metric will depend on how much of a "lag" you allow for. For example, safety metrics that are reported quarterly or yearly will have a diminished effect on changing safety behaviors, whereas safety metrics discussed at daily shift meetings will have an immediate impact on safety behavior. Simply collecting metrics will not drive performance and will not promote organizational effectiveness. How fast you use and communicate them will. That is where accountability comes in.
Before I go into this concept in detail, let me be clear about what I mean when I refer to accountability. In the traditional sense, it was about who would be left "holding the bag" when something went sideways. Usually, it was some poor person in middle management, or if they were deft enough, it was foisted upon someone in operations. As the joke went, when something like that happened, you found the accountable person, and you "hung 'em high to teach them a lesson." That is the old application of accountability.
Free To Make Mistakes And Learn
When I refer to accountability, it is framed within the context of a work environment that allows for mistakes and uses them as stepping stones to improvement. It is centered around the idea that there is transparency in the process, and the goal is to identify issues and deal with them as quickly as possible. In this scenario, accountability is not punitive but transformative. We move from looking for someone to blame to looking for solutions to the issue that confronts us.
Every Link In The Service Chain
Let me use a quick example from the airline industry. Baggage handlers are an element of the industry, and many metrics can be employed in assessing performance. Total time to load, turn around time for transfers, dropped luggage, customer complaints, lost luggage, and so on. These are all useful metrics, and they are all lagging indicators. All the best dashboard reports in the world will not change that, but accountability will. When a manager or leader reports on a metric, guess who "owns" that metric? They do. When a baggage handler uses a metric like the number of drops, for example, who owns it? Again, the baggage handler.
Timing Is Everything
Here is where accountability can be used to take a lagging indicator like a metric around dropped bags and transform it into a leading indicator and a performance driver. If I require my baggage handlers to report to me every day on the number of bags they dropped during a load or unload, what behavior am I going to drive? You guessed it - they are going to focus on making sure they don't drop bags. Now I am using a metric to drive performance. How do you think that works if they only have to report this to me once a month? Once a week? Once per shift? Which do you think is going to be most effective? The closer to the activity you require the communication, the more impact it will have on behavior.
Metrics are useful, but they will never drive improvement or performance until they are hitched to personal accountability. Get your team to own the metrics, relate it to the larger goal of the department, and get them to track and report them. Then stand back and watch the transformation. Only then will you have the gas to drive performance. Hu centered leadership - think about it.