The Cost of Poor Accountability

April 2, 2015 by ahmed

Originally posted on LinkedIn by Jim Gilchrist

This post addresses the matter of individual accountability. The BPIR website contains many case studies and expert opinion articles covering this subject. BPIR membership will provide you with unlimited access to these valuable resources. All topics are conveniently summarized into concise snippets that are linked to the original and printable article

Your organizational success depends on the performance of your people.
Superior performance will only occur when you establish reasonable, yet challenging, performance objectives at the organizational, departmental, managerial and individual levels, and when you hold everyone accountable for meeting them.

Heard it all before?

Okay. So what are you really doing about it? While the relationship between performance and success may be obvious, too often too many organizational leaders are less focused on doing the things necessary to experience success and are more willing to accept mediocre performance results. When you think about customer service, you are unfortunately more likely to come up with five instances of poor service for every one good experience (and this is only one example). Have our organizational leaders been fooled, or are they fooling themselves, into believing that satisfactory performance is actually occurring when in reality it is not? Do they care? As we gradually move beyond the lingering influence of the economic slowdown, new attention is being given to performance and the people who are expected to deliver it – from the shareholder and boardroom levels on down. The consequences of neglecting true performance, as represented in the following examples, reminds us that a failure to perform can be dangerous to your ‘career health’!

Famous last words … we are already doing that now.

Surround Yourself with the Best Possible People
Years ago, I was talking with a small business CEO while attending a social event. “Jim, he said, I have never hired an engineer before. I have found a really talented one, but I am not sure about how much salary I should offer”. Being a nice guy, although a little put off at his ‘freebie’ request, I gave him my opinion. Then after our discussion I thought to myself, if this CEO doesn’t know how much to pay an engineer (easy to determine in Canada), what makes him think that he has the capability to assess whether his engineer actually IS talented enough to meet his required performance objectives? The CEO was more concerned about getting the short-term money right than getting the long-term hire right. But since our conversation was in a social context, I didn’t feel comfortable in pressing this point. In retrospect perhaps I should have.

Later in the evening I was talking with the CEO’s wife. “His phone is always ringing”, she lamented, “the office is always calling him”. I found this interesting, but I did not make the connection until a few months later when I heard that he had lost his CEO position. The reason that his phone was ringing all the time was because his people were not as capable as he needed them to be. Since they were not able to meet the basic performance expectation of dealing with unexpected issues, and therefore they constantly needed his input, we can assume that there existed an even larger underlying performance problem. As a result, the CEO’s lack of ability to meet his performance objectives was a consequence of his failure to surround himself with the right people who could perform to theirs. If he had, his phone would not have always rung, his wife would have been happier, and he would more likely have retained his position.

Use Focused Methods to Find the Right People
More recently, again in a social context, I was talking with a CEO of a non-profit organization. “I have the best team”, she proclaimed. “We all get along so well, and I am really pleased with their loyalty to me”. Later the conversation shifted to general current hiring practices, where I voiced my concern about organizations relying on ‘cattle-call’ hiring processes, specifically on-line screening, when attempting to hire above-average people. I explained that truly talented people are often passive and reluctant to apply to positions on-line and, when I am helping them via career counselling, I often recommend that they go around that process. To which she replied, “Well, I just don’t have the time to talk to them, nor do I have the time to read 300 resumes, so we use on-line screening. More importantly, it does not matter to me how good they are if they can’t follow our application process”. Really?

I thought to myself, “She is more concerned about making the process easier on herself in the short-term than in achieving the best long-term result”. Rather than focus on finding the right person, by whatever means, she opted for the easier ‘let’s get a number of resumes, pick the best from whomever finds us and applies, and hope that it works out’ approach. And because this choice generated increased resume flow, she then had to respond by finding a way to process them, despite the fact that it would not only decrease the quality of the result in the short term, but most likely would increase her workload in the long-term should she hire the wrong person ‘faster and easier’. This thinking is directly opposed to my own since, as a professional Head Hunter, my priority is always to actively find one or three quality people, not to passively settle on the ‘best’ of 300 people who happen to reply to an advertisement. From a long-term perspective, it just works.
Most importantly, she would not accept that her respondent process was very possibly ‘turning off’ the talented people that she needed, assuming that they actually DID find her, simply because they could not be bothered to apply within an on-line process. If she better understood the thinking of the talented, and adapted her methodology accordingly, she would have fewer but better resumes to read – and she would have more likely satisfied her personal performance requirement. Likely I should have pushed harder for her to see this – but I didn’t.

“Perhaps … work strategically smarter, not harder”?

I later heard that she was removed from her position. And while I don’t know all the details involved, it is safe to assume that, more often, people are removed because they did not meet the performance expectations of their role. She most likely had fooled herself into believing that her staff were performing to requirements when they actually weren’t. Quite possibly she was blinded by their ‘loyalty’ to her, causing her to over-estimate their actual performance, and she then mistakenly convinced herself that she should continue to make similar hiring decisions based on the same ineffective process. After all, she already had the ‘best team’. In the end, she paid the price for this series of mistakes rooted in her failure to evaluate the absence of true performance – and to make the necessary adjustments.

Surround Yourself With People Who Are Also Interested in Hiring the Best people
In both of our examples, the personnel-related decisions made were by CEO’s, and both were held accountable for their poor choices. By neglecting the most important metric, true performance, and then failing to hold people accountable for achieving it, their poor decisions were consistently repeated. Learning from this, we can say that it is just as important for managers, at every level, to surround themselves with people who perform, because their own performance evaluation, and accountability, will be directly influenced by the performance of their subordinates. And if the manager is to be held accountable, so too must they hold their subordinates accountable if they are to meet their performance objectives as well. Accountability ‘runs downhill’.

Since greater organizational size creates the need to involve Human Resources personnel in the hiring process, they also need to be held accountable for their contribution. Whether recruiting and hiring, learning and development programs, managerial and leadership development, succession planning and retention initiatives, Human Resources must ensure that each managerial level is receiving the personnel performance capability that is required to meet their performance objectives. If Human Resources does not satisfactorily deliver, their methodology and capability needs a full review – especially if their processes are more focused on ‘ease for them’ than ‘results for you’. Failure to hold Human Resources just as accountable as other organizational personnel is a guaranteed recipe for mediocrity.

“Since anything of real value requires real effort, people who exert minimal effort have minimal value.”

Summary
Perhaps I should have been a little more “pushy” and vocal in order to help these CEO’s. But, since they were not clients, I suppose I can be forgiven. In the end, both of them were responsible for their own decisions – we all are. We need to remember that, to ensure that we are making the right decisions, that we are not fooling ourselves or being fooled by others, we need to maintain a commitment to achieving real performance results. And the ONLY way to make sure that the required results are consistently being achieved is to hold everyone accountable for their part in the process. Otherwise, like our example CEO’s, in one way or another, we WILL be held accountable.

Jim Gilchrist B.E.S.

CEO, CAES Career Advancement Employment Services

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