Consultant Lisa Haneberg will often be called in by companies when a high-performing team hits a crisis. Productivity has plummeted, with members sniping at each other or quitting to join other firms. Time after time, she has found that at the epicentre of the trauma is a brand new accountability system brought in to make everything more effective.
"The company has put in an accountability system that makes sense but, for the first time in their lives, the people don't feel as if they are good enough, or feel audited, or find their manager overly interested in making the accountability system work and not paying attention to them. The team crashes," the Houston-based organizational development expert said in an interview.
She is not against accountability systems. Accountability is a big deal these days, and she supports the impetus. But she also notes that engagement of employees is widely sought these days too. Unfortunately, accountability systems and engagement can clash if you are not careful, as her many experiences trying to revive once-effective teams have shown. The secret, she believes, is that you have to "double the love," compensating for the accountability measures by spending more time paying attention to your employees and their needs.
Accountability systems are intended to ensure all employees understand what their managers expect from them, have their performance monitored, and are provided feedback to improve. It involves roles, expectations, feedback, measurement, evaluation, rewards, recognition, and consequences. The factors associated with engagement are challenge, connection, care, collaboration, opportunity, autonomy, meaning, and fun. Not quite the same, even though she points out that when executives say they want more accountability, they often mean they want employees to show more engagement with their work.
Accountability is a push system. Managers hold subordinates accountable. Managers are meant to be in control. Engagement is a pull system. You can't demand engagement, and managers aren't in control. "You have to show them some love to create an environment that is more engaging and more likely to engage people," she said. And when you try to mix in an accountability system, even more love is needed, to compensate.
In her book, Double the Love, she outlines 11 principles to help make accountability and engagement work simultaneously, including these:
Using accountability systems to produce excellence is like taking a pocket knife to a gun fight. Set aside any notion that accountability is a tool that can increase engagement. You can't expect a system focused on results to spark people to do their best work. Accountability systems are not designed to produce excellence – and won't.
To make accountability systems work, you may need to double the love. You must counterbalance what she calls "the crud of change" by instituting more initiatives in support of employees – showing more intensely that they matter and you care about them.
Droning on about accountability measures and goals puts people to sleep. Repeating your accountability message in meeting after meeting with similar PowerPoint slides and augmenting that with lots of e-mail missives doesn't work. "It's like a leadership lullaby, putting us to sleep," Yes, messages must be communicated many times, but find ways to perk it up.
The secret to accountability is grit. Expectations must be reinforced every day in all your actions and conversations. Instead of complaining about what people aren't doing and essentially giving up, managers must persevere. "You need to be a terrier," she said.
The secret to engagement is managerial love. Managerial love is a simple concept – taking initiative on behalf of someone else, much like romantic love. You can't force engagement and you must be sensitive to the fact each person's needs are different. One person needs to be left alone, another demands attention. Both must receive the love they cherish.
Engagement is a gift you may not have earned. You can't be a jerk and expect your team to be engaged. This is an invitation to examine yourself, and determine how to inspire people better.
Your most talented, highest performing employees might also be your least engaged. This seems counterintuitive but has been discovered by research. Most talented employees want to be challenged – they want to grow, even be put out of their comfort zones from time to time. But often managers hold back, feeling their best performers are already giving so much, and fail to challenge them.
You have a secret weapon. People respond to good managers who are authentic. "Figure out what you do that helps people to do their best work – that inspires them," she said.
With that double-the-love approach, you can combine accountability and engagement, doubling your effectiveness.
Harvey Schachter is a Battersea, Ont.-based writer specializing in management issues. He writes Monday Morning Manager and management book reviews for the print edition of Report on Business and an online work-life column, Balance. E-mail Harvey Schachter