In our last issue of Growthlines, I examined the role of the strategic plan in effectively executing performance management. One component of the strategic plan warranted a closer look, so I have expanded on it in this month’s edition. That component? Accountability.
First, a recap
In September I wrote: You must instill accountability into your strategic plan. For each strategic and internal project you have selected on your plan, spell out milestone outcomes or tasks, the date they are due, and who is responsible to complete them. Then employ two essential keys to increasing the completion rate on these milestone tasks:
- Make progress on your strategic plan highly visible, and
- Hold people accountable to produce what they promised in the plan.
Data on our clients shows that these two keys generate a minimum of 20% improvement in completion rate.
To effectively manage accountability for completing your strategic projects, hold team accountability sessions or meetings bi-weekly. Less than that, and the group loses focus on the plan, outcome completion suffers and, therefore, performance suffers. Increased completion of tasks equates to increased performance, provided your strategy is correct.
Making accountability work
We all remember being in kindergarten and wanting to have the most gold stars (at least I hope you remember). The names of every student and their gold stars were on the classroom wall, and our competitive instincts kicked in. No one wanted to be behind. This doesn’t change as we leave school and enter the workforce. I can remember my very first job of stuffing parts for the assembly of TV antennas into little manila envelopes in the garage of my neighbor. We were paid by the envelope and each of us kids wanted to end the day with the most pay.
If there aren’t competitive and personal pride juices in your management team that you can tap, then improved performance will elude you.
It’s simple in theory, just hard in action. In the planning process, your team made agreements (with you, with each other and to the board of directors) to complete the milestone outcomes needed to reach the target for each project on the plan. Accountability means you can call them on these agreements.
We all tend to over-promise and have reasons, then, why we don’t deliver. Your challenge as the leader of the team is to secure a) higher quality agreements, i.e. ones based on a reality of what people can get done, and b) fewer reasons why outcomes didn’t get done. It is about creating a culture within your management team that I call “results, not reasons.”
Just like the gold stars, the more visible your team members’ “score” on their agreements, the more attention those agreements will get. In experience with several hundred plans over the years, the clients who post progress on plans widely in the workplace create greater resolve of team members to get their assignments completed. Again, their pride kicks in, and they don’t want to be one dragging the team down by not achieving the targets in the strategic plan.
The other variable that contributes significantly to completion rate on plan outcomes is the frequency of accountability sessions. Every two weeks seems about right. Less often and you find yourself behind without enough time to catch up. More frequent than that and there is not enough time to make any real progress.
The challenge for you as coach
Virtually everyone on your team will overcommit on outcomes they pledge to deliver in the plan. The reason is simple; as you sit in the planning session, you are excited to make the change happen, and you forget the extent to which managing the day-to-day (emails, phone, meetings) consumes your time. As a coach, the challenge is to work with team members to get them to carve out time to work on strategic projects. Meaning, they block out their calendar, don’t take phone calls, etc. You won’t change performance of the organization without changing performance of your management team members. You won’t change performance of the management team members without breaking old habits. That’s the challenge for us all. But, if you can improve the performance of individuals, they will improve the performance of their subordinates, and this is the pathway to performance management.
Closing one common loophole
One of the “reasons” (vs. results) we frequently saw appearing with our clients was members of the team asserting months after the plan was created that they weren’t sure what they were supposed to produce and the brief outcome description in the plan was too cryptic. For this reason, we have added a step to our process that requires team members to briefly outline their understanding of the final product on each milestone outcome they are responsible to complete, and what steps they will undertake to produce that final product. These get submitted to the CEO before launch to assure that there is agreement on the product and the scope of effort before getting underway.
It’s about execution
Organizational development research makes the point that a well-executed, inferior plan will out-perform a superior plan that is poorly-executed. Why? Because you can always correct or trim tab the plan. But, if you don’t get into action or execute, then you have no experience to trim tab, and the needed changes in the organization don’t occur. Lack of execution is what truly puts the future of the organization at risk.
How to move forward
Our whole approach at PGS is that if our work with you doesn’t improve your overall performance or completion rate on outcomes and needed changes, then our work is not really adding value. A plan is just a plan until it is executed.
If you are pleased with the execution on your strategic plan, good on ya’. If not, contact us for a free consultation on where and how you can make a difference. Holding others accountable is tough,often unappreciated work, and not for the faint of heart. We are happy to help you define and take the steps needed.