Tag Archives: Improvement

Accountability: Not What You Think it is…

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Accountability. It’s a word often feared in society for being associated with the blame game – being singled out when things go wrong, even if the reasons are beyond your scope of control. It seems we are always hearing about the importance of creating a culture of accountability.

Unfortunately, when managers and associates hear the term, they often flinch! Expressions such as “We’re holding you accountable” are often seen as code for “You are liable and will be blamed if things do not go as planned!” This is a major problem for any organization that is serious about creating and sustaining a lean transformation.

If we consider the lessons of LEI’s Transformation Model (shown above), we see that the entire foundation rests on the basic thinking and fundamental assumptions (both overt and unseen) that drive current culture. For leaders who wish to transform from a command-and-control culture to a more participative one, a key assumption is that, when treated respectfully, people will align to a common purpose, deeply engage in both doing the work and improving the process, and assume higher levels of accountability.

The image includes employees taking on tasks without being told to do so, showing initiative to improve quality first and efficiency second, and genuinely caring about their customers, team members, organization, and community. This basic assumption that is so central to a lean transformation becomes null and void when accountability is seen as a liability that management assigns, rather than a self-assumed role that people undertake of their own volition.

When there is evidence of intentional avoidance of accountability, it suggests that people don’t trust the intentions of the organization, leadership, or even fellow teammates. They may be avoiding the risk of potential conflict that comes from taking on a task which the outcome is uncertain. This is true problem solving and it can be scary enough without the fear of being blamed if things don’t work out well. It is interesting to note the role that trust plays in all this.

Creating a lean environment is essentially creating a learning environment. In a learning environment, we move away from experts who tell others what to do and towards learners who run experiments (rapid PDCA cycles) to better understand root cause(s) and validate effective countermeasures. Accountability must be self-imposed in order for people to truly grasp the concept, take ownership, and take on appropriate levels of commitment.

But this can only be done when the fear and apprehension most people associate with words such as accountability are openly addressed. When reflecting on your own organization, here are a few questions to consider:

  1. Do we blame people when things don’t go as planned?
  2. Do people self-assume accountability or do we assign/delegate accountability?
  3. In our current culture is there fear, anxiety or hesitation around accountability?
  4. Do we ask people to be accountable before asking if they are capable?
  5. Do accountability and authority always go together? When should they?

To learn more about creating a culture of accountability and respect through effective leadership, sign up for Mike Orzen’s pre-summit workshop, Lead with Respect: Practicing Respect for People to Enable Engagement, Teamwork & Accountability, at the 2016 Lean Healthcare Transformation Summit this June. Learn more about Lead with Respect and other Summit workshops on the summit webpage.

Note: this article also appeared in the Lean Enterprise’s Lean Post in February of 2016.

Real Transformation: Enabling People to Adapt, Make a Mark, and Engage

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Unless your team puts their individual interpretation into lean methods & tools, the transformation simply will not become embedded and quickly fades away. When you look at an old school picture, who is the first person you look for? If you are like most people, it’s you! There is actually part of the brain that lights up when we see an image of ourselves, or an object that sparks our self identify. We feel good when we identify with who we are, especially if we are part of making something better through a challenge – a situation, a relationship, or the unmet needs of another person.

 

In order for people and teams to take responsibility for the work systems and outcomes of their area, they need to see themselves rooted in the process. This means that their ideas, challenges, hunches, frustrations, and experiences are reflected in the way work processes are improved over time. They have to get their fingerprints on the work processes to care enough to own outcomes. People self-select responsibility for process when they know their opinion matters and what they do and say has a direct influence on how things change.

 

When workers see their own reflection in the work they do, they identify more deeply and become vested in the outcomes. Any countermeasure aimed at specific problem is a temporary fix at best. The best teams expect that today’s solutions will certainly not last long. When teams understand the fleeting nature of today’s customer demands, they naturally anticipate the need to check for change and adjust work practices as needed. Improving the way work gets done becomes part of doing daily work.

 

In order to make the right changes, a clear understanding of purpose must be in place. Objective measurements, some of which are under the direct control of the team, are essential here. When those closest to the work align with purpose and own their process, behavior, and the resulting outcomes, they participate and contribute at a heightened level of engagement.

 

When lean tools (like value stream mapping and A3s) are hoisted onto teams without the opportunity to accept and assume ownership, we disrespectfully dump a load of tools and training on them, and then expect people to connect! This is how the term “accountability” gets such a negative connotation. It’s crazy to hold anyone accountable when they have been given no reason or opportunity to engage in the change. They don’t see themselves in any of it.

 

Try to see it from their perspective: “I don’t feel my opinion matters, I don’t know whether we are winning or losing, I am not clear on our purpose or how my work contributes towards it.” With that outlook in place, they then consider their manager’s directive, “Hey, get engaged with lean, take ownership, and make improvements!”

 

What would you think?