A large organization is comprised of many departments and divisions, each with different goals and strategies. Instead of working together to meet a common objective, these departments often find themselves at odds with each other, vying for resources, budget and priority. Communication is strained when no one is on the same page; IT, Finance and Human Resources, for example, all speak their own language. But what if everyone in the company could be more efficient simply by learning how to communicate better?
A Public Sector Client
The Illinois Student Assistance Commission (ISAC) is a state government agency which helps students and families understand post high school options and assist them with opportunities for postsecondary education. The agency has been in existence for 60 years and is focused on supporting students through what the executive director calls the “intersection of money and knowledge” by administering $400 million in grants and scholarships to Illinois residents attending Illinois schools. From outreach to training, there are a lot of moving parts in this organization.
Jacqui Moreno (ISAC’s Managing Director, College Access Initiatives) oversees a total of anywhere from 80 to 120 employees, depending on staffing levels. She first came to JMA nine years ago for coaching on a personal level. After she attended the Accountability Mirror™ workshop, she convinced her colleague Eddie Brambila, Managing Director, Capacity Development to do the same. At the time, the two managed the same division at ISAC so communication between the two of them was key. Today, they manage different divisions, but both are such believers in the components taught in this workshop that they have each of their full-time staff members attend the workshop as part of their onboarding and training.
What is Accountability?
When we hear the word accountability, many of us may simply think of an obligation or responsibility. However, the workshop offers a new, broader definition of accountability that forces us to take a deeper look inward. You are personally accountable when you take responsibility for all of the below, on a regular basis:
- Your thoughts
- Your moods
- Your behaviors
- Your results
When you are accountable, there are no excuses, finger-pointing or placing blame on others. First and foremost, you look at yourself and how you contributed to the misunderstanding, mistake, missed deadline, etc. You take ownership for the things that are in your control, and this in turn creates a freedom you otherwise wouldn’t imagine possible. And the first step to achieving accountability starts with something as simple as the words you use.
Conversations for Accountability
Our Accountability Mirror™ workshop is a one-day immersion into the relationships, commitments and conversations that exist in the corporate world. It begins with identifying the different conversations that regularly take place in the workplace:
Jody Michael, MCC, BCC, who created and facilitates the workshop, hones in on the last three types of conversations because that’s usually where our clients seem to run into the most breakdowns.
Both Jacqui and Eddie agree that the basic principles of communication their staff learns in the Accountability Mirror™ workshop make their jobs easier. From the onset, expectations are standard across the board and nothing is hidden or implied. “My staff knows what to expect of me, and I know what to expect of them. There’s no confusion about the method of communication, the language we use, the processes we have in place for making assignments and meeting deadlines. If they don’t understand something, they need to let someone know, or it’s on them. It eliminates all of the excuses for why things don’t get done. To me, it’s gold,” said Eddie.
Another benefit of having accountability conversation standards is that it helps eliminate the unwanted surprise of a missed assignment in the workplace. If a deadline is set and someone won’t be able to meet that deadline, they know to let their supervisor know ahead of time so that a different plan can be set. Employees now take responsibility for their timelines and priorities. And when someone doesn’t follow the protocol, Eddie says it’s easy for him to address the issue because everyone knows the rules and the implications of not following them. “The difficult conversations have been removed from the situation,” he says.
Accountability at Work
Eddie provided a recent example of the principles of accountability at work with one of his employees that he was especially pleased with. One of the projects his 14-person staff has been working on for a while is revamping a six-week training program of approximately 150 hours of instruction. It’s a big job, and his division is working with another department to get it done. “Megan” is the training manager and has established a timeline in order to meet the team’s deadline. But she must work closely with the director of the other department, who has other priorities. Megan is in no position of authority to make demands of this director, but recently needed some information from the director and didn’t get it. Megan was able to reframe her request to the director by being sure to include all of the elements of an effective request:
- A committed speaker — Megan was engaged and specific in her request
- A committed listener — Megan made sure the director was attentive and clear in her understanding of the request
- Future action/conditions of satisfaction — Megan provided specific parameters in her request
- Time frame — Megan was clear about her expectation of completion/deadline
- Mood/tenor — Megan’s tone was appropriate in making this request
- Context — Megan provided an explanation of how her request fit into the big picture
Megan explained to the director that by providing the requested information in a timely manner, the director would actually be the one to benefit. Once the director was able to see what was in it for her, she provided the information, and Megan was able to move forward with the project.
From Professional to Personal
Eddie’s team takes accountability a step further into their personal lives as well. “People know that everyone depends on each other. If you say you are going to do it, it’s a promise. We’re hard on each other at work and personally. If you say you are going to train to bike 100 miles this year, we’ll hold you to it,” said Eddie.
Jacqui agrees that the principles of accountability she learned in the workshop also help make things easier in her life outside of work, especially when making requests of her 13-year-old son. “Middle school has been a challenge, but talking with my son about accountability has helped. We can have a conversation about a task he’s supposed to do, when he’s supposed to do it, why he needs to do it, what’s in it for him and what the consequences are if he doesn’t complete it. Once again, the expectations are clear and laid out,” said Jacqui.
We are AccountabilityMirror Prototypes
Both Eddie and Jacqui say accountability conversations happen every day in their offices. It’s not simply a task that is completed once their staff attends the workshop. “It’s a constant conversation. The language of the workshop is living in our divisions. It’s really part of our culture,” said Eddie. “And one of the positives is that no one gets offended, which makes our lives a lot easier.”
Jacqui likes to call her staff “Accountability Mirror™ prototypes” because she says it’s how they conduct themselves. “I have the biggest division in the agency and the most diverse, but we don’t have the same kinds of problems other divisions do because there is no excuse making among my staff,” said Jacqui.
The Public Sector is Not an Excuse
Since ISAC is in the public sector, there’s another level of accountability that Eddie and Jacqui are held to because they are spending taxpayers’ money. “We have an obligation to be as efficient and productive as possible. You can only cut budgets and staff so much. You find yourself at a certain point when you may think you can’t make any more positive change, but you actually can if you learn to be more efficient. We don’t often hear about professional development, team building and strategic planning in a bureaucracy, but we should be doing everything we can to be more productive with limited resources. So, the accountability workshop is a wise investment in both the public and private sector,” said Jacqui.
An Executive Team Divided
Despite Jacqui and Eddie’s success with their own staff, it took them years to convince their executive team that they could also benefit from learning how to be accountable. This is a very diverse team and since they all lead different divisions, there was a bit of a silo mentality, and communication breakdowns happened often. There was frustration about how long things took within the executive team because there was an element of leadership by consensus.
JMA brought the workshop offsite to the ISAC executive team, where it was well received. “It definitely improved email communication and helped some of our introverted people become confident to effectively make requests. It helped make everyone more productive by giving us a shared language. There is now a formula we can all follow: a formula for making requests and a formula for responding. Since we now have a common ground for communication, we can now hold each other accountable,” said Jacqui.
Envision Your Team Being Accountable
Both Eddie and Jacqui highly recommend the workshop for any leader looking to improve the efficiency of a team, whether large or small. “It does wonders for efficiency because you aren’t wasting time on passive aggressive communication or ineffective communication, whether it’s written or in conversations. Accountability conversations reduce the probability of that ineffective communication happening and when it does happen, it increases a leader’s ability to comfortably and efficiently address it,” said Eddie.
With so many workshops and books to choose from to enhance a team’s performance, why should a company invest in JMA’s Accountability Mirror™?
“It’s a simple and elegant solution to a really complex problem. Your team will learn to speak the same language, no matter what their role is. It helps everyone come together with a shared framework, shared words, shared definition of accountability and a vision of how to hold yourself and others accountable,” said Jacqui.
Could your team benefit from looking in the Accountability Mirror™? We often take our leadership workshops offsite for private groups like ISAC. Contact us for more information.