Leadership Barometer 21 Build a Safe Environment

October 18, 2019

 Here is one of my favorite measures for the quality of a leader.

Build a SAFE Environment

In most organizations, there is a continual environment of fear. What we need to realize is that there are different kinds of fear. There is the fear due to market conditions or competition that may make a company go bankrupt.

We have learned over the past decade that just because a company is great now is no guarantee it will even exist in a year or two. There is really no such thing as lifelong job security anymore.

Longevity not guaranteed

As an example, look at Circuit City. In the early years of the 2000’s, it was on top of the heap, and even qualified as one of the “Great” companies in Jim Collins’ book Good to Great. By 2008, the company was history.

So, it is not surprising that few people feel the kind of job security that most individuals felt in the 80’s and 90’s. It is just a fact of life, and that kind of fear needs to be used to create the impetus to do better on a daily basis.

More common fear

The more crippling kind of fear is a nagging feeling that if I tell the truth about something to my boss, I am going to suffer some kind of punishment. It may not be an immediate demotion or dismissal, but eventually I will be negatively impacted in ways I may not even recognize.

So, I clam up and do not share thoughts that could be helpful to my organization.

Create the right culture

Great leaders create an environment where this kind of fear is nearly nonexistent. My favorite quote about this, that I note on my corporate website, is “The absence of fear is the incubator of trust.” In a culture where there is no fear, trust grows spontaneously, much like the mold on last week’s bread, only in this case, the mold is a blessing.

Reinforce candor

So, what is the mechanism by which great leaders create this lack of fear? They do it by “reinforcing candor.” They let people know they will not be punished for speaking their truth.

Reward rather than punish

On the contrary, these leaders show by words and deeds that people who speak up are actually rewarded for sharing something scary or just not right. That safety gives these leaders the opportunity to correct small problems before they have huge negative consequences for the organization.

That is brilliant leadership!

If you are a leader, focus on one thing when someone tells you something you did not want to hear.  Focus your actions on making the person glad he or she brought it up. That behavior is the most constructive thing you can do to build a culture of trust within your organization.

Bob Whipple is CEO of Leadergrow Inc., a company dedicated to growing leaders. He speaks and conducts seminars on building trust in organizations. He can be reached at bwhipple@leadergrow.com or 585-392-7763.


Trust and Accountability

November 7, 2015

AccountableAccountability is one of the most frequently used words used in business today. It is often teamed with the verb “to hold.”

When managers “hold people accountable” at work, it often causes a hit to trust as demonstrated in this example.

I was called in to do some consulting work on trust by the principal of a large high school. The school had combined with another high school and was having some challenges integrating the cultures.

As I interviewed the principal he kept using the phrase “hold our people accountable.”

I noticed that he fell into the same trap that I find most executives in the corporate world do. Leaders typically refer to holding people accountable as catching people doing things wrong and then pointing it out in a punitive way.

The ironic thing here is that most people on most days are doing good work and should be praised. Therefore holding people accountable should be a positive thing much of the time.

Most leaders forget about the positive things and only hold people accountable when they have done something wrong. I believe that is a big mistake because it destroys trust.

Employees in organizations of all kinds often complain that the only time they hear from management is when they’ve done something wrong. Therefore the issue of accountability becomes a negative statement in the vast majority of cases, and accountability becomes a punitive action.

What if we held people accountable in a proactive way and basically gave feedback in proportion to the good work as well as the areas for improvement.

I even invented a word for the concept. I call it holding people “procountable.” That practice would allow for a much more positive environment to permeate the organization.

Exercise for you: Today, be aware of when you seek to “hold people accountable” in a negative or punitive way. Recognize that there is an alternative. You could easily hold people accountable in a proactive way and give feedback on their good work as well as their areas of opportunity.

My model for helping leaders do a better job with accountability uses five words that all start with the letter “C.”

Clarify Expectations – When delegating tasks, the expected deliverables should be crystal clear. Do not rely on your interpretation of the understanding, always verify that the employee knows specifically what is expected by when. If there is a track record of missing expectations, write the specific details down and make two copies.

Comprehensive – Feedback the positive things as well as the opportunities for improvement. Make sure the ratio of positive to negative feedback reflects the actual holistic performance.

Contribution – Leaders should consider that there are two people involved in the conversation. In most cases, the leader might have prevented the shortfall in performance by taking action sooner. This does not absolve the employee of responsibility, but it does acknowledge that the leader is always a part of the equation.

Care – Corrective feedback should be done from a framework of care and respect for the individual. Even negative information should be given in a way that shows that you truly care about the other person.

Collective Responsibility – This is the knowledge that you and the employee being coached are really on the same team. You cannot succeed unless both of you succeed together.

Think about being more proactive with your accountability feedback. You can do so in a more principle centered way. When we hold people accountable in a punitive way it works against a culture of trust every time.

By being more balanced in our feedback, we can improve the environment in any organization.

The preceding was derived from an episode in “Building Trust,” a 30 part video series by Bob Whipple “The Trust Ambassador.” To view three short (3 minutes each) examples at no cost go to http://www.avanoo.com/first3/517


Hold Employees Procountable

June 16, 2013

Thumbsup croppedNo, that is not a typo in the title. This article is a twist on the concept of “holding people accountable.” Those three words seem to be the mantra in management circles over the past few years. When used, these words almost always mean that someone has fallen short versus expectations, and the supervisor needs to point out that lapse and have a discussion about improving performance. If you listen carefully, nearly 100% of the time managers use “hold them accountable,” it is coming from a failure point of view.

One source of the problem is the word “hold.” It conjures up an image of holding a person’s feet to the fire. The transitive verb to hold means, ” to make liable or accountable or bound to an obligation” (Mirriam Webster 11th Collegiate Dictionary). In other words, when we hold something in this sense, a force is acting to restrain it, and make it liable to a prior obligation. That is clearly negative spin rather than the alternate concept of helping people do the right thing for the betterment of the organization.

Imagine how the world would be different if we eliminated the negative concept of accountability and replaced it with a positive concept called “procountability.” In this case, the action would be to reflect on the many ways an individual is doing well and measuring up to, or exceeding, expectations.

For most people, being held procountable would be a positive experience that would encourage more of those actions rather than cause a person to cower in fear of the next chewing out from the boss. Sure, there would be times when a person did not measure up to expectations, so the procountable discussion would point out that the intentions of the individual did not produce the expected result in this instance. Some coaching may be needed, and occasionally a kick in the butt may be helpful, but most of the procountable discussions would be supportive and lead to higher productivity on the part of the individual.

The logic here is that most people come to work on most days with the intention of doing the right things. Very few people actually try to mess up at work, and if you tolerate any of these people on your team, shame on you. Get rid of them as fast as you can. So, if most people are doing the right things most of the time, we could have numerous procountable discussions relative to their successes. When a occasional lapse does happen, for whatever reason, it would be the exception rather than the rule on feedback. That difference alone would change the equation greatly. If 95% of the feedback is coming in the form of supportive comments, and only 5% coming in the form of potential improvements, the working environment would be a much better place for most employees.

Unfortunately, in most organizations that obsess on holding people accountable, the feedback employees hear from managers and supervisors is 95% negative and only 5% supportive. After a while, the culture gets beaten down, and the need for more corrective and punitive discussions becomes more frequent. The common phrase uttered by thousands of workers over the decades is “the only time I ever hear from my boss is when I screw up.”

Try reversing the logic and encourage managers to hold employees procountable rather than accountable. It will change the entire environment at work. Soon there will be a lower propensity for problems because the overwhelming volume of feedback produces a positive feeling that comes from being recognized for doing the right things.