Driving Accountability

At the individual level, more personal motivators are often required. One such motivator for individuals is the use of increased visibility by the organization into an individual's activities. Accomplishing this requires two primary components; assigning explicit activities or performance metrics to an individual and a public forum or mechanism for displaying progress.

For example, creating weekly or bi-weekly meetings where individuals are called on to describe their progress towards goals often generates the appropriate discomfort needed to spur action. People do not want to be seen by their peers or managers as frequently inactive. Repeating this process consistently, providing visibility into the levels of progress or lack thereof, increases discomfort associated with non-action. Few individuals are willing to attend a meeting week after week with peers and management and describe their lack of progress. When leaders state to individuals in meetings, 'we seem to be stuck on this one, when can we expect progress on this?' Individuals will tend to either engage in productive activity or find ways to self-select out.

When performed appropriately and consistently, all individuals in attendance are motivated to make progress before the next meeting. However, this technique should be applied with care. Sugarcoat everything and the anxiety will not be significant enough to drive behavior. Going to the other extreme will destroy the performance culture desired. Over time, the ability to apply this technique with surgical precession will enable the right level of anxiety to motivate action without cutting too deep.

This technique is a general extension of the concept 'what gets measured, gets done.' For example, in an organization that processes documents, publicly ranking the productivity of each individual against their peers creates an almost instant increase in productivity in terms of processing documents. This may mean other things are now not getting done or error rates are increasing, but whatever the spotlight is on, will typically be the emphasis for individuals.

The same approach is also effective in working groups where the group leaders often have no formal management authority over how participants spend their time. Pointing a spotlight on specific activities can be very powerful in a workgroup of a dozen or more people where the progress may be at a trickle. Coupling this technique with time-boxing will often increase the levels of activity significantly.

Another potentially effective mechanism for reducing the natural drag on progress is helping people understand they're not going to run out of things to do - to help them understand they don't need to turn a particular activity into a reason for professional existence. Helping people understand there is always going to be more things to tackle, more ways to drive performance or more requirements to address can reduce their fear that they may not be needed if they 'engineer' themselves out of a job. In organizations that are contemplative by nature the pervading thought is often 'why do we need to rush through this?' The answer of course is that there are other activities that really need to be addressed as well.

The same sentiment often occurs when it comes to automating job functions (people will lose their jobs!). Continuously communicating that there's so much to do, so many higher level activities that need their support, helps individuals accept that there will never be a shortage of things to do. For example, individuals who help automate their previously manual tasks are actually creating an opportunity for themselves to move away from simple task processors to more customer-centric personnel providing higher levels of value to the organization. Over time people begin to accept that progress is not about eliminating jobs, viewing it instead as a way to experience more meaningful careers.