From Davis Balestracci -- How does your organization define "accountability"?

Published: Mon, 08/31/15

From Davis Balestracci -- How does your organization define "accountability"?
When we are dealing with people, let us remember we are not dealing with creatures of logic. We are dealing with creatures of emotion, creatures bustling with prejudices and motivated by pride and vanity.
Dale Carnegie, personal effectiveness pioneer and author

[~1000 words, but a breezy read – take 4 to 6 minutes to read over a break or lunch.]

Has "Who's to blame?" been Replaced by "Who's Accountable?"

Hi, Folks,
Is accountability used as an excuse for draconian enforcement of “tough” (arbitrary) goals?  We are all familiar with the data INsanity of wasted time spent overreacting to common cause.  I remember the dreaded review meetings spending all day listening to litanies of excuse making, finger pointing, blaming others, confusion, an attitude of helplessness, or carefully crafted stories to explain lack of results.

Accountability should no longer mean "account for."  In a transforming organization, accountability should be powered by commitment and hard work with a focus on current and future efforts rather than reactive and historical explanations – a mindset of reality, ownership, solutions to problems, and determined action that answer the question, "What else is it going to take?"

Enter John Miller and QBQ!

 [Note:  I have no financial interest in the following.  John Miller is one of the genuinely nicest people I have ever dealt with, and it is my pleasure to endorse his work.]

Mr. Miller has had a profound influence on my consulting.   He noticed the widespread victim mentality that our current society seems so “perfectly designed” to exhibit.  Since it occurs so automatically and is so destructive,  John developed a disarmingly simple technique to defuse it and convert it to productive action.

John noticed that someone exhibiting the "victimitis virus" (and we all do at one time or another) tends to ask generalized questions beginning with "Who...," "Why...", or "When..."  His message in a nutshell:  When faced with a whining / angry Who, Why, or When question, ask the person (or yourself -- as I have done often!) to restate the question under the following conditions:
  • It must begin with the word "What" or "How,"
  • It must include the word "I"   [Note:  not "they," "them," "we, or "you""] 
  • It must contain an ACTION.
I was speaking to a group of over 100 healthcare personnel in Cornwall, England and warned that a "grand old dame" of Cornish medicine would be coming. She had a tendency to disrupt things with angry rants. 

During the question and answer period after my “Data Sanity” and “Those Darn Humans!” presentations, she made her presence known, stood up, and began, "This is all very well and good.  But, what about Tony Blair and the ministers?  When are they going to get this message, who is going to give it to them, and why hasn't anyone done so?  It's futile to keep on going the way we're going..."  I interrupted her, "Excuse me.  I would like you to apply what I have just taught by re-framing what you said using a question beginning with 'What' or 'How,' have it include the word 'I,' and contain some type of 'action'. Could you please do that for me?" 

She was absolutely indignant! I said, "Please work with me here and give it a try."

She looked at the floor for about 30 seconds, then said, "How could I see to it that a group of influential physicians got you invited to speak to some health ministers with this important message?" to which I replied, "If you could arrange that, I would be very happy to oblige."   I could feel the tension in the room dissipate.

Do you see the power of this technique?  It commits the questioner to suggesting an action and allows you to make them subsequently (and appropriately!) accountable for it.   If they don't follow through, they have lost the right to complain in the future.  

There are also two very important “givens” if a person adds a big “but…” after their question to explain why they can’t follow through
  • "Lack of..." is NEVER acceptable as a barrier
  • Lack of time = Lack of priority
These are only a barriers because the current culture is "perfectly designed" to have them be barriers.

QBQ! takes less than an hour to read.  I give it as a pre-reading assignment for any executive retreat. 

After finishing QBQ!, most of us fall into a common trap and need to take John's wise counsel:  Are you thinking, "This is the best book that everyone else should read?"  If so, go back and read it again.

John's other two books Flipping the Switch and Outstanding! are excellent as well and great for building your improvement team.  Unlike your culture, you do not have the luxury of exhibiting the "victimitis virus" publicly because it loses respect for your role.

If you'd like to see a very good 10-minute video/overview with John (a real HOOT!), click here
(It's on YouTube, so some of your systems will block it.  If so, go home, Google "john miller youtube qbq" and watch the video that lasts 11:03.  That is the best one and it is well worth watching.)

As We Ponder a New School Year and/or Change of Seasons

John set out a challenge in his newsletter of 10 August.  It is in line with the upcoming U.S. holiday of Labor Day, but regardless of where you're reading this, you are transitioning to either Spring or Autumn.

John Miller now speaking:

Personal Accountability:  9 Questions To Ask As Seasons Change
 In June of 1991, at age 33, I made a sales call on Munsingwear, a Minneapolis-based clothier. During our discussion of his team's training needs, the fifty-something executive made a comment I've since quoted often:

"John, I'm about to enter my 'summertime slowdown,' so I suggest you contact me again in mid-September. I'm sure you know that life begins after Labor Day."

Life begins after Labor Day ... man, ain't that the truth.

After those steamy "dog days of summer," there is a boomlet of productivity in America that follows our Labor Day holiday.  It's like New Year's Day all over again and can be a time to reflect and renew, set goals, and change.

So with Labor Day coming late this year (September 7th), we've got some time to ask these questions -- of ourselves:

9 Accountable Questions To Ask Myself
  • What blessing have I been taking for granted?
  • Have I allowed victim / entitlement thinking to creep into my life?
  • Is there someone I need to forgive or apologize to?
  • What relationship do I need to invest more into?
  • Have I let any anger take a foothold in my life?
  • Is there a skill-set I need to enhance? (If it's parenting, click here)
  • What project have I procrastinated on?
  • What excuses have I been making regarding nutrition and physical fitness?
  • What problem in my life do I need to take personal accountability for today?
As we write in QBQ! The Question Behind the Question, learning isn't about attending a seminar or reading a book.

Nor is it about simply skimming our 9 questions above. This is truth:  Learning = Change

Never forget this:   If I haven't changed, I haven't learned.

So, as the lazy days of summer fade and before the next period of low productivity arrives (it's called "the holidays), let's get about learning and changing...

...because life is about to begin again.

[Thank you, John...for everything!]

Until next time...

Kind regards,

P.S.  John's ideas figure prominently in my approach to leadership and culture in Chapters 3 and 4 of Data Sanity
  • To order the e-book
    • MGMA site only (shortly to be available on Amazon)
Might you consider a  one to two day leadership retreat  with safe dialogue using the content of Chapters 1 to 4 & 9 to design a robust implementation process and reduce the inappropriate confusion, conflict, complexity, and chaos due to data INsanity and the "plague of vague"...and flesh out the critical mass of 25-30 percent of execs crucial to success?

Do you need a plenary speaker for an internal or professional conference  or some mentoring to help you "quantum leap" to a new level of eye-opening effectiveness or create the 25-30 percent critical mass above?

As always, I welcome contact from my readers with comments or to answer any questions.
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