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Micro-coaching Pt. 2: The 3 Levels of Accountability

How do we become accountable to the unenforceable, ourselves? Here’s another diagnostic tool that you can use to determine where your people work currently, and where they want to be. The 3 Levels of Accountability illustrate the relationship between autonomy and accountability and help us set our sights on the ultimate goal: Outcome-level accountability.

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Micro-coaching & Accountability Frameworks

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Episode Show Notes

Accountability means being answerable for performance. The scope and levels to which we are held accountable vary based on role, willingness, skill, and need. But we can all agree that organizations function based on shared accountability. This means that as teams increase their capacity for accountability, organizational function will also increase.

So how do we become accountable to the unenforceable, ourselves? Here’s another diagnostic tool that you can use to determine where your people work currently, and where they want to be. The 3 Levels of Accountability illustrate the relationship between autonomy and accountability and help us set our sights on the ultimate goal: Outcome-level accountability.

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Episode Transcript


0:00:00.3 Junior: Welcome back everyone to The Leader Factor. I'm Junior back with my co-host Dr. Tim Clark and today we're doing part two of our three-part series Micro-Coaching and Accountability. So if we go to the screen to review what we went through last time let's come back to our last week's episode. We talked about the coaching continuum that as leaders there are two levers that we can pull. We have our modeling behavior and we have our coaching. We talked about project oxygen. We talked about the tell to ask that dependency and learned helplessness are at the end of using the tell model too much and facilitated self-Discovery lies at the end of leaning towards inquiry. So we today are going to be talking about the three levels of accountability. There have been several times for me that I've been in trainings where we're doing Micro-Coaching and Accountability workshops for clients and people walk away from this section saying that was one of the most useful things that I have ever learned in leadership development. Now this is pretty basic blocking and tackling but people seem to really lock on to this concept.

0:01:19.0 Tim: They do. They do Junior well I've got to give you an example. I did a speech at Harvard a while back and we talked about this model and this gentleman came and talked to me after and he said I went to Harvard Business School they never taught us this.

0:01:35.3 Junior: They never taught us this.

0:01:35.7 Tim: Yeah.

0:01:37.3 Junior: It's blocking and tackling...

0:01:39.3 Tim: It is.

0:01:40.2 Junior: That you never learn that you should learn on the first day.

0:01:40.6 Tim: Yeah. It's true.

0:01:42.1 Junior: So we're going to be doing some remediation for everyone who went to Harvard. How about that?

0:01:47.9 Tim: Okay.

0:01:48.9 Junior: No I'm just kidding. So let's jump in to the overall model. The autonomy and accountability relationship otherwise known as the three levels of accountability. These are the three things we're going to be talking about today. Task, process, and outcome level accountability. So we're going to start off by talking about task and you'll see that we've got an interesting photo here. Before we launch into that let's talk about accountability. So last week we talked about coaching. Today we're going to talk more about accountability. So what is accountability? In your mind Tim when you think about accountability what does that mean to you?

0:02:25.1 Tim: It means being answerable for performance. Now we can define performance in different ways and we will different levels different scope which we're going to do but that's what it means. I'm answerable for my performance.

0:02:46.3 Junior: How important is it that we hold others accountable as leaders should be a fairly obvious question.

0:02:54.2 Tim: Yeah. But let me just make a comment on that... For organizations function on the basis of shared accountability. This is how we function and it's not all... You can't force that compliance. There's no way to run a large complex organization in particular based on a control system based on compliance based on rules. Although those things play an important part but you can't get all the way there with all of those things that help us. So people have to be accountable. They have to be answerable for their own performance. We all have to be able to do that.

0:03:39.9 Junior: And it's not going to be primarily through coercion.

0:03:41.2 Tim: No it's not.

0:03:42.7 Junior: At all. You know like to press people in.

0:03:46.5 Tim: Yeah we become accountable ultimately to the unenforceable which is ourselves.

0:03:49.7 Junior: I love that. Well and that's how we set up the first episode was that we want to transfer two things accountability and critical thinking. And so as a leader part of my job is to help you become more accountable to yourself accountable to the unenforceable. I really love and I think that that's the aspiration. It should be the aspiration for all of us is to become accountable to those things that are unenforceable. So to help illustrate this principle let's go to level one. Task. Why do we have a lawnmower?

0:04:29.6 Tim: We have a lawnmower to illustrate the point Junior. So let's talk about what a task is. A task is a basic divisible unit of work. It's we come all the way down to the ground we take our work we divide it up into tasks and then we say you do this and you do this and I've got this task. So let me say that again a basic divisible unit of work. So that is the most fundamental level of accountability is to be responsible for performing a task at standard and on time and then coming back and reporting and saying the task is completed. So here it is.

0:05:14.1 Junior: Okay so in the example of mowing a lawn there's a story that I've heard you tell about this particular image.

0:05:26.6 Tim: Right.

0:05:28.8 Junior: Share that with us.

0:05:28.9 Tim: Sure. So I have a son and one of the first tasks that I gave him and taught him to do was to cut the grass. Mow the lawn. So here's the lawnmower here's how it works. Here's what you need to do. You're going to mow it in strips. You're going to empty the bag. So he had to learn how to do that task and then he would come back and report and we'd inspect. We'd hold him accountable. That's task level accountability. Now you can think and we can all think of hundreds and thousands of tasks that you've learned how to do. You learned how to perform completely that you've been accountable for. This is just one example. So this is the basic level. In fact the starting level of accountability.

0:06:25.1 Junior: Okay. So we don't stay at task level forever. We want to move to the next stage which is process or project. And this is just a compilation of tasks. So in here we've got mow the lawn, trim the edges, weed the flower beds, prune the trees, blow the clippings. Five tasks. We do them in a cycle.

0:06:50.8 Tim: We do them in a cycle. So let's start with this premise and this is an operating assumption a task... A task level accountability is not a destination. This is not where we want to set up shop. This is not where we want to pitch our tents and stay there. So I'm just going to live life at task level accountability. In most cases that's not okay. Now it's a great place to start and to learn accountability but we've got to keep going. So let's think about what a process is. A process is a set or a sequence of tasks that we put together. We string them together and they repeat. So you do this process over and over again. A project is similar. It's a group of tasks with a beginning and an end. So we take tasks and we create processes and we also create projects. So this is Level 2 Accountability process/project. So with my son Dan he progressed. We had a graduation ceremony from task level accountability. And now you've got to do all these things. You've got to water the grass and trim the grass and blow the clippings. A set of tasks that relate to taking care of the grass.

0:08:31.2 Junior: When did you move him from task to process? How did you know? Okay it's time. We're going to have a graduation.

0:08:35.8 Tim: There's a demonstrated track record of performance at task level accountability.

0:08:43.1 Junior: Okay. So as soon as you've demonstrated mastery as soon as we have a pattern of performance a pattern of acceptable execution we say okay we're going to try and move you here.

0:08:54.2 Tim: Now that's a matter of judgment though Junior. There's no clear indication sometimes. Sometimes maybe there is but sometimes you may wait a little longer. Sometimes you may push and you may even over delegate a little bit. If you're controlling risk to try to accelerate the development of the individual. That's a matter of judgment for you as the leader.

0:09:24.7 Junior: And as everyone I'm sure can tell we're using this as an analogy. And so you can put this in to whatever your scenario is. You can think about the tasks that need to be done where you are the processes that you do the projects that are relevant for you and your team and insert those in. So let's move to the final stage. Outcome. Outcome level accountability is the destination. This is the ultimate transfer of accountability of ownership.

0:09:52.2 Tim: It is.

0:09:52.4 Junior: So tell me about this one.

0:09:54.8 Tim: So continuing our story or illustration I would go to Dan and say Dan... So now... Now what do I know about Dan? Dan can mow the lawn. He can also be responsible for everything related to the lawn. So he's elevated he's progressed to process/project level accountability. Now we shift the terms of engagement. This is a big deal. We're going to work together in a different way and I'm going to go to Dan and I'm going to say Dan I want a manicured yard. What is that? That's an outcome.

0:10:38.5 Junior: Yeah. Period.

0:10:40.3 Tim: Period. I want a manicured yard. Make it happen. And I already know that he knows how to do the tasks and the processes that contribute to a manicured yard. He knows how to do that.

0:10:55.4 Junior: But it's not as prescriptive.

0:10:57.3 Tim: No.

0:10:57.9 Junior: So there may be some discretion living in there.

0:11:01.9 Tim: More than a little bit.

0:11:04.1 Junior: Yeah. That you don't even know about. So if you say Hey I want a manicured yard. Well he might say well it's looking like we might need to fertilize. It's looking like this week we might need to aerate.

0:11:14.7 Tim: We may need to fix a sprinkler here.

0:11:20.9 Junior: We might need to fix a sprinkler. Maybe the spray pattern's wrong. And who's responsible for that? Not you.

0:11:22.6 Tim: No.

0:11:23.5 Junior: You've delegated that but you also haven't been explicit about go fix the sprinkler change the spray pattern, aerate, dethatch.

0:11:33.8 Tim: Right. We don't...

0:11:33.9 Junior: You're not saying any of that.

0:11:35.1 Tim: None of that.

0:11:37.1 Junior: He has to have the critical thinking.

0:11:37.3 Tim: Yeah and the ownership.

0:11:39.2 Junior: And the ownership to go and do all of those things of his own accord.

0:11:47.0 Tim: Right.

0:11:47.7 Junior: Becoming accountable to the unenforceable because you're not going to come back at the end of the day and say did you fix the spray pattern? You're just going to look outside and say is my yard manicured?

0:11:53.3 Tim: Yeah.

0:11:53.8 Junior: Right?

0:11:54.5 Tim: That's it.

0:11:55.3 Junior: That's all you're going to ask.

0:11:56.0 Tim: That's it.

0:11:56.4 Junior: And so there's so much in here that is fascinating to me on both sides of the equation as the leader and as the one trying to achieve ownership and outcome level accountability.

0:12:10.8 Tim: Now Junior. Could Dan... Could there be a problem or a question or could something go wrong?

0:12:16.2 Junior: Sure. Yeah.

0:12:16.9 Tim: So we're going to step down if we need to by exception if there's a problem or a question or some unforeseen event or outcome.

0:12:29.8 Junior: Okay.

0:12:30.1 Tim: But we're not going to manage that way.

0:12:36.9 Junior: So let's run that scenario. You say I want a manicured yard. Three weeks later there are brown spots the bed's a little overgrown and it's not up to what you envisioned. What do we do?

0:12:45.6 Tim: We don't have the outcome that we want. So then we're going to go back to Dan and we're going to coach hearkening back to the prior episode. We're going to look at our tell to ask coaching continuum and we're going to go to the ask end. We're going to begin with inquiry and we're going to visit with Dan. And we're going to say what do you think is happening? And we're going to move into inquiry because we're going to continue to transfer the critical thinking and the ownership. But I want to come back and just say a little bit more about the highest level. Outcome level accountability. When we get to that point this is where the magic happens. If you ask most people at what level of accountability would you like to be managed? What do they say?

0:13:41.0 Junior: Outcome level.

0:13:41.4 Tim: Outcome.

0:13:41.9 Junior: Level three.

0:13:42.6 Tim: Level three. Why is it naturally so attractive to human beings? Well hopefully by now it's pretty obvious because when you get there you get the autonomy the ownership the independence the creativity the figure it out factor is there. And most human beings love that. They want to do that. They want maximum autonomy. So you can see the positive correlation between accountability and autonomy. But what we're saying is, is that autonomy you earn. We don't give autonomy unless there's an exchange for results. We don't give autonomy for free. There's a reciprocal relationship with the results. That's how it works.

0:14:37.5 Junior: It makes me think about our own team and the way that we've gone through this process with people. And there are so many members of our team that live at outcome level because they've got this demonstrated track record of performance that they're doing the equivalent of we're going to mow in stripes in this area circles over here. We're going to plant these plants here. We're going to do this and this and this. And let's say in marketing. We're going to bring in this automation. We're going to use this software. We're going to try this channel. And we're saying we need leads. Sales might say we need this thing to happen. One sentence two sentence and then okay all of the discretion now is at the hands of these other team members to go and figure out exactly how to make that happen. Now I've made the mistake before of moving immediately to outcome with people.

0:15:40.1 Tim: So have I.

0:15:41.0 Junior: Right?

0:15:41.3 Tim: Yeah. And I paid a price.

0:15:46.3 Junior: Yeah. So let's talk about that a little bit. So people work through these levels and I think that one failure pattern that I could absolutely call out is moving immediately to outcome level with someone that's new to the team or with a contractor. We've seen this so often.

0:16:08.7 Tim: Sometimes Junior people represent themselves to be at outcome level accountability.

0:16:12.1 Junior: True. And you take them at their word.

0:16:14.0 Tim: And you take them at their word and they're not there.

0:16:17.1 Junior: They're not there. And some of that may not be their own fault and that there's context that they need. There's information that they need. And so if they had that then yeah maybe they could move there pretty quickly. My point is that every person we work with has to move through those stages sequentially. And they can do that very quickly. But if I bring on someone brand new to some project I'm going to start at the task level. Even if it's an hour thing.

0:16:46.8 Tim: You got it.

0:16:50.2 Junior: Do we have mastery here? Just checking right quick test.

0:16:50.5 Tim: Clear expectations. Yeah.

0:16:51.5 Junior: Yeah and then we move to the next one. Process. Or maybe we give a project. Okay can we do this? Yes demonstrate that very quickly. Maybe we move there in a day. Maybe even we move there in a week.

0:17:03.6 Tim: Sure.

0:17:03.9 Junior: But we have to go through those steps. It's so important and I can't overstate that enough because I've stepped in that trap more than one time.

0:17:10.4 Tim: But I do wanna... I wanna make a disclaimer or a caveat of sorts because sometimes I've had people ask me so do you really mean that everyone in the organization needs to move to outcome accountability? Think about that. There are some people who don't want to. Maybe they're too risk averse. I'm not sure of all the reasons. And so I think we have to issue a qualification here and acknowledge the fact that some people are not going to get to outcome level accountability. And that's going to be okay. We still need them as important members of the organization but the expectation the norm the way that we get to a high performing team or organization we've got to move in that direction.

0:18:13.8 Junior: Well let's talk about that for a second then. So I'm gonna change colors here. I'm gonna go to yellow. So let's say that we have someone in the organization they're over here. Bottom left. Task. They're new. Low autonomy, low accountability. This is a two-Way street. This is a conversation that we have with people. This isn't you sitting in a back room behind a curtain unbeknownst to the person creating and plotting your plan to get them to outcome level accountability. This is a participative process. We're going to sit down with that person and we're going to say okay this is the field of play. Where do you want to be?

0:18:53.9 Tim: Where do you want to be?

0:18:55.6 Junior: And that person most likely will say I want to be up here. Top right. Outcome level accountability. I want a lot of autonomy and I want to be accountable to a big volume of stuff. Okay. How do we get there? Well this is going to have to be true and this and this and this. And so that is a process in and of itself moving from the left to the right moving up. It doesn't happen overnight. But this is a great way to frame your coaching.

0:19:29.3 Tim: It is.

0:19:30.4 Junior: You can pull this through in one-on-ones. You can use this tactically in a day-to-day environment and say okay remember that conversation we had about moving from task to process? How do you think we're doing?

0:19:44.4 Tim: Right.

0:19:44.5 Junior: Well.

0:19:44.6 Tim: Where do you think you are?

0:19:44.5 Junior: Where do you think you are?

0:19:47.4 Tim: You baseline yourself.

0:19:49.0 Junior: Plot yourself on here.

0:19:49.4 Tim: Right so again you're coaching through inquiry. You're asking where do you think you are and what evidence do you have that you are where you think you are?

0:19:56.8 Junior: Exactly.

0:19:57.4 Tim: And where do you want to go? I'm here to help you. But it's a way to frame this all important relationship between accountability and autonomy.

0:20:08.0 Junior: Yeah. What I love about this so much is it takes some of the heat off of you as a manager. It puts the onus on the person in front of you where do you want to be and where are you? And how are we doing? And how can I help you get to that next level? And then you're accountable to those conversations. So if somebody says well I really want to move to outcome level and I commit to doing what we know is necessary in order to get there okay great. And then a little bit later we have another conversation. It happened. It didn't. They know okay we had that conversation. This is what we agreed to and I did it or I didn't do it. And they become accountable to themselves. And so facilitating that I think is so brilliant because it doesn't require me to come in arbitrarily out of left field and say like it's not working. You're not meeting expectations. Well we prevent all of that. We hedge against that by on the front end having this conversation about where to go. Now let's say that you are in charge of a team. You have six seven people on your team. You can plot each of them on here.

0:21:12.6 Tim: You can.

0:21:12.9 Junior: And so you want to have those conversations with people. But let's say that you have someone over here. You have somebody over here. You have somebody who's teetering on the edge. You've got this independent person way up here who you haven't even checked in with in four weeks which is again not a good thing necessarily. But you'll know after you plot everybody on here that will inform your coaching and your style because you're gonna have to show up and manage each of these people very differently.

0:21:40.2 Tim: It's very true.

0:21:43.3 Junior: Very differently. And you can know okay outcome level person over here I'm not gonna need to give as much of the direction. And they're also not going to want it. But also if I go and I take that same approach with person one over here in task it's not gonna go well. It's not gonna go well. So that informs my behavior as a leader.

0:22:02.6 Tim: One more scenario Junior not least but sometimes there are occasions when you have an employee that for some reason thinks they're entitled to lots of autonomy.

0:22:13.2 Junior: Ooh. Let's talk about that.

0:22:17.8 Tim: I'm entitled to autonomy. I'm not sure where they get that notion but we're able to disabuse them of that when we help them understand the relationship the positive relationship between autonomy and accountability and the fact that they have to qualify for that based on results. You have results. You have performance. Fantastic. But there is a positive correlation. That's how it works. There's no such thing as entitlement to autonomy in an organization. You have to earn that.

0:22:50.1 Junior: Well many of our listeners are familiar with the four stages of psychological safety. Stage three what is it? Contributor safety. What's the social exchange? Autonomy with guidance in exchange for results.

0:23:02.0 Tim: Results.

0:23:02.2 Junior: So you want to contribute more meaningfully. You want a broader scope of influence. You want to be more autonomous and more accountable. What do we need? Results right?

0:23:15.9 Tim: Now I'm going to give you another one. Okay? I was just talking to A CEO just the other day and he mentioned this. When you get to the C-suite the operating assumption is for everyone in the C-suite is that you are operating at outcome level accountability. So if you are occupying an executive level role but you're not demonstrating outcome level accountability there's a fundamental role misalignment. There's a disconnect there because the executive level stewardship requires outcome level accountability. And the CEO was saying unfortunately I have a couple of executives on the executive team that don't operate at outcome level accountability. They still want way too much direction way too much guidance. They want to be told what to do. And he said I don't have time for that. We're running a multi-billion dollar corporation. And they're still not getting the executive level stewardship which implies outcome level accountability. So do you see the failure pattern there?

0:24:35.1 Junior: Absolutely. At that level it's incredibly dangerous.

0:24:40.2 Tim: It is.

0:24:41.4 Junior: It is incredibly dangerous.

0:24:43.2 Tim: Look at the scope.

0:24:45.5 Junior: Yeah. For a whole host of reasons. If someone's deficient well let's say that they haven't reached outcome level accountability. One of two things is true. It's a deficiency on the part of the leader. Either they're not giving the autonomy that the person has demonstrated that they can be responsible with. Or two the person lacks the motivation or vision to get to that level. So what we want to do as leaders is make sure it's not our issue. We want to make sure that it's not a skill gap. It's not time. It's not energy that we haven't given to get that person there.

0:25:17.3 Tim: That's right.

0:25:18.2 Junior: So we want to do our part and then we leave it up to the person. We will not coerce. It's up to them. And sometimes they will opt out and sometimes that's okay. And sometimes that means that they can't stay here if that's going to be the case.

0:25:33.4 Tim: That's okay and so sure.

0:25:35.3 Junior: And sometimes they can it depends on the situation but it's up to each individual and we can only do our part. So where have we been today? We have talked about the accountability and the autonomy relationship. We've talked about the three different levels. Task, process, outcome. What do we need to do as leaders? We need to help people through this process as much as they will allow. Transfer ownership, transfer critical thinking. So that was today. Next week we are going to be talking about the coaching and accountability matrix. We're going to be combining the two models that we've talked about over the last two weeks into a matrix that is super cool. So if you're interested in doing that stick around. It's going to be a great conversation. If you liked today's conversation please leave us a like a review and share with a friend. We'd also be interested in knowing what stood out to you most about today's conversation. So leave a comment and we would love to see that. So with that Tim anything else?

0:26:36.2 Tim: No that's fantastic. Just remember accountability and autonomy go together.

0:26:43.0 Junior: They do. We'll see you next week. Bye-Bye.


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Episode Transcript

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