Wednesday 1 June 2011

Vision and Accountability

Every corporate client I have worked with publicises statements such as Vision, Mission, Values, Commitments etc. All are well written, the content excellent and at first sight would inspire me to think "this is the kind of company I'd like to work for or do business with".
However, my own observations when working at every level in organisations are that these well-meaning statements are negated many times per day - every day. Employees frequently regard these statements as "a poster campaign" or "management speak that means nothing", the real 'vision' being "to make lots of money at any cost - we are just a number."
I believe the impact of this issue is hugely under-estimated - and at a cost. Trust is vital between management and staff and if management are posting such statements which are intended to set out the direction of the company and how they intend to bring that to fruition but then don't abide by these promises in their own day-to-day behaviours then immediately the trust is eroded. 
As an example, I've read Commitment Statements along the lines of;
"We are committed to motivating each of our valued employees through continuous personal development."
And yet, many employees rarely see their line managers. Appraisals are frequently regarded as a nuisance that has to be fitted in (or not!) over and above the 'real work'. I've met employees who say they haven't had an appraisal for fifteen years, evidence of cut-and-paste comments from previous years' documentation and appraisal discussions that consist of nothing but criticism. Equally I've come across well-intended managers who give all their direct reports glowing appraisals and top ratings even when they are under-performing. This does not help them to develop and is actively DE-motivating for colleagues who see the shortfalls in these employees' work that are not being managed... and so it goes on.
This is only one example picked at random - and we wonder why employees are cynical!
Cynicism in itself is not the real issue, but rather a symptom of the real problem which is around lack of engagement and often an apparent lack of care - not just between management and staff, but between departments and between individual team members. This all affects morale, commitment, ownership productivity and loyalty which show up on the bottom line.
What do we do about it?! Firstly, the accountability must come from the very top. My advice to senior management teams is "Say what you mean, and mean what you say." If you are publishing promotional materials that say (for example) "Our friendly staff are always happy to help!" you must be certain that all your staff (including those that support the front-line people) have bought into that philosophy and are demonstrating it with all your customers.
 Do they enjoy their work so that it shows in their behaviour? (And if you say 'yes' how do you know?)
Do your systems and processes support the staff so that they can carry out their customer-facing duties with ease and efficiency? 
Are they all receiving effective training that really enables them to be the best they can be - or do they sit through a 'box-ticking' PowerPoint presentation once a year?
Do you ask them for their ideas and genuinely listen to them?
Do they have regular and meaningful one-to-one meetings / appraisals with their line managers?
Do they receive recognition for their efforts and achievements - and how is that delivered?
If the answer is “No” or “Don’t know”, perhaps the statements should be re-written to say;
 “Some of our staff might give you friendly service, but we’re not so sure!”
As I say, "Say what you mean, and mean what you say."
In this example, even for Customer Care training, I find it essential to work first of all with the senior management teams and base all the coaching and training around feedback gathered from staff and customers. The CEO or MD must 'own' all the behaviour associated with the company's Statements and hold each and every manager accountable for ensuring that they behave according to these.
How do we do that? In addition to coaching and training at using the Statements as the foundation, I advise the company (usually in conjunction with the HR directors) to align these behavioural standards to the technical  standards and incorporate them into the appraisal system. Specific examples of behaviours as well as technical attainments are cited as being of equal importance (i.e It's not just what you do, but how you do it that matters in this company - and it's not opt-in or opt-out!)
In conclusion to this post, behavioural training and coaching is often regarded as 'fluffy' or 'touchy-feely', but make no mistake about it, it's hard (in the sense that it’s hard to achieve true accountability and the learning is difficult to enforce – but not impossible!) and it emphatically does have a significant impact on the bottom line.