All posts by David Maxfield

Trainer QA

Create an Accountability Culture in Six Steps

I am a trainer in a non-profit organization. Because we are a close staff, we tend to avoid accountability discussions around inefficient patterns rather than discussing solutions for improved performance. People arrive late for meetings, fail to complete time-sensitive tasks and spend a lot of time talking. I do have plans to introduce Crucial Accountability in the future. Until that happens, what are some steps I can take to introduce the concepts of the course to our leadership team?

Thanks for a challenging question which a lot of trainers can relate to. Maybe we don’t work in a non-profit, but we struggle with a culture that is low on accountability. Or, we work under a management team that seems more interested in keeping the peace than improving performance. I’ll suggest some actionable ways to create an accountability culture ahead of introducing the full training course to your organization.

Partner with a Leader. It sounds as if you have a good working relationship with your leadership team. Wonderful! The first step to inspiring change is to partner with someone of influence who shares your desire to have a more efficient professional culture. As you prepare to roll out training, it is vital to work with a leader who is likely to share your concerns, has the skill and autonomy to try new ideas with their team, and who will be able to influence other leaders through their success. If you have a leader you are already working with in this capacity, then you are on the right path for transformation. For those trainers looking for a vested partner, don’t expect the right leader to immediately volunteer for this pathfinder role. They may have other concerns that are equally or more important than yours. Finding and nurturing a partnership will require listening, fact-finding, patience, compromise, and a shared mutual purpose.

Focus on the Fool’s Choice. We humans are quick to see decisions as either/or, even when they aren’t. In Crucial Conversations we call these Fool’s Choices. Examples include thinking we need to choose between peace and honesty or between winning and losing. The challenge many trainers face is a Fool’s Choice between holding people accountable and treating them with caring respect to maintain the integrity of the working environment. The way you break free of a Fool’s Choice is to ask, “How can we do both?” In this case: “How can we hold people accountable while still showing them our caring respect?” This is the question you and your leadership partner will need to address and answer.

Turn Purpose into Measurable Goals. Another common challenge that many organizations, especially non-profit organizations, face is a culture of “service values” as a substitute for measurable results. The behaviors you mentioned of arriving late to meetings and not addressing performance issues are a common symptom of service values becoming minimum standards of behavior, rather than challenging targets for teams and organizations to achieve.

As a trainer in your organization, you have an important role to play in recognizing and influencing behavior at your company. When you partner with your leadership advocate, consider using a method called Strategy On A Page (SOAP) to cascade your broad purpose and vision down to measurable goals for your team and organization. Create a SOAP that details the links between your organization’s ambitions (what it wants to achieve in the world) and the measurable results departments and individuals must achieve for this ambition to be realized. Identifying measurable results provides an immediate reason to hold people accountable.

Identify Problem Behaviors. As a trainer, you have the unique opportunity to involve the relevant parties affected by the problems you describe (lateness, chatting, etc.) in identifying problem behaviors. The goal is to have leadership and teams agree on the behavior changes they want to see within their team. A powerful way to involve them is to use a Start, Stop, and Continue exercise. This exercise can be used to direct leadership and teams to identify new behaviors they need to Start doing in order to achieve their measurable results, existing behaviors they need to Stop doing if they are to achieve these results, and existing behaviors they need to Continue doing to achieve the results they want to cultivate. Notice that these behaviors might be related to your organization’s “service values” but will be far more focused. Document these behaviors, create posters that describe them, and ask everyone to sign these posters as their commitment to change. This is a great exercise to do ahead of training as it helps participants and leadership begin to think through the elements of creating a culture of accountability.

Build New Skills and Norms. As VitalSmarts leaders, we ask for 200 percent accountability for the behavior changes teams have identified. This means that team members and leadership alike are 100 percent accountable for their own behaviors and 100 percent accountable for the behaviors of their colleagues. Instead of leaders being the only ones to hold others accountable, everyone in the team holds everyone else accountable which helps build support and reinforces the importance of individuals contributing to the organization’s accountability progress. As a trainer, using the Start, Stop and Continue exercise is a great way to check-in with teams and leadership to ensure strategies are aligned across departments and changes made where there are gaps.

Provide Leadership Support. When it comes to accountability, follow-through is everything. Helping individual team members identify formal and informal leaders who can hold them accountable for commitments, goes a long way in culture change. These leaders will play a champion role: coaching people who don’t feel skilled enough to hold a peer or boss to account, pushing people who don’t want to hold others accountable, and stepping in when an accountability discussion goes poorly or results in retaliation.

I hope these ideas give you a place to start introducing some basic accountability practices ahead of training your organization. What other ideas for creating an accountability culture have worked for your organization? Please comment with your ideas below.

Best,
David

Crucial Conversations QA

How to Talk to a Student’s Parent in Crucial Moments

Dear David,

I am a school principal and recently we had an incident where a student injured another student. I will be meeting with the father of the injured child, who is very angry. He feels the school has failed to protect his daughter in the past and this exacerbates the situation. While the school does bear some responsibility, the student has also been difficult to manage. In hindsight, the school possibly could have handled this student better. She seems to be at the center of a number of school issues and, when addressed, the family makes her the victim. What can I do?

Signed,
Perplexed Principal

Dear Perplexed,

I believe that you and other educators have one of the toughest and most important jobs in our society. You live at the frontline of many of our toughest social problems, and we count on you to deal with many of them—as well as to educate our precious children.

Today, you face a tough and sad situation. A student has been injured, her parents are angry, and it’s complicated by the student’s own behaviors. I will outline some actions you can take to begin to mend the situation, but the first step is for you and your school to own your role in this problem.

As principal, you need to come to terms with what has happened in the past, attempt to repair the relationship with the student and her parents, and create a future in which this student and all students are safe and successful. It’s a tall order.

Acknowledge the Past. We teach a skill that goes by the acronym CPR—for Content, Pattern, and Relationship. It highlights the different aspects of a complicated problem. Let’s try it with yours:

  • Content: An individual incident. Here, it’s the recent incident in which the student was injured.
  • Pattern: A recurring issue. In your case, it’s the school’s history of failing to protect this student. A second pattern to check for is across other students. This may not be the only student who has been injured.
  • Relationship: The impact the incident or pattern has had on the overall relationship. For you, it’s how the pattern has undermined the parent’s trust in your motives, your competency, your respect for him and his daughter, etc. A second relationship issue to check for is amongst other students and parents. You may have lost the trust of a whole group or category of parents.

You will need to take responsibility for each aspect of this problem. Given the incident and the pattern of incidents, it makes perfect sense for the father (or group of parents) to have lost faith in you and your school. He is not being unreasonable.

Repair the Relationship. It will be hard to plan for the future, unless you can build some trust. An apology is a good place to start, though it may not be enough. Here are the elements I look for in an apology:

  • Admit to your past failures. Keeping children safe is fundamental to your job, and you failed—more than once. Don’t get caught up in apportioning blame. Even if you think the school is only 20% responsible, say that you are sorry for your part.
  • Apologize unequivocally. Focus on your actions, not the father’s reactions. Don’t say “I’m sorry you feel this way.” Say “I’m sorry I failed to protect your daughter.” Avoid any qualifications or buts. Don’t say “I’m sorry, but your daughter is . . . ” Say “I’m sorry. I take full responsibility. I let you down.”
  • Pledge to fix the situation. Promise to create the kind of safe, nurturing, and supportive learning environment all of us want for our children.
  • Back up your words with actions. These actions are intended to mend the wound in the relationship. If you think of these actions as a bandage, they will have to be at least as large as the wound in order to work. This means going above and beyond what would normally be expected in a relationship. We think of it as making a sacrifice. Below are a few examples:
    • Ego Sacrifice: Admit your failings in public. Admit that you have violated your own sense of values and accept the consequences.
    • Time Sacrifice: Demolish your calendar with all of its plans and to-dos and rebuild it around solving this problem.
    • Priority Sacrifice: Push aside several of your cherished priorities and move this one to the top.
    • Dollar Sacrifice: Reallocate budgets away from your current priorities and toward this one.
  • Don’t assume your apology will be enough. Don’t use the apology to silence the other person, as in “I’ve already apologized for that. You need to move on!” The hurt party has no obligation to accept your apology.

Establish Mutual Purpose. Involve the father (or group of parents) by having him identify his aspirations and fears for his daughter. Use this process to demonstrate that you agree with these aspirations and fears. Use them as common ground on which to build a plan for the future.

Expand this Purpose. As a principal you have multiple stakeholders and many responsibilities. You can’t allow a single student and parent to overwhelm all your other priorities. Instead, use this single relationship to see what every student and parent wants from you and your school. Establish goals that set standards in these areas of mutual purpose, for example: safety, academic achievement, connection, and support.

Identify Crucial Moments. Identify the times, places, people, and circumstances when these goals are at risk. Involve a team of administrators, teachers, parents, and students in this process. Make sure this specific student and parent are involved either directly or through frequent outreach. Examples of these crucial moments might include:

  • Normal teasing begins to turn mean.
  • A student shows a pattern of disrespect.
  • A teacher is struggling to control a class.

Create and Implement Solutions. Determine best practices for handling each crucial moment. Use training, coaching, and mentoring to make sure these solutions are put into practice.

I hope these ideas help. I would love to hear from you educators and parents who have faced similar problems. What have you seen that works?

Best of luck,
David

Crucial Accountability QA

How to Foster Accountability in a Tight-Knit Culture

Dear David,

Our organization is non-profit with a family-oriented culture. Unfortunately, we act like a family that has no accountability. Instead of holding people to account, our approach is to avoid and dumb down. No one is ever fired for poor performance. People arrive late, fail to complete time-sensitive tasks, and chat a lot—I mean they sit and chat for hours. Meetings don’t start on time because we wait for stragglers. I could go on. Those of us who have a work ethic and a sense of responsibility have to pick up the slack. When we took our concerns to management, they wrote out a list of service values and code of civility, rather than directly address the performance issues. Is there anything I can do?

Signed,
Wanting Accountability Tactics

Dear Wanting,

Thanks for a challenging question that a lot of us can relate to. Maybe we don’t work in a non-profit, but we struggle with a culture that is low on accountability. Or we work under a management team that seems more interested in keeping the peace than in improving performance. I’ll suggest some ways to begin having an impact.

Partner with a Leader. It sounds as if you are not in a supervisory position. Changing these norms will require you to partner with someone who is. You need a leader who is likely to share your concerns, who has the skill and autonomy to try these ideas with their team, and who will be able to influence other leaders through their success. Don’t expect the right leader to immediately volunteer for this pathfinder role. They may have other concerns that are equally or more important than yours. Finding and nurturing a partnership will require listening, fact-finding, patience, and compromise.

Focus on the Fool’s Choice. We humans are quick to see decisions as either/or, even when they aren’t. In Crucial Conversations we call these Fool’s Choices. Examples include thinking we need to choose between peace and honesty or between winning and losing. In your case, the Fool’s Choice is between holding people accountable and treating them with caring respect. The way you break free of a Fool’s Choice is to ask, “How can we do both?” In this case: “How can we hold people accountable while still showing them our caring respect?” This is the question you and your leader partner will need to address and answer.

Turn Purpose into Measurable Goals. It sounds as if your organization is using “service values” as a substitute for measurable results. Unfortunately, these service values have become minimum standards of behavior, rather than challenging targets to achieve.

Consider using a method called Strategy On A Page (SOAP) to cascade your broad purpose and vision down to measurable goals. Create a SOAP that details the links between your organization’s ambitions (what it wants to achieve in the world) and the measurable results that departments and individuals must achieve for this ambition to be realized. Identifying measurable results that must be achieved provides an immediate reason to hold people accountable.

Identify Problem Behaviors. Involve the people affected by the problems you describe (lateness, chatting, etc.) in identifying problem behaviors. The goal is to have the group agree on the behavior changes they want to see within their team. A powerful way to involve them is to use a Start, Stop, and Continue exercise. This exercise asks the group to identify new behaviors they need to Start doing in order to achieve their measurable results, existing behaviors they need to Stop doing if they are to achieve these results, and existing behaviors they need to Continue doing to achieve the results. Notice that these behaviors might be related to your organization’s “service values” but will be far more focused. Document these behaviors, create posters that describe them, and ask everyone to sign these posters as their commitment to change.

Build New Skills and Norms. We ask for 200 percent accountability for the behavior changes the team has identified. This means that team members are 100 percent accountable for their own behaviors and also 100 percent accountable for the behaviors of their colleagues. Instead of leaders being the only ones to hold others accountable, everyone in the team holds everyone else accountable.

Provide Leadership Support. When it comes to accountability, follow-through is everything. Work with your leader partner to identify formal and informal leaders who can help team members hold each other accountable. These leaders will play a champion role: coaching people who don’t feel skilled enough to hold a peer or boss to account, pushing people who don’t want to hold others accountable, and stepping in when an accountability discussion goes poorly or results in retaliation.

I hope these ideas give you a place to start. What have other readers seen that works? Please comment with your ideas below.

Best,
David