Dr. Gruder is Blue Sky’s business psychologist. Dr. Gruder discusses overcoming toxic workplaces, creating accountability, and practical ways to implement accountability and reverse a toxic workplace.
Dr. Gruder defines accountability as:
“taking responsibility for the impacts that the choices I make about how I spend my life energy have on those to whom I’ve made commitments.”
To help illustrate this, he defines mis-using accountability as coercion or punishment that destroys good will. Practically speaking, this might look like a co-worker or boss having good intentions, making a promise, and then making excuses for a broken promise. Most businesses say that they have strong values, such as integrity. But rarely are these businesses able to create accountability procedures so they remain just good intentions.
Dr. Gruder’s webinar focused on four accountability procedures
- Accountability Capable: A commitment procedure that replaces relying on good intentions.
- A Best Practices Upgrades Procedure. This elevates procedures in the company, such as replacing unproductive meetings, sometimes known as gripe sessions. First, appreciate what’s working well and specify why that is valuable. Second, brainstorm what could be even better – specify its result and why that is valuable. Third, agree upon best practices upgraded commitments. Write this upgrade down in the performance evaluation.
- A breakdown repair procedure for reviewing and understanding collaboration or agreement breakdowns.
- A performance review procedure that is used regularly. This review shows how a person or team is doing with completing their commitments, implementing best practices upgrades, and implementing the results of breakdown repairs.
Here’s an example of these procedures, from an executive Dr. Gruder is currently mentoring in these procedures. To preserve anonymity, the names and genders have been changed, and the project specifics have not been specified.
- Accountability-Capable Agreements: An executive with a history of being reluctant to delegate projects to others (we’ll call her Dorothy) assigned one to a manager (we’ll call him Tom). Tom said he would get it done. Due to Dr. Gruder’s mentoring Dorothy didn’t stop there. She asked Tom when he would get back to her. Tom gave a date and time that was acceptable to Dorothy but she didn’t remember to memorialize the agreement specifications by writing them down and sending these to Tom to verify that his understanding matched hers. Dorothy did that after I reminded her about the multiple reasons this kind of documentation matters.
- Best Practices Upgrades: Dorothy met with Tom weekly for 10 minutes to check in with him about how the project was unfolding. They reviewed what was working well with the project implementation and why that mattered, as well as what might be improved upon with his team. These meetings helped Dorothy feel more comfortable about delegating. After each of these meetings Tom held brief Best Practices meetings with his team so they could identify what was working well and what might be improved upon. Tom would then send the team a written record of what they described in the meeting, especially their upgraded best practices, so everyone could be comfortable that they all were on the same page. Once he got verification from his team he then forwarded that document to Dorothy so they both knew what the elevated Best Practices/Accountability-Capable Commitments were. This process enabled Tom and his team to spot potential problems before they started escalating, while also enabling Dorothy to feel comfortable enough about having delegated that project to Tom so she didn’t feel a need to micromanage him. Tom felt really happy about that!
- Breakdown Repair: One of Tom’s team members (we’ll call him Gus) missed a deadline by which he agreed he would send a portion of the project to another team member to do the part she had agreed to do (we’ll call her Michelle). Tom immediately assembled the team to conduct the Breakdown Repair procedure. He started by reminding all of them that this procedure is for enhancing everyone’s development, not to blame, shame or punish. Tom went first, sharing the role he had inadvertently played in helping this breakdown occur (in this case, it was having forgotten to ask Gus about the resources he needed in order to get the task done), the unintended impacts on his team from his having forgotten to do this, what he would do to repair those impacts, and what his realistic commitment was for handling future similar situations more effectively. He then asked Gus to share with the team what he had made more important than getting his material to Michelle by the date he had committed to do that. Tom then asked Gus what the unintended impacts of his missed deadline were on himself, on Michelle, on the rest of the team, and on Tom. After Tom was satisfied that Gus had the full picture about his in the breakdown, he asked Gus what Gus would do to repair those impacts. After the team agreed that Gus’s new commitment would repair the negative impact to the extent that these things are realistically repairable after the fact, Tom asked Gus a final question. He asked what Gus was committing to do differently in similar future situations, based on what Gus had learned from this situation. Once Tom was satisfied that Tom’s plan could work and that it was within Gus’s capability to implement, he wrote down that new Best Practice/Accountability-Capable Commitment. Then, remembering what he and Dorothy had learned from Dr. Gruder about Breakdown Repairs, Gus turned to Michelle and walked her through the procedure. By the end of the meeting everyone on the team was feeling closer to and more trusting of Gus, Michelle, and Tom. Afterward, Gus briefed Dorothy on what had happened and the gold that had come from it.
- Performance Reviews: Dorothy met with Tom every couple of months to review how he was doing with his Accountability-Capable Commitments, his elevated Best Practices with her and with his team, his Breakdown Repair Commitments with her and with his team, the growth edge that Tom had committed at their last Performance Review to pursue, and the growth edge that Tom would be pursuing between now and his next Performance Review. Dorothy then updated Tom about these same things specifically with regard to her relationship with Tom. After that, Tom took each of his team members through this same procedure.
The net impact on Dorothy, Tom, and Tom’s team that resulted from them utilizing these four integrated accountability procedures was that Dorothy felt increasingly confident about delegating, Tom felt more valued because Dorothy was tapping into more of his talents, and Tom’s team started feeling like a tight-knit work family in which everyone on the team had each other’s backs, including Tom having their backs as a team.