greg bustin

Accountability: When Character and Reputation Meet

April 1st, 2014  | 

Published in Accountability

The Seven Pillars of Accountability

Whether big, small, or in between, high-performing organizations share seven distinct characteristics that I call the Seven Pillars of Accountability:

  • Character
  • Unity
  • Learning
  • Tracking
  • Urgency
  • Reputation
  • Evolving

Character and Reputation are Linked

Each of the Seven Pillars of Accountability are of equal importance, but the Character Pillar and Reputation Pillar are sometimes confused. Char­acter is who you say you are. Reputation is how others see your character being lived out. If you’re a doctor looking to develop your reputation, take a look at review monitoring services.

My interviews with senior leaders at widely admired companies such as Marriott, The Container Store, Ernst & Young, Sony, Herman Miller, Nucor and Southwest Airlines, as well as with CEOs of successful small and midsize companies, indicate that all organizations wrestle with account­ability, character and reputation in much the same way.

Of the 6,000 executives I surveyed, 84 percent say, “We know that a favorable reputation is dependent on our behavior matching our values.”

Just as most leaders answer “customers” when asked “to whom does your organization make promises?” most leaders’ first thought when asked about “reputation” is to consider it as something that occurs outside the organization.

Although technically true, this assessment is only half the equa­tion. Your reputation as a leader is also being formed by your abil­ity or inability to live up to your promises inside your organization.

Seventy-eight percent of the executives surveyed “strongly agree” or “agree” that “we recognize that failure to address under-performance costs us personal and institutional credibility that dam­ages our reputation.” And 60 percent of the executives surveyed “strongly agree” or “agree” that “we reward results, not activities.”

Yet only 47 percent, about one in two leaders, “are not afraid of respectful conflict so we will initiate a tough conversation.” Lead­ers of these companies are focused on getting results, but their responses indicate that holding people accountable is difficult.

A delay in addressing underperformance signals to your employees that you are either oblivious to the problem, don’t care about the problem or afraid to confront the issue. Such behavior diminishes a leader’s credibility.

3 Reasons Underperformance Isn’t Addressed

Leaders tell me that conversations about performance prob­lems are delayed or altogether avoided for three primary reasons:

“I want to be liked.” The leader is concerned that having the conversation will harm their relationship with the under-performer and also anticipates that the conversation will be tougher on them as they initiate the conversation than on the underperformer. The opposite is generally true: The underperformer is often relieved the conversation is hap­pening because they have enough self-awareness to know they’re not meeting expectations. When a leader fails to confront underperformance, that leader’s reputation within the organization takes a hit because it’s disrespectful to top performers, plus those employees know who’s per­forming and who isn’t.

“Their poor performance is temporary.” Underperformers seldom improve without prompting. A leader who believes otherwise has entered the final phase of the three phases of employment: faith, hope, and charity. You have hired on faith, you hope the person performs the work they’ve been hired to do, and you keep them on charity (i.e., your pay­roll) long after they have shown they are unable or unwilling to meet their performance expectations.

“That’s just how he is, but look at his results!” Leaders can be held hostage by top-performing employees who are deliv­ering great results at the expense of their peers, their super­visor, or perhaps even their company. Who’s in charge, you or a renegade employee? What values really matter?

Reputation Starts on the Inside

As a leader, you get the behavior you tolerate. So like a lot of tough decisions, deciding how to handle an under-performer in your organization may be a decision that falls to you.

If so, how you respond – including making a decision to do nothing – determines your reputation among your colleagues.

Each chapter of my book includes dozens of questions to help you take a fresh look at ways to drive accountability in your organization. Here are some questions from the chapter on Reputation:

  • Who am I being that is causing people to perform the way they’re performing?
  • Do we reward results or activities?
  • Does everyone know the difference between a mistake and underperformance? How do we respond to a mistake?
  • Do our employees tell us the news and information we need to hear?
  • Do our employees speak up when they observe underperformance? If not, is it because they believe underperformance is acceptable performance? Because they don’t care? Because they figure it won’t do any good? Or are they afraid of someone or something?
  • What is our process for addressing underperformance? How do we address a high-performer who doesn’t share our values?
  • How consistent are we in addressing underperformance?

“Many a man’s reputation,” said American writer Elbert Hubbard, “would not know his character if they met on the street.”

About the Author: Greg Bustin advises leaders of some of the world’s most admired companies, and he’s dedicated a career to working with CEOs and the leadership teams of hundreds of companies in a range of industries. He’s facilitated more than 200 strategic planning sessions, and he’s delivered more than 500 keynotes and workshops on five continents. His fifth leadership book—How Leaders Decide: A Timeless Guide to Making Tough Choices—examines 52 of history’s greatest triumphs and tragedies and debuted in April as the #1 new historical reference book on Amazon.

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