Potential: Revealed

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Trust, Integrity, Accountability

Recently I was working with a client on preparations for an important meeting. The exact details of the meeting and the content are unimportant. What my client sponsor was wrestling with was concern that his peers would not act on the recommendations we were making. As I asked him more probingly about the root of his concerns he blurted out something about “our leadership team often agrees in a meeting but follow through is poor.”

Through further discussions I came up with a framework for the meeting that he seemed to like and gave him confidence that his concern about follow through could be overcome. I described the framework like this:

– ultimately establishing clear Accountability for decisions and actions is required in order for follow-through to be ensured. I said we should start off with asserting this to the meeting attendees (all of them S and E level VPs, along with the GM of the overall business unit) and giving a definition of accountability that everyone could agree to: “a willingness to be held to account for one’s promises and actions“.

– next we would say that accountability requires two foundations, first is Trust. Trust can be simply defined as “a relationship of reliance“. The team of executives, we would say, would see in a few moments that our recommendations revealed the clear interdependencies between each of their respective areas of the business. They were reliant upon each other and their teams to achieve success. While this may go without saying, we would invite them to openly discuss any areas where they felt they could not indeed “rely” upon each other or where weaknesses existed between business area linkages. Those areas would be addressed in the meeting and cleared up or an action plan would be devised to address them as output from the meeting.

– the second foundation element for accountability was “Integrity. Integrity can be defined as an undivided or unbroken completeness or totality with nothing wanting“. We would say that often accountability is desired and trust exists yet ultimately accountability falters because what someone or some group is held accountable to lacks integrity. Sometimes this is personal integrity but more often it is the integrity of — or the lack of a factual, fact base for — what is recommended and decided to be implemented. So our final activity before dealing with the recommendations was to spend more-than-usual time on the facts behind the business problem and opportunity we were dealing with. We said grounding all the participants equally and giving all a chance to develop a solid “fact base” was critical for them to hold one another accountable for follow through. If during our discussion, we said, the facts did not hold up, additional facts were needed or more clarity was required, it was better that we postponed final decisions and reconvened with the missing data ready to present.

What was interesting was that A) everyone seemed to appreciate the open recognition of the accountability issue. It had clearly become a sort of “elephant in the room” problem, which led to B) a reasonably candid discussion of some real, but solvable trust and integrity questions and challenges, and resulted in C) a preliminary acceptance of the facts and recommendations but request for the postponment of final decisions until a few important additional facts and factors could be brought to the table for consideration at a subsequent meeting. That follow up meeting was, I’m told, one of the most productive they’d had in quite some time which they attributed to the framework my client presented and used faithfully throughout the discussions.

As most of us have learned, often it is not just what we say but how  we say it that can ultimately matter. Revealing and capturing the true potential of an idea or recommendation, in this case, depended upon it.