Accountability Is A System

Accountability Is A System

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By Jon Thorne, DPA Senior Consultant

Accountability is no more a one-man job than is quality. If accountability lies only with the individual, it will rise and fall with changes in personnel and positions. Accountability starts with a broad-based effort to set and measure performance standards across an organization’s divisions and functions.

Accountability and reliability go hand in hand. Both rely on effective work management. In a production environment, for example, the plant manager holds people accountable for creating good systems, beginning with senior staff.

What are the elements of accountability?

  • A system for budget management that includes the format and timing of reports, the frequency and content of meetings, and the efficacy of actions that arise from budget review.
  • A system of problem-solving that identifies problems early, prioritizes them, gets the right people involved, generates a set of possible solutions and tracks the success of the solution once it is implemented.
  • A system of communication that gets real-time information to the people who can best use it to affect their performance.
  • Systems of reporting relationships and performance measurements that promote the stated goals of the organization.
  • A system of internal benchmarking that learns from other areas of the company — and gladly helps them learn from you.

Systems overlap and reinforce each other. Effective accountability programs draw from the budget, problem solving and communication systems. They emphasize performance measurement and review, team-based organizational structures and goals and positive discipline. Ideally, the accountability system is built by those who are enmeshed in it.  An organization’s leaders must set out to deliberately, intelligently and quickly lead the building of these systems.

How should the process begin? First, senior staff must decide what the goals of the organization are, then codify these as expected outcomes. Once such goals have been established, the plant decides what measures it can use to best monitor its performance. Corporate Key Performance Indicators should be only the starting point for these decisions. From there, people should be given a clear set of expectations about system fundamentals — including a sense of urgency — and then turned loose to create systems that will deliver great performance.

To help groups and individuals work in ways that promote the desired outcomes, measures are developed and communicated appropriately to give feedback on how well or poorly that work is accomplishing the goals. Because work in organizations exists in a complicated context of people, processes and equipment, there is rarely a direct, linear cause and effect type of measure that is useful in gauging performance.  Accountability, then, is the means of ensuring that, despite the complexity of the work and the context in which it exists, individuals, groups and, ultimately, the organization as a whole will understand their part in accomplishing goals.

It is vital that systems not be devised and imposed totally from above. Management should impose only their expectations of good system fundamentals: clear performance expectations and measurement, team-based goals and structures, performance baselines and continuous improvement. Management must understand and communicate that speed in the identification and resolution of problems is the ultimate competitive advantage. They must question “traditional” practices and encourage employees to follow suit.

Accountability systems serve to prompt and encourage people to keep their promises to each other. We all live in a web of promises – implicit and explicit. At work, other people depend on us for information, goods, and services, just as we depend upon them. We each promise to provide what others in the organization need to be effective in their jobs. Accountability monitors whether those promises are being kept and reminds us to hold up our end of the bargain. When we all keep our promises to each other the result is human reliability. And with human reliability, your organization can accomplish anything.

Accountability systems also instill discipline into a process. Management processes require discipline, that is, the ability to consistently repeat good practices. Once you’ve designed and installed a process, you must maintain it. That is as true for management processes as it is for production processes. What usually trips people up are the details, the small stuff. A system of accountability organizes and stores all the big and little things you must do to keep your process running.

Accountability is the flip side of delegation. You can’t have one without the other. To hold people accountable, you must first delegate to them (empower them!) to accomplish the assigned task. Delegation is not abdication, it is not “give and forget.” A good delegator coaches her people and prepares herself to accept unexpected solutions.

Good delegation is a form of leadership and a leader exerts influence primarily through his values. A leader cannot be everywhere or do everything. He must allow his subordinates to make their own decisions, take their own actions, guided by knowledge of what matters most to their superior and of how their actions impact the work processes, the goals, and the business mission.

Accountability is expressed as a system of interlocking elements.  These elements are the building blocks of how we both measure and communicate performance expectations and results as individuals, as workgroups, as entire organizations.

The list of accountability elements includes:

  • Customer Satisfaction
  • Weekly Staff Meetings
  • Action Item Lists · Long-Term Work Scheduling (3 Week)
  • Process Conferences
  • MBWA
  • Formal Problem Solving Process
  • Defined Work Processes
  • Financial Goals, High-Level KPI’s
  • Operational Goals
  • Work Management KPI’s
  • Unit/Line Reliability Teams
  • Clear Value System with rewards and consequences for behavior
  • Daily Schedule Compliance Meetings (After Action Analysis)
  • Roles, Responsibilities, and Relationships (Relationships can mean Organizational Structure)

To be effectively utilized, each element must be clearly defined in terms of how the organization will use it and how it fits into the overall system of accountability. The entire system of accountability must support and reinforce the business mission of the organization.  This means that each accountability element must support and reinforce the entire business mission.

Let’s take a more detailed look at each accountability system element.

Customer Satisfaction

Measuring your service to internal customers puts interdepartmental cooperation on an objective basis: you confront issues rather than people. Accountability becomes a function of the group as a whole. The plant manager’s role is to insist that the organization seek out and satisfy its customer’s needs, but it is the customers and suppliers who decide how to do it.

Weekly Staff Meetings

Predictable weekly contact in a forum designed to promote the two-way transfer of information allows subordinates to hold their superiors accountable. Questions asked have to be answered, suggestions made must be responded to. Twice per week is best.

Action Item Lists

Many managers use planners to help them prioritize their activities and remember important dates and information. Every regularly scheduled meeting should have the same benefits. An action list remembers what is important to a group of people and allows them to hold each other accountable for keeping the promises they have made.

Long-Term Scheduling

Graduated, week-by-week commitment to a list of highest priority maintenance work brings departments together: they hold each other accountable for fulfilling the particular role they each play in equipment repair.

Process Conferences

To ensure the understanding and use of processes — especially where they cross-team or departmental lines, and where customer/supplier relationships are involved — process conferences allow all participants to engage in an open discussion about a particular process. The conferences allow employees to share their expectations and requirements to be fully responsive and supportive.

MBWA (Management By Walking Around)

Popular twenty years ago, this management method has seen a rebirth of interest. As a practice, MBWA was abandoned largely because it was misused as a way to intervene/interfere directly in work on the floor. This use of MBWA is the antithesis of effective delegation and empowerment.

Problem Solving

Formal problem-solving processes and approaches, well understood and uniformly utilized by everyone in an organization, can have an immediate, dramatic impact on both the degree and frequency of problems.

Defined Work Processes

There is probably nothing more important to effective work management than a clearly defined, integrated set of work processes. Defined to fit the actual work environment, clear work processes enable the effective utilization of all resources; human, mechanical, financial.

One example of a defined work process is the daily schedule compliance meeting, where the primary customer, production, reviews maintenance’s performance every day. As with three-week scheduling, these units hold each other accountable for setting and meeting schedules every day.

Financial and Operational Goals: High-Level KPIs

While there are literally hundreds of performance indicators, organizations typically have only 12 to 15 key performance indicators. By definition, these are selected indicators of overall performance that most accurately reflect the health and well-being of the plant without inundating users with additional, ancillary or extraneous information. KPI’s provide the opportunity for management by exception. That is, their use should be suggestive, directing responsible decision-makers to further investigate more detailed avenues of information while not needing to spend as much time or energy in areas where the KPI’s indicate acceptable performance.

Work Management KPIs

Measurements are the basis of continuous improvement and decision making. The purpose of measuring the work process is to improve upon the process and to aid in making decisions regarding when and how maintenance activities are performed. The opportunity for improvement comes from understanding the root cause of the problem and then working to rectify it. Superficial fixes that make the measurements look good do not address the core of the problem and do not provide any real benefit to the organization. Data integrity is very important. In addition, over time, certain aspects of the process may no longer require measuring because there may be little room for improvement left. When this occurs those measurements may be dropped and new ones added to monitor other aspects of the process.

Unit Reliability Teams

A reliability engineer, an operator, a planner, and a maintenance supervisor form the core group that monitors the health and welfare of each unit. Since they possess all the necessary knowledge and tools to make their unit measurably reliable, they can be held accountable as a group.

Clear Value System with Rewards and Consequences for Behavior

All the leaders within your organization — from the plant manager and senior staff to supervisors — must learn to manage by values. Your people are already responding to your values, watching you see what will please you and what will upset you. Your values are “walk the walk”n not “talk the talk”:to be credible, you must practice what you preach. And preach you must! Constantly reinforce your values in meetings and memos, casual conversations and prepared presentations, decisions and actions. Values are a system of leadership. Explore the meaning of leadership in your organization and decide how you will live your definition. Be clear about what leadership means so that you can both practice it and transmit it.

Daily Schedule Compliance Meetings (After Action Analysis)

One of the most important and actionable, short-cycle measures of the work management process is schedule compliance. Hold a brief (15-20 minute) meeting be every day at the end of the shift to analyzing, critique and correct the causes of schedule non-compliance. In this way, the importance of the schedule is reinforced along with immediate action to ensure that the work required is what gets done.

Roles, Responsibilities, and Relationships

R&R’s define a person’s key responsibilities within the accountability system. It defines to what extent each person is responsible for each element and outcome. Relationships refer to an organizational structure that supports and is aligned with the work management process.

When an R&R is complete, only one person should be responsible for each aspect of each element, and no aspect of any element remains uncovered.


As published in…

Industry Week

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