I was meeting with an engineering client recently that was explaining his firm’s culture. He said,
“Accountability is a dirty word around here. We don’t measure anyone or have any consequences because we don’t like to punish people.”
That statement stopped me in my tracks. No accountability at all? In fact, this large firm (over 500 employees) has no measurements at the individual level. They don'’t even have measurements at the business unit level. The only financial information that is published or reviewed is at the firm level.
This caused me to step back and think about how hard it might be to work there. Certainly, there were top performers, mediocre performers and some team members that were bottom performers. But they have no way to figure that out, decide who to bonus or promote, or even figure out who to let go. I believe this is a detriment to the firm, the top performing employees, and even the clients. I had to ask a few questions:
Question: Do you want to be the best you can be?
Answer: Yes, of course.
Question: How do you know if you are?
Answer: We just know…
Question: What is the concern with holding individuals accountable?
Answer: It is part of our long-standing culture, we don’t want to punish people or call them out. We don’t want to share negative financial information.
Does this type of cultural mindset exist in your firm? Is "accountability" a dirty word?
I believe that accountability can be a positive thing. It can allow you to provide salary increases, bonuses and promotions to your best team members. If all team members receive an annual pay raise that is not based on any aspect of their own performance, there is a natural dis-incentive to perform. And it also makes it difficult to provide constructive feedback, recognition and incentives.
And just think about how your best performers may feel about this. They have to work alongside others that are not as successful, motivated or talented. How can this drag your organization down?
Another disadvantage of not measuring individual performance is that it can be difficult to assess team members’ skills and determine where they might need training and professional development. It can also hamper managers from being able to determine if employees are maximizing their capabilities against certain expected results. This can cripple managers from being able to mentor staff and identify areas where they might need more attention.
If this is the performance management process that exists in your firm, it might be beneficial that you take a hard second look at whether this process is serving the organization and all key stakeholders, including your younger staff. If your firm’s goal is to be the best it can be, then challenging some of your long-held culture traps may pay big rewards.
Start by reading some of my other posts about accountability, including:
- 5 Ways to Increase Accountability in Your A&E Firm
- Using 4 Metrics to Analyze Performance of a Professional Services Firm
- Holding Project Managers Accountable for Profitability
- How Accountable Learning Can Improve Financial Results