Do you credit others as much as you do yourself?
Most firms consider accountability an essential part of their leadership practices.
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In the PCPS Top Issues survey, for firms with 11 to 20 professionals, partner accountability/unity landed in second place. For firms with 21 or more professionals, this same issue ranked first in concerns to be addressed.
Yet in actual practice, real accountability can be an elusive target. We will explore actions you can implement to improve partner accountability in your firm.
Accountability: It Should Apply to Everyone
Accountability enables people who work together to trust the words, commitments and actions of one another. It allows team members to rely on one another to follow through on commitments and do what is necessary to ensure team success.
But, in our experience in the majority of situations, this is a word used by people to describe how others need to be treated. For example, “it’s time we hold them accountable,” or “we need to put in a system that holds our people accountable for their work.” In other words, it is an attitude of “What I am doing is fine; it’s just that everyone else needs to be reined in, monitored and punished when they don’t live up to my expectations.”
In his newest book, currently titled “Lightening Your Load: the Black Belt Path to Success and Happiness,” Bill Reeb talks about the inaccuracy of our perceptions. Here is an excerpt from that book that will clarify what we mean about accountability and those perceptions dealing with it:
We give ourselves credit for everything we think, say and do.
We only give others credit for what we see them do.
This is a really important concept to embrace, so I am going to take you through a simple scenario. Let’s say you had a project that had a deadline of last Friday. And because you were not done by 5:30 p.m. (your normal quitting time on Friday), you decided to stay late (until 9:00 p.m.) and get it done before you left. After leaving that evening, frustrated by this last-minute requirement, you spent your drive time home and some time that evening pondering how this intense scrambling could have been avoided. Over the weekend, you found yourself continuing this mental dialogue and were excited when you came up with a few ideas worth trying to minimize the chances of this situation repeating itself.
On a different track, earlier that same week, you noticed a co-worker who was clearly struggling to meet a different project deadline. After noticing this, you extended an offer to stay and help if necessary. Your co-worker thanked you for your generosity, but declined the need for assistance. So, in this simplistic case study, you are likely to give yourself credit for the following:
- 5 hours of Friday evening work to get the project out on time,
- at least 1 hour of think time Friday night trying to come up with ideas as to how to avoid this situation in the future,
- a couple of hours of think time over the weekend to arrive at a couple of ideas worth trying to avoid this situation in the future, and
- bonus time for your willingness to stay and help out your co-worker, even though you did not actually stay.
Let us be clear. You deserve to give yourself credit for all of this effort and willingness. And if you are like most of us, with each exceptional effort, we commonly make a quick deposit in our imaginary “I am Valuable” bank account. The bottom line is … for the week in question, you probably felt like you put in a minimum of six extra hours with a willingness to do even more, with the value-add of some creative efficiency ideas to boot.
The problem comes when you compare your effort to that of, let’s say, your co-worker who was in a similar situation (whom you offered to help). First, you probably assumed that he or she only stayed for an extra hour or two maximum. Second, you might have diminished the effort made even further by thinking about how disorganized he or she was and had that been you with your superior skills, the late-night effort would not have even been required. Third, no one else was the kind of team player you were and offered to help you. So, huge chasms are constantly being created when we compare ourselves to others because of our flawed and invalid perceptions.
How can there ever really be equity in our business or personal life when we always give ourselves credit for everything we think, do and say and only give credit back for what we actually see others do? And if this weren’t bad enough, regarding the effort we see, we are likely to discount the effort of others with thoughts like 1) they didn’t put in the same level of caring or effort we did, or 2) they need to put in more time given their lesser abilities as it takes them longer to do the same work we do. So, even with what we see, our egos get in the way of a reasonable self-report as we inflate our efforts and diminish the efforts of those around us.
What this adds up to is … if you actually think you are contributing equally, you are most likely taking advantage of whomever you are comparing yourself to because of this out-of-balance prism we view life through.