This continues my 6 part series on coaching for accountability (you can read Step 1 and Step 2 here).
Step 3 is to start using Action Plans:
6 Steps to Coach For Accountability & High Performance [see all 6 steps on my 1 minute video slideshare].
Most employees (and also most managers) are naturally focused on getting their “day job” done. Their cognitive “time span” and time management skills are typically focused on the next day or next week.
This is a major reason that all your good ideas and wish list of projects for improvement never get very far, much less implemented.
The concept of an Individual Action Plan has personally been an incredible organizing and planning tool for my entire life, and changed the direction of our family business.
When I was in high school, our family business started using a business consultant, who taught every one of our 25 employees how to create and use a personal action plan.
My mother had 3 retail stores, two production facilities and a business services division with hundreds of accounts.
When every person had an action plan and they had “quarterly action plan meetings” they were able to focus on the daily work AND make progress on those pesky projects. It also made it easy to see how everyone was contributing and working together on business building activities.
It made the difference between chaos and progress, and transitioned us from overwhelm to a professionally managed profitable business.
There are two inter-related purposes for action plans-– the first is to monitor and prioritize activities that support major projects or programs. The second is to use action plans as a training and development tool. I say inter-related because when people contribute to projects this contributes to their skill and competency development.
Your employees want and need ongoing reminders and assistance with taking action on bigger projects, so that they make progress and focus on small steps every week.
When they have a written action plan, and they review in your weekly coaching conversations, this helps them stay on track. If you don’t review and hold them accountable to make progress, anything beyond daily urgent work gets forgotten.
Quarterly Action Plans Overview:
Ideally you need to do a bit of design and discovery to begin the action plan process.
- First you need to compile a full list of all active company-wide projects and create an action plan for each, with sections or tasks assigned to the responsible person. [More than 4 projects— prune the list down.]
- Second, you should meet with everyone individually to discuss their desired training and development direction [part of your annual performance conversation.]
- Both of these topics become action steps on an individual quarterly action plan.
What goes on an action plan?
- Specific training for the quarter- aligned with personal interest and business need
- Stretch assignments– areas where this person can enrich or enlarge their job duties beyond the current role
- Delegation items to take over responsibility from peer or manager
- Action items or steps from company-wide or department projects assigned to this person
- Cross-training to “back up” or shadow someone
- Research opportunities– what problem can they investigate possible solutions?
- Outside/ formal training programs or workshops, such as industry certification or a job-related degree
Action plans also need to list specific action items, aligned with a broader goal, who is responsible, and a target date for completion.
They are an integral part of aligning every team member’s work with the business goals, and to leverage the rhythm of weekly coaching with progress on business-improvement projects.
As an added bonus, you will be building trust and the engagement of your team by focusing on the key drivers of retention. With the right topics and agenda, the quarterly action plan meetings become “stay interviews”– a technique that employers are finding valuable to hold onto their high performers.
Watch my 21-minute video training on Action Plans for Training & Development
Next step I will share details on Step 4 “Delegate, Don’t Abdicate” [see all 6], and expect to have a new Guide to Coaching for Accountability by the end of this month.
Read my last article on Step 1 to coach for accountability [clarify who does what].
Step 2 is to start Weekly Coaching Conversations:
6 Steps to Coach For Accountability & High Performance [see all 6 steps on my 1 minute video slideshare].
Your employees want and need ongoing direction & feedback & support & recognition, so that they can focus on high priority actions.
Just like a sailboat, if they drift just one degree off course every week they can end up going East instead of North.
You need them to tell you when they are stuck, if they need clarification or resources, and to make more informed decisions.
You also want them to make progress on projects beyond their daily tasks.
All of these employee and manager needs can be met with a 15-minute “weekly coaching conversation”
Weekly Coaching Conversation [Check Ins] Agenda:
- Results on individual/ team KPI [key performance indicators]
- Status update on ongoing tasks [what my manager needs to know]
- Status update on project action items
- Challenges- where are you stuck or need more help?
- Priorities for this week
….I know you are thinking “how am I going to squeeze in weekly chats with every one of my team?”
I will be honest, the first few weeks are hard for managers to schedule, but then they find something miraculous ….
After a few weeks– people start changing how they interact with their managers:
- They hold the “do you have a second” updates and questions for their weekly chat [time saved 5+ minutes per day x per person]
- You don’t have to chase people down to get status updates — you know you will hear them on your weekly chats [time saved 10 minutes x per person]
- They start completing project action items that you assigned but never went anywhere [1+ hours per week of new “to-dos” completed x per person]
- You now have a way to start handing off small action items on the bigger projects to someone else [time saved 1-2 hours week of your time]
- You don’t have to put out fires because someone forgot or were stuck or handled something badly [time saved 1+ hour per week]
When you think about all the time you spend on all these reactive activities, it adds up to well over 15 minutes per person.
Would it be better to have a pre-planned time carved out of your schedule to be proactive, to give direction, feedback, support, recognition, and coach for learning and improved decision making and time management?
If you have more than 10 people, over time you can designate and train a “team leader” to have these weekly conversations with the team and just bring you the weekly team updates [time saved 15 minutes x per person]. As an added benefit, this process develops your high potential employees into team leaders.
As with anything that is “good for you” it takes a bit of effort to change your habits and the habits of your team, and diligence to keep consistency and progress.
Managers who master this habit say they would never go back to their old ways.
In my next article, I will share details on Step 3 “Action Plans for Development and Business Improvement” [see all 6].
Are you interested in everyone on your team taking on more responsibility?
I mean real responsibility — when they “own” the work, solve issues, make suggestions and even improve the process, and [the ultimate level] keep you in the loop with status updates or “exception” reports.
You might even have a few people who do this now… but you would like EVERYONE on staff to do this. [Keep reading for the First of the 6 steps…]
This magical state is called the “Accountability Culture” — and blends the benefits of a Results Culture and a Caring Culture, and the top ranked most-effective leadership style that blends concern for People with a focus on Results.
Accountability is not a new concept, but it has become a high priority for the business owner and manager who wants to spend more time on business planning and management and less time on getting the daily work done.
If your team “does what they are supposed to do” then managers are freed up to work on the business- revenue generation, process improvement, cost control and great team and customer experiences. If your pants are on fire you can’t plan and improve your business.
Let me be clear—- Positive Accountability is essential to grow your business.
Last week I spoke to 91 planners and managers in operations, who work for companies with 50-500 employees. Guess what? These organizations are also challenged with building accountability on their teams.
Here is your opportunity to take your smaller more agile company and out-perform you competitors, with
6 Steps to Coach For Accountability & High Performance.
Step 1 is to clarify the Roles, Responsibilities and Results of your key people:
Employees want to have four main questions clarified about their role (although they rarely ask them):
If you cannot answer these questions about your role and those of your key people,
you will not be able to effectively hold them accountable for results.
1. What is my role?
2. What does “good” look like?
3. What is my responsibility?
4. What results should I produce?
To Learn More:
For a detailed outline of how to accomplish Step 1 [Clarify Roles and Responsibilities], see page 7.
See all 6 Steps to Coach for Accountability [Slideshow]
The (busy) life of a small business owner
When you started (or joined) your business, you did a lot of work yourself. As the business grew, you added staff to take care of the daily “work” yet you never seem able to get yourself out of everyday responsibilities.
Your days are busy but progress is slow, and you go home feeling like you didn’t accomplish anything. A 40-hour week seems like a luxury.
You would like more free time, but you are afraid to leave since problems surface and you “pay for it” when you come back.
You have a big list of ideas to improve your business, but these never seem to get started [much less finished].
The cycle repeats
You might even have hired someone new to take some of your workload, or started “delegating” some of your work to others.
But despite your best efforts and good intentions, your to-do list is long and your days are filled with endless calls, meetings, and requests that eat up your time.
Or someone recently quit, leaving you and the team hanging. Now you spend your precious time interviewing and training the new person (which you hate), and then catch up for the lost time.
Frustrating, isn’t it?
It’s an endless cycle. Every Monday you start out with big plans for the week, only to leave Friday with not much progress to show for all your hard work. Some days you feel so burnt out and overwhelmed, you think about exiting the business.
And deep down you know this can’t be the way to grow your business.
What could be the cause? Why are you doing so much in your business?
Because you don’t have the team you need to support you—a trusted, reliable team.
If you did, you would be comfortable letting them handle the daily activities.
You would be confident that they are doing a great job: growing sales, caring for your customers, making great decisions, while keep you updated on progress and achieving your ambitious business goals.
So let’s explore some possible reasons you don’t have a reliable team.
Reason 1: You are under-staffed
Sometimes you truly don’t have enough staff to cover the work to care for your current client base. People are spread thin and are just trying to keep their heads above the water. Obviously if everyone is handling a high workload, it’s hard for you to be confident everything is being done well.
Perhaps you just added a burst of new customers, or you have a seasonal bump in demand, or you are in the process of training a newbie.
Teams under pressure, overworked, and stressed are notorious unreliable.
You may think hiring is the answer, but it isn’t always the best solution to start.
When you address the other reasons (below), this usually increase the effectiveness, capacity, and therefore the reliability of your current team.
Reason 2: You have low performers
You likely have at least one person who is not performing well.
It might be someone whose job changed but their skills didn’t keep up, or they are struggling with the workload or an aspect of the job, or they are slow in taking on new responsibility. They might have inconsistent output, working hard some weeks and slacking off others.
You tried feedback, coaching, or training with short-lived improvement.
When someone on the team has sub-par performance, of course you don’t feel you can rely on him or her.
Reason 3: You have people with attitude issues
Sometimes you have people who do an adequate job, but it comes at a price. They give you or co-workers a hard time, grumbling and complaining when you assign work or ask for a status update. They might be toxic to peers, openly difficult to their supervisor, or continually resist change.
Just like the low performers, Debbie Downer and Toxic Theo aren’t your go-to people either. They may do the work (if you are willing to put up with the negativity), but it’s a good possibility they may not do the work well.
When you avoid performance correcting conversations with low performers or those with attitude issues you are not building a reliable team.
What most managers do is “reward” unreliable people by taking work and giving it to a more competent high performer. A great solution? No, but you would rather give work to the reliable. So you are stuck in this “catch-22.”
Both these types of employees drag down the reliability of your team, lower your confidence that everything is under control. Because it isn’t under control.
Even more importantly, “unreliable co-workers” is a main reason top performers quit, so ignoring these issues can force out your reliable ones!
Reason 4: Your “open door” has a line of people asking for help
When you let people pop on by to run things by you, you are enabling “problem bringers” instead of developing “problem solvers.”
“Hey boss, what do you want me to do about this? Mr Z called and wants to know what is happening with the new thing” These continual interruptions fill up your day, and distract your ability to focus on anything else.
Remember the biblical parable about “teach a man to fish, and he eats for a lifetime”? It’s the same for decision making.
When you are the source of problem solving you also become responsible for the decision, and enables a co-dependence on your input and guidance.
If you can’t rely on your staff to make good decisions without you, you will be chained to the office, worry when you are not there and be called 10 times on your vacation.
Reason 5: Your process is broken
Sometimes it’s not the people who are unreliable, it’s the process itself that causes problems, delays and customer issues.
If there are 5 people who are involved in the process to convert a proposal to delivery of a new sale, there are at least 5 places where the handoff can be incomplete or inaccurate or dropped entirely.
Sometimes your people are doing their best struggling through the convoluted and flawed process. To improve the human-side of reliability, check the underlying system.
If your good performers sometimes have issues with reliability, it might make sense to look at the work flow for effectiveness and efficiency.
Reason 6: You resist delegating
Hey, I get it. You need to trust first before you delegate.
If you can’t be sure the work will be done timely and accurately, you keep control of that task yourself. Even if it is boring or you hate the task.
I find that owners I work with have two main reason they don’t delegate.
One reason is the “it’s easier to do it myself” syndrome. Yes, it will take 20 minutes to show someone once to do this 10 minute task, but remember it’s 10 minutes every week (=500 minutes a year, 8+ hours.) So consider your time investment choices carefully.
The other reason is that a prior delegation was a disaster or just a big pain. You had to chase the person down for an update, nag them to finish it, they did it wrong, or worst of all created a big problem. Painful conclusion: brings you back to reason one- it’s easier to do it myself.
If you want to build a reliable team, you must improve your skills in coaching and training to achieve a successful transfer of work that doesn’t belong on the to-do list for a CEO or manager.
Reason 7: Desired Results are not clear (or rewarded)
You may not realize it, but if you are like most business owners, you are not clear about desired results or clear about priorities.
Most decent employees try to figure out what “Done Right” looks like and to do their best with the resources and tools you give them.
If you don’t measure or track any results, they may not know how they are doing. Absent of any data or feedback, most people assume that “no news is good news” and they are doing their job to meet your expectations.
So the “unreliable” don’t know it and don’t have any reason to change.
You also may not be rewarding the trusted reliable ones. Those that step up are given more work, those that duck and cover are given less work, and everyone gets a 3% raise and about the same year-end bonus.
Consider the messages you are sending with feedback, recognition and pay—is it rewarding reliability?
Reason 8: You can’t find good people to hire
Yes, I advise that you should improve your current team performance first.
But the lack of “good people” to hire is part of the reason you accept low performance or poor attitudes. You feel hostage because if you address the issues they might quit, and a mediocre person is better than no person.
You probably also dread the hiring process and rush to fill an open position. You take the “best” applicant, even if you worry they won’t work out.
If you settle for third-string players on your team and in your new hires, this is definitely a reason you don’t have a reliable team.
After you read this list, how many reasons do you have?
How many of these issues exist on your team?
If you have 3 or more, you likely don’t have a reliable who you trust to delegate work, run daily activities and work on projects to grow the business.
The Solution: Building Your Team Model
To build a reliable team, you need the Right People in the Right Jobs, Doing the Right Things
Next Step: Read the Guide
Would you like to learn the exact steps to go from stuck in the day-to-day to building a trusted reliable team?
Click to Download the detailed guide:
Building Your Team: Right People… Right Jobs