23rd March 2017

No Hiding Place Part 1

The meeting rhythm is an important factor in building a healthier culture of accountability in a business. One of the big challenges arises from stuff that we have agreed on just simply not getting done; either not getting done at all, or on time, or in the way we may have intended. One simple sheet of paper does a mighty successful job of ending that particular merry go round, and that is the ‘Who, What, When’. The WWW summarises the most important outcome of any meeting, which is the decisions that have been made and the action that ensues.

Just using the WWW forces the meeting participants to be very specific about what specific action was decided, who is going to take accountability for that action and the date by which it is to be completed. The very first item at the next meeting is to review the WWW and check that what was committed to has been carried out and that the accountable person has fulfilled his or her responsibilities. This very simple act of ‘squaring the circle’ is incredibly powerful and as such can transform many businesses that otherwise might FTI (fail to implement).

Although the power is obvious, the WWW is much more than a glorified to-do list. When used judiciously in a meeting, the person who volunteers to be accountable for a specific action is making a commitment. They are making a commitment not simply to the boss, which we generally have no qualms about breaking, but they are making a commitment to the other members of the team who are in the same meeting. Now a commitment made publically to our colleagues and peer group is far more powerful than any commitment ever made in private to the boss. I don’t know how we learn it, or where, but it seems we all learn very early on how to not deliver on our commitments to the boss. Those commitments become ineffective and meaningless by and large, but commitments to our mates and colleagues are different, especially when we know we are going to have to stand up and be counted in front of those self same mates and colleagues.

Not only does the commitment take on a different heft but there is an additional dimension. If you are a boss, you may well be used to people failing to deliver on their promises, at least some of the time. You will notice it and, over time, begin to see patterns with certain individuals; that they never raise their hands for anything, or that they always fail to deliver in full and on time, or indeed that they are always able to be relied on. We become used to these behavioural patterns and end up expecting them and therefore perhaps avoid putting ourselves in that situation again. The commitments made in meetings and recorded on the WWW are different. When people do or don’t deliver, the boss isn’t the only person to notice. The rest of the team will notice those self same patterns. There will be public praise and admiration for the individual who consistently delivers, as well as group frustration with those who don’t, and, what is more, you will have a documented track record of performance over time.

There really is no hiding place. The committed, conscientious and diligent performers will be obvious, as will the uncommitted, couldn’t care less shoddy performers, allowing you to issue a praising or redirect as appropriate, in the words of the One Minute Manager.

This is a powerful tool. Use it judiciously. If you use it inappropriately to load your team up with ‘stuff’, that you want doing, you are likely to breed resentment and undo all the good you could be doing. Follow their interest. Make sure they are aware of why these tasks are important. Avoid filling the WWW with mundane and meaningless tasks.

When used appropriately I guarantee the WWW will help to build a healthier culture of accountability, satisfaction of an important job well done and deeper engagement.