Category Archives: Accountability

Not My Job

I don’t want it to sound as though I am a continual complainer about today’s business environment and conduct. There are many aspects of it that I appreciate. It is just that I believe that it might be better if what has already been proven to be effective in the business environment were retained and combined with what the best of today has to offer instead of seemingly being discarded and replaced whole cloth. I also understand that despite what just about every media outlet reports and would like us to believe, that the business environment is still a difficult place and probably will be for some time to come. Despite all this and probably more, there is one trend that I have witnessed in the conduct of today’s business that I just don’t seem to be able to get my head around. I don’t understand how anyone can ever respond to a question, request or assignment with the words “It’s not my job.”

It seems to me that this phrase has been insidiously creeping into our business lexicon. I have mentioned in the past that it seemed that companies prized employees that had a breadth of experience in that they felt it enabled them to take on new roles and added responsibilities. The difficult business and economic times appears to have taught companies that instead of retaining the generalist who may be capable of performing a great many different functions very well and grow into a multi-dimensional business leader, they may now instead focus on the shorter term and opt for a specialist who may be highly proficient in one particular skill, to the exclusion of the others with somewhat less potential for leadership upside.

The equivalent comparison here would be looking at someone who competes in the decathlon, a ten discipline competition, and comparing them to a sprinter who only competes in the one hundred meter sprint. The winner of the decathlon is viewed as the best overall athlete, but today if you need someone to run one hundred meters, you will more than likely choose the sprinter. And tomorrow if you need someone to throw the javelin or clear the bar in the high jump you can replace the sprinter with someone else who better fills those specific needs then. As I said, a much shorter term approach to immediate needs.

I am drawing a corollary between the advent of this corporate preference for business specialists and the beginning of the “Not My Job” mentality. It seems only natural that if you were brought in for a single purpose that you might not be knowledgeable of or have the predilection to perform other jobs or assume other responsibilities. As an example, if you are brought in to sell, your single focus now is to get the customer order. It seems that profitability, margins, availability of product, functionality, deliverability, etc, are now reduced in your hierarchy of priorities. They are now someone else’s job. If the people responsible for those functions are not as good at their roles as you are at getting orders, it is quite probable that business profitability as well as customer satisfaction will suffer due to potentially too low prices and undeliverable commitments. However, there will probably be plenty of these somewhat difficult orders.

I have also discussed in the past the proliferation of the virtual office and being remotely located in the performance of your role. Prior to the advanced bandwidth and networking capabilities that we enjoy today, functions and businesses were usually collocated within a specific building, floor or area. This face to face interaction gave rise to business terms such as “efficiency” and “synergy”. People physically worked together. 

This also seemed to be a period of intense creativity and development. There were many magazine articles displaying pictures of people sleeping at their desks in the California Silicon Valley as they were driving to create their new businesses and business models. As we have evolved to a more “virtual” environment we seem to have possibly lost some of the synergy, productivity and interaction that drove many of the new ideas.

We may also be seeing the beginning of a corrective movement associated with the virtual office world. In February Marissa Mayer, the CEO of Yahoo Issued a directive that all virtual or remote employees in that company need to come into an office to work. She was worried about not only the creativity that was lost when people stopped physically working together, but also the productivity that was lost. We’ll see how this “virtual” reversal goes, but I find it very interesting that a technology and digital bellwether company like Yahoo, a company that was a leader in the new digital age has adopted such a contrary stance to virtual office working.

The corollary that I am drawing here is that psychologically it is easier to say things over the phone than it is to say them in person.  With the advent of virtual offices and conducting the preponderance of work either by phone or electronic media, we have made it in effect “easier” for people to say “Not My Job”. They get to say it over the phone instead of face to face.

Perhaps it was a different time, but I see it even today in that there seems to be more collaboration and less job responsibility deflection in a face to face meeting than in a conference call. A set of disembodied voices on a conference call do not seem to engender the same kind of commitment that is achieved when people are in the same room. An even greater level of commitment seems to be created when people leave the conference room and know they will need to continue to face their peers in the office area. It seems when you hang up the phone everyone is “gone”. It is easier to say “Not My Job” because you rarely if ever have to face them.

Perhaps it is also the advent of the more matrix oriented business structure that has given rise to the “Not My Job” growth. In the past general management or more hierarchical business structures, when a request was made if it was not already a given job responsibility, it was positioned as the addition of a new job responsibility. In today’s somewhat more matrix and consensus oriented business structures, where there is more functional specificity, as well as far more functional overlap, managers seem to be structurally encouraged to focus on only those activities that fit cleanly within their responsibility definitions.

Instead of having a business structure that promotes the addition and incrementing of new responsibilities, we now have one that encourages ever tighter focus on a specific set of responsibility definitions and processes. The result seems to be more and more “Not My Job” responses.

Despite what the typical business RACI matrix (Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, and Informed) may state, leaders when asked take responsibility. It may not be in their job definition. It may not have been anything that they have done before in the organization. But when they are asked, or when they see a business or performance gap that needs to be filled, they step up. If the requirement is truly outside the bounds of their expertise, they don’t say it’s not their job. They take on the responsibility to find out who has the required expertise and see to it that they get the job done.

There is always a time and a place for pushing back on assignments, but in business now, if a job needs to get done it needs to be everyone’s job to see to it that the job gets done. I think if we heard more “I’ll do that job” and less “It’s not my job” we would make much better progress.

Do Something

The business world right now is a pretty scary place. It has probably always been a pretty scary place but I just may have been blissfully, no, euphorically unaware of it. Either that or I was just too dumb to realize how scared I should have been about the things I was doing.  On the other hand, that may have been the unintentional contributing factor to some of the successes I was having. It also explains to some extent all the resistance that I had met along the way. I was doing something.

I think we have all been party to those conversations where we as minions of those that inhabit the uppermost floors of our corporate buildings were discussing what we consider to be the oh so apparent solutions to the myriad of problems our business is facing. Words like “management” and “should do” and “ought to do” are thrown around like a baseball around the infield after a strikeout. Agreement is usually unanimous that management should do something. Imagine that.

I am going to give a little attribution to my dad here. He told me:

“Engineers solve problems. Lawyers dwell on them.”

I don’t know if he stole that from someone or if it was one of his own. He does have a PhD. In physics and is a really smart cookie in my book, so I prefer to think of it is one of his own comments. Way to go dad.

Now I am not going to get into lawyer bashing, although I do agree with about ninety percent of the quotes in existence as they pertain to lawyers. If you want to know what that means, just Google “lawyer quotes” and start reading. Now there are some creative writers.

My final comment here is that currently 60% of the members of the US senate and almost 40% of the members of the US House of Representatives are lawyers, and we all know how well those institutions are performing in the solving of our problems. Enough said.

Where I am going to go with this is to focus on solving problems. This is a dangerous road for many of us in business to take because it involves assuming responsibility, taking action, sometimes without even being told to, and doing something. And when you do something like that you will invariable make some people happy, and you will also make some other people unhappy. The hope is that you please the proper people. The objective is to make you happy. Regardless, taking a considered action is always the first step in solving a problem. Without action you don’t solve a problem, you just continue to cope with it.

I like to work on generating quantitative (measurable) improvements in businesses and solving problems. I guess I got this from my dad. I also have a degree in physics, just not a PhD. I like making visible progress. I like learning new things. I think many people do. I like to work with and associate with people who operate in this way as well. I also think that there are many who are not comfortable in that change oriented environment. These events can entail significant changes and certain amounts of discomfort for not just me, but for everyone else as well. Not everyone understands or agrees with the fact that every job description and every job function should entail a certain amount of discomfort. 

People like to be comfortable. When people get comfortable at what they are doing, they tend to want to stay comfortable. As they stay comfortable, the groove they are in gets ever deeper and soon little change and no improvement is possible. If everything else in the business world would now just cooperate and never change, these comfortable people could stay comfortable. Unfortunately it doesn’t work that way.

There also seems to be plenty of people who could be described as problem dwellers in business. These are the people that seem to exist for the sole purpose of dealing with a known problem. You would think that with this sort of focus on a problem that it would be eventually solved. If that were the case, then there would no longer be a need for the problem dweller. What normally happens is that like your home dwelling that periodically needs updating and improvement, the problem dwelling at the office will be periodically updated and improved. And like you comfortably living in your home, the business problem dweller will go on somewhat comfortably working on the updated problem.

There are also those that either do not want the responsibility for doing something, or do not want to have to face those that will resist the change associated with doing something. These people are relatively easy to spot because they have a tendency to identify themselves as people who are not doing something. They call themselves “enablers” and “facilitators” and other such descriptors. What is an enabler or a facilitator? In today’s scary business world I would say that an enabler or a facilitator is someone who enables or facilitates someone else being able to do something.

I don’t know about you, but when it comes time for my annual reviews I like to be able to point to specific actions and say I did X, Y and Z, not I enabled someone else to do X, Y, and Z.

When you do something in business, such as solve a problem, it now means that everyone will now have to do something else. If they were working, or dwelling on that problem, they will now have to find another problem to work on. They can no longer be comfortable doing what they were doing.

This is called progress.

It may be a little disconcerting to associate discomfort with progress in business. I don’t think this should be the case. Progress, even incremental progress will require change of some sort.
In physics, a force is said to do work when it acts on a body so that there is a displacement of the point of application, however small, in the direction of the force. Thus a force does work when it results in movement. In physics changing a system requires that you apply a force or impart some work into the system. To do that you have to do something.

If you don’t, in business as in physics the system will not change. And as I said before, change is usually not comfortable, but I am not going to dwell on it.

Your Record

Bill Parcells is a name that every football fan should know. His nickname is the “Big Tuna”. I have no idea how he got that name but it has to be one of the best nicknames ever. He is also thought of as one of the great football coaches of recent times. He has won Super Bowls. He has turned around or built dynasties out of several football teams. In short, he seems to be a pretty good leader who has a record of demonstrated success over an extended period of time. Like many sports managers, coaches and personalities he is also the source of several great quotes.  

At one point in his career he had been brought in to a franchise that had been suffering through a period of extended poor performance. They were a once proud franchise that had been going through and extended period of losing records. He started the process of making changes. He made the incremental changes associated with how the team trained, and how the coaches coached. This was expected. He also started making changes in personnel on the team. This was also expected but to a much lesser extent.

The quarterback is arguably the most important leadership position on the team. The quarterback for the team was an established star who had been in the league for several years. He had been a high draft choice coming out of college and had been traded for by the previous coaching regime. He had a strong arm and could make all the throws. He had been around and knew how to read defenses. His only weakness was that he was not the most mobile of quarterbacks. The television announcers occasionally likened his mobility to that of “statuary”. Defenses knew this and attacked him accordingly.

In the first year of Parcells tenure with this team, things started to improve. The team started to win more games, but still ended up with a losing record. After the season the press was interviewing the quarterback. He stated that he had achieved many of his goals and then uttered the most favored statement of teams with losing records:

“We are better than our record showed.”

Then it came time for the press to interview Parcells. They asked him what he thought of his quarterback’s statement that they were better than their losing record would indicate. It was his turn to utter an immortal phrase. He said that the team was NOT better than its losing record would indicate. The team had a losing record and that showed how good they were. They were a losing team. If they were a better team they would have won more games and the record would show that.

He said that a team is as good as its record. Nothing else mattered.

As the team leader Parcells sent the message to his team. If the team goals were not met, no equivocation would be accepted. No “achieved” reviews would be ratings would be provided to the on field leader of a losing team. The team did not win enough games. Its performance and hence the performance of its on field leader did not meet expectations. He was very direct and honest with his rating of “needs improvement”.

I am a big believer in data, metrics and records. Like Parcells said, you are as good as your record. If the data and the metrics show that you did not achieve your goals, then you didn’t. If you are the leader of the team then your judgment and your example matters. If you indicate that you are willing to disregard the team’s record and actual performance when it comes time to assess your individual leader’s performance, then you are communicating that you do not hold yourself or them accountable for the performance.

While there are several aspects of leadership that can be considered qualitative, the record of the performance of the business is not one of them. Like the won – loss record of a football team, it is numeric. It is a metric. It is data. Individual accolades and measurements are good, but if you are the leader of the team and the team did not achieve its goals then there is an issue.

The following year the star quarterback was replaced. Despite his individual performance being good, he was not able to elevate and lead the rest of the team to a better team performance. It seemed that Parcells decided he needed someone that could lead and elevate the performance of the entire team, and not be so judgmental on his own individual performance.

I have stated in the past that performance rating criteria need to be commensurate with the ability of the individual to affect the performance that they are rated on. An offensive lineman cannot directly affect the teams won – loss record other than his individual performance on how well he blocks or how many times he allows the quarterback to get sacked. If he is a great individual lineman who does his job, blocks well and protects the quarterback then he has met or exceeded his goals for performance, almost regardless of what the team’s record would indicate. The quarterback is however the on field leader. He touches the ball on just about every play. If he has a great year completing passes, but the team continues to lose is he a great quarterback? Like it or not, as the on-field team leader he will have to shoulder the majority of the responsibility for the teams record. It goes with the position.

The individual metrics would indicate that he is a good player. The team performance would indicate that he is not a good leader. When the quarterback in question seemed to put his own performance above that of the team, it appeared that coach Parcells decided he was not the on-field leader that he needed. When the quarterback said they were better than the record indicated, it could be construed as he was saying he was better than the record indicated.

I appreciate what the Big Tuna said and did. He made the incremental changes needed in the way the team practiced and prepared for a game, but he also made the personnel changes both in his leadership positions as well as the other team positions that were required for both a winning culture and a team culture approach to performance. The team in question continued to improve and did reach the playoffs quickly after he instituted these changes.

And as Parcells noted, they continued to be as good as their record indicated.

Being Difficult

This may come as a surprise to many of you but I have occasionally been referred to as “difficult”. Fortunately, I don’t think my wife reads my articles so I don’t have to worry about her corroborating such a description. I did however go out on and look up “difficult” and found (at least) 3 definitions for difficult that it seems people want to apply to me: hard to deal with or get on with, hard to please or satisfy, and hard to persuade or induce. It seems that different people may have different views and standards as to how business needs to be conducted. I guess that you can paraphrase the old adage by saying “difficulty is in the eye of the beholder”.

Conducting business is the process of dealing with, and getting on with people. You can’t be successful, or accomplish your tasks and goals unless you can deal with and get on with people. The question seems to arise in exactly how you are supposed to deal with people. We should look to try and deal with most everyone in business the same way. That includes those that we report to as well as those that report to us. We need to try to take those items that we have responsibility for and do the right things for those responsibilities.

That may not mean that we can take the easy, quick or popular steps for everyone involved. Having a consensus is a good thing, but the responsibility for leadership cannot lie with a group. It may also mean that we have to tell people things that they may not have wanted to hear, both those that we report to as well as those that report to us. We are knowledge workers, and if our knowledge indicates that an unpopular direction or a contrary position is needed, then we need to give voice to it.

I don’t think that it is hard to be pleased or satisfied. We must take our word and commitment in business to be our bond and a display of our character. We must expect that others who deal with us to do the same. When a goal or make a commitment gets set we have to try to do all that can be done to achieve it. If the goal is achieved make sure that the team shares in the acknowledgement, and if it is not we leaders should take responsibility for it as it was our commitment and goal. We can give explanations, but we can’t give excuses.

I look at the effort and approach that people use in meeting their objectives and commitments. I have found that hard work invariably will lead to achievement. I like to be around and work with people who take that approach to their work. I think that if we can say that if we are satisfied with the effort the team has expended, we can be reasonably satisfied with the performance, even if the objective was not fully accomplished. If the expedient approach was taken and the goal not met then there can be further cause for concern.

I don’t think I am exceptionally hard to persuade or induce either. I can be persuaded, just make sure to bring the data and the metrics. If it cannot be expressed in numbers, it is probably just opinion. Opinions are not necessarily persuasive. Financial data is the international language of business. Show someone what they can make, save or improve financially and numerically, and just about anyone can be persuaded. Show them how the business can be improved so that they can adopt your position. Leaders don’t have the market cornered on good ideas, but we should know how to distinguish a good idea from most of the others that come around by using the available data.

Asking questions does not make someone difficult. Asking difficult questions does not make someone difficult either. We have to move and adapt to the conditions quickly, but more importantly we have to do the right thing. It may have been a long meeting or conference call, and the end solution may be in sight but that doesn’t mean that there will not be other aspects of the solution that will still need to be addressed. I have heard it said in these types of meetings that “silence is assent”.

I also suspect that most of the people, who have said this in meetings I have been in, were actually looking for silence not questions.

We are working and living in difficult times. The demands on our time, our teams, and our businesses continue to get tougher not easier. Businesses and business leaders are continually being challenged to do more, usually with less. The pressure to provide the quick and expedient solution also continues to grow. Sometimes the expedient solution is the right solution, but how will you know unless you press the issue, ask the difficult questions, demand to see the data, get the objectives set and hold those responsible to perform, in order to make sure that the right thing does in fact get done. If these are the characteristics of a “difficult” person then in these difficult times I would think that we all need to be “difficult” people.


I think we have all heard the old saying “Not everyone can be a leader.” I don’t know if I fully agree with that or not. I do however think that everyone can be, and to some extent is a follower. It seems recently that being a follower has acquired some negative connotation to it. But think about it. Unless you are the CEO of your own (private) company, you have to follow someone else. If you don’t chances are that you probably won’t be around there for too long.


Being a follower doesn’t make anyone any less of a leader. In fact if you are able to follow in an open an honest way, it probably makes you a better leader. Leaders need to lead by example. If you can take an order or a directive whether you fully agree with it or not, and follow it and complete the task, you are demonstrating the type of behavior that you will expect from your team. You may have disagreed with the decision, but that does not relieve you of the responsibility of accomplishing the assigned objective.


Being a follower doesn’t mean that you have to agree with every order or that you may not have a different opinion from your leader. A healthy organization has diverse opinions and views. It helps prevent mistakes. No one person has all the answers. Because of this a good leader cannot be afraid to learn a new answer from one of their followers. Good leaders need to expect and encourage differing points of view. Good followers need to present them for consideration. It is how good followers in turn become good leaders. Good leaders and good followers need to understand that differing opinions before decisions are good for the organization. This type of healthy friction needs to occur throughout the organization.


As the decisions are made, and handed down from leaders to followers, who in turn become their teams’ leaders, directional alignment needs to happen. If you have had your input and say on an issue, but a different course of action from your proposed one was decided on, it is now time to be a good follower.


You will now in turn need to work with your team, align them in the creation and implementation of a plan to achieve the assigned goal. To do anything else would be dissention, and that will be harmful to the organization. You can have multiple opinions from followers in a healthy organization, but you can’t have multiple directions emanating from each leader in the organization.


Every company I have been associated with has had a strategy. In just about every company I have been associated with I have been able to identify and understand the strategy. This is usually a good thing. The more people who understand the strategy, the more people will get aligned to it and the more people who can execute it.

In business as in competition as in war for that matter, no plan of attack or “strategy” survives contact with reality intact. They must be continually modified and updated as the environment, risks and opportunities change. It may not be the entity with the best strategy that wins. It is usually the one that best executes their strategy that wins.

There are two basic aspects of the strategy process: The setting of the strategy and the implementing of the strategy. Setting a strategy entails understanding the current environment, the desired end state and then putting together the steps on how to get there. Too often it is easy to confuse the desired end state, or goal with the strategy. The goal is “what” you want. The strategy is “How” you get there.

I continue to be a little surprised by the number of people that want to be involved in the strategy aspect of business. As I noted above, every business already has a strategy. As I also noted above the strategy must continue to evolve as it is executed because the execution of a strategy changes the environment, which in turn requires a change to the strategy. It seems that there is no shortage of people who want to say how things should be done.

Let’s now address accountability here. I have heard it put very simply, so I will relate it the same way here:

Saying is not doing.

Doing is doing.

Doing is much harder than saying.

The setting of a strategy is good, but the executing of a strategy is much more valuable. One is “saying”, the other is “doing”. In today’s business world there is a get it done approach to things. If faced with a choice between someone who will say how to get things done, and someone who will do it, almost every leader will choose the person who can get things done.

Strategy is an important aspect of business. It just shouldn’t be separated from the accountability associated with getting it executed. It is difficult to measure a strategy, but much easier to measure its execution.

I remember seeing a post game interview with John McKay, when he was the coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. They had just lost something like their sixteenth game in a row. They were discussing his game plan for that game. They didn’t ask him if it was a good game plan or strategy. They asked him what he thought of his team’s execution that day.

He answered simply. He said he was in favor of it.