With Martin G. Moore

Episode #79

Where Accountability and Culture Collide: Q&A with Marty

This episode takes us into another Q&A, where we address three excellent listener questions – and to celebrate International Women’s Day, we have an all-female roster.

Janine asks about driving leadership change in an organisation where the tenets of accountability and empowerment that we subscribe to are not supported by the organisation’s prevailing culture.

Vicky, an HR professional, asks us how organisations can better recognise the value to be achieved from the HR function.

And for Lily, we explore the question, “If you are a young leader, where do you start?

All great questions, which we tend to get quite often in one form or another. This episode sheds some light on these issues that will broaden your perspective, no matter what your experience or industry.

The episodes we reference throughout are below:

Episode #57 Challenge, Coach, Confront

Episode #1 Respect Before Popularity

Episode #7 Work at the Right Level

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Episode #79 Where Accountability and Culture Collide: Q&A with Marty

Hey there and welcome to episode 79 of the No Bullsh!t Leadership podcast. This week’s episode, another Q&A with Em: Where Accountability and Culture Collide. Today we’re going to get a little ambitious and take on three great listener questions. We’ll do these in Q&A format since we haven’t done one for about four months. The first question is from Janine, on driving leadership change in an organisation where the tenants of accountability and empowerment that we subscribe to our counter-cultural. The second is from Vicky, who asked the question about how organisations can better recognise the value to be achieved from their HR function. And finally from Lily, we explore the question, if you’re a young leader, where do you start? Joining me after a long absence in front of the mic is the other half of Your CEO Mentor, Em, who normally produces the podcast and handles all the marketing aspects. So Em, 17 episodes since we last did a Q&A and we’ve put out some pretty cool content. What’s your favourite episode since we were last together – and by the way, don’t say episode 69, the five best episodes of 2019.

That would be too easy, wouldn’t it? Look, it’s great to be back on the mic. It has been ages. We’ve already put out so many good episodes this year, so it is actually really hard to choose. I would say though that my current favourite is the episode that you did on Climate Change, Ep 72. It’s really different from anything else that we’ve done. I think you added a really fresh spin to the conversation that a lot of people needed to hear. You’ve got that experience and credibility from working in the energy sector and I just think you dealt with it in a really balanced way. So for me, Climate Change Unplugged has been my favourite. It took me about three lessons to actually take everything in because it was pretty dense, but it is well well-worth a listen. I absolutely loved it, and so did our listeners.

Thanks for that Em. I was glad I managed to get that out – that was actually quite a long episode. It took about 30 minutes to get through that, which is longer than our normal episodes. But my first cut of it was 48 minutes, so I did manage to bring it down quite a bit.Anyhow, I really liked Episode 66, “No Noise Equals No Change”. Now this is a huge blind spot for a lot of leaders I come into contact with as they tend to look for confirmation that their culture change programme is working. What they fail to realise is that usually a lack of pushback from people is not a sign that everything’s going swimmingly, but actually quite the opposite.

I love this one, too. It does almost feel a bit counterintuitive to look for the noise and say that as successful change. But from all the feedback that we got, that episode has really helped a lot of reframe. So it’s definitely a great one, Marty.

Yeah. Great. Thanks for that Em. So given this International Women’s Day coming up on Sunday, we have an all female roster for our questions today, so let’s get into it.

Absolutely. So the first question is from Janine. Janine asked, “How do you build accountability across a team where culturally, it’s a master-servant relationship between management and team members? There is not a tradition or culture where critical thinking is encouraged; rather you as the manager-slash-boss dictate what work is required and the team carries it out very well. I’m starting with very slow steps here and going back to basics of setting clear expectations and what their roles look like. However, I’m working on both my management team to understand, and then cascade to their team as well. Do you have any advice, Marty?”

So, yeah, I feel for Janine entirely because I know that there’s things that will and won’t fly when what you’re trying to do is contrary to the current culture in the organisation. But in Janine’s case, we’re not just talking about organisational culture, we’re talking about her working in a country where the role of management is viewed very, very differently from what we have become used to in the OECD styled countries in the last say decade or so. Now I can’t speak for that culture, but there’d certainly be some issues which you potentially won’t be able to get much headway when you’re trying to resolve the problems. But here I guess like with any other counter-cultural problem, baby steps are good. So if you’re trying to change the way people think about their fundamental roles, you’ve got to start with the empowerment end, not the accountability end, because people not taking accountability – first they have to get some confidence. So, start letting them make some decisions that are appropriate for their pay grade and their position and get them used to feeling safe around this. You can roll the accountability in later, once they have confidence to start acting for themselves. But at the start they won’t necessarily believe you when you tell them this is what you want and they’re gonna be a bit suspicious of your motives.

So I imagine it would be pretty important for everyone to be on the same page then?

Oh, absolutely. Yes. So you’ve got to develop some common language. So I like the terminology of, you know, we’re trying to create a culture here that’s no blame, no excuses, and you start people buying into that conversation and decision making process. I love Jeffrey J Fox’s expression, the seven words that leaders should learn to use the most. When someone asks you a question you say, “I don’t know, what do you think?” And I think that’s a great way to approach anything. So you’re starting to buy people into the process of decision making and they will over time learn to take on some of that accountability. But if decisions have traditionally been made by someone above, start with sharing the decision load before you give anyone full accountability for decisions and outcomes. This can be quite a slow process and each individual is going to respond very differently depending on what their background is. But don’t put people on the hook for delivery – so in other words, give them full accountability – until they at least have the confidence to have a go. And of course, as with everything else, sure you talk about the value to the organisation in having them change the way they perform and behave. That’s a really tricky one. I really hope that helps, Janine.

The next question, Marty, is from Vicky. Vicky asked, “Can Marty talk about the importance of HR, and how HR can be a strategic partner in achieving business success? From my conversations with people in other organisations, I’ve gathered that not everyone can see the value in having an HR department as they do not know what HR actually does.” Really good question.

Well it’s a fantastic question. What value does HR actually have? Now this sort of depends on a few things. And in my experience there are three different types of HR department that you can have. So the first type of HR department is one that just does HR mechanics. And this is where most HR departments start out. So they’re all about things like, payroll, HR procedures, like a code of conduct for the organisation, doing inductions of new staff and making sure they understand the rules. Recruitment processes, compensation and benefits, doing head count reporting and other types of reporting and you know, the basic learning and development stuff. So this is actually really, really low value things, all of which can actually be outsourced because I’ve been in, various organisations where those pieces have been respectively outsourced. So when you look at the value that comes from that type one HR organisation, as I call it, the HR mechanics, sure, it’s useful, but you’re not going to drive any real business value out of there. Well, other than of course the economies of scale that you get from not having everyone do it for themselves.

In the second type of HR organisation, you’ve got everything that I just spoke about in type one, so all the mechanics, plus, you add business advisory in there. So often you’ll have a bunch of people that they call “HR business partners” – that tends to be a pretty common expression in Australia at the moment – who provide strategic advice to their line management counterparts to help them through any people related issues. Now like any other advice function, whether it’s industrial relations, law, risk, safety, any of those things where a central group is providing advice to a business unit line, it really relies on high order expertise and capability that helps the leaders in the line and functions do their jobs.

So not actually doing the doing, but it’s about giving them the expertise and the capability and bringing that to bear. So you’re actually working with line management management to advise on people issues and you know, through this you get into industrial relations advice, you get into leadership, you get into performance systems and assessments. So that’s actually more useful, and it is something that can add quite a bit of value, particularly to the business lines as their line managers aren’t expected to be experts in HR. So that’s a good way of, of getting going.

But the best organisation that’s going to deliver value for you in terms of HR is type three, which is everything I’ve just spoken about in types one and two, plus now you’re starting to get involved in talent management, succession planning, leadership and culture. And this is where you can actually really leverage value. So when we talk about designing the future workforce based on societal trends and industry trends, so this has strong links to organisational strategy, attracting, retaining and nurturing talent, for example. Putting culture change measurement and improvement processes in place, linking people to, business unit and company performance and so forth, so that you’re taking not just the hard measures of business – the financial measures and operational measures, but also people measures as well.

Okay. That’s a great breakdown. My question is though, can all of those different types of HR departments potentially bring value to an organisation?

Well, sure. In a way. I think Em in terms of ascending order. So as I said, even with the most basic HR mechanics, type of function, you can still create economies of scale and centre of expertise and that’s fine. But the only way you’re going to drive true value is when you can actually get an HR department to serve the business in a way that brings expertise and capability and changes the way the business thinks about the people issue and the problem. So in other words, until they understand how much importance there is attached to leadership development and having the right culture there for the organisation to perform at its optimum.

But HR can only be as effective as the CEO and the executive team will allow them to be. So this requires a couple of things. First, the CEO and executive team have to be open to it. Secondly, you’ve got to have a very strong HR executive who’s going to drive that value into the organisation. I don’t know about everyone else’s experience, but mine is that HR seems to have a high concentration as a function of highly political animals. So they’re not part of the main game, but they trade on the relationship they have with the CEO and the executives due to the privileged information that they hold. And this can actually be quite tricky. So HR just as it is with IT or risk or legal or any of those corporate functions can suffer from this problem where they walk into the business units and they say the eight words that strike fear and terror into the hearts of any line leader.

And those eight words are, “I’m from corporate and I’m here to help”. So you know, falling into that trap is something that you gotta be really careful about. I guess, you know, HR often suffers from the abuse of its internal customers, for want of a better expression. Anything that happens with relation to people, you’ll find line leaders who just say, “Oh, well that’s a people problem, so get HR to fix it.” Well, no, it’s not a people problem. It’s a leadership problem and you can get advice from HR, but the accountability still has to sit in the line management in order to make that function properly. So you’ve really got to work out that balance in terms of accountability between HR and the line so that you can be there as an expert advisor on talent and leadership in a very practical and expert way, while making sure that you don’t allow yourself to usurp the accountability of the line leadership who actually has an obligation to handle the people stuff that they’re dealing with as leaders.

We do hear about a lot of leaders shirking their responsibility of having, you know, difficult conversations and things like that and kind of pushing it over to HR. So, that is something that I’ve definitely seen and we hear a lot from our students and our listeners about that. So no wonder they get a bad rap.

Oh yeah, totally, totally, totally. And look, you know, if you’re still wondering about whether or not, HR can add value to the organisation and particularly how to describe that look, I’d go back and do a quick check of your HR group in terms of a health check before you try and push too hard in the business. So for example, you know, make your own assessment of whether your HR organisation is a level one, two, or three HR organisation and the type of support that you deliver. That’s going to give you an idea of how much value you can potentially unlock for the organisation. Does the HR group have strong boundaries and clear accountabilities with the internal customers? So in other words, the line leadership, do you have support at the highest levels for what you do? Is your Chief HR Officer or HR Director, whatever you call them serious about making the organisation better through leadership and culture? Or are they just happy playing the politics?

Who in the business are the true believers, like who are your supporters and your advocates and how do you turn raving fans into, sponsors inside the organisation for what HR does? And most of all, measures. You know, you’ve got to measure what you’re doing. So can you measure and report on the value that HR brings because that’s quite important. And I do remember a time when I was in an organisation I probably shouldn’t name, that ran a massive, massive leadership development programme with lots and lots of training out of their L&D department. It costs millions and millions of dollars and the only metric they tracked was how many leaders they had put through the programme. It had absolutely no connection to results, no connection to value, no connection to whether or not anything was actually making a difference. Just a tick box exercise of compliance that said, we’ve put, you know, one and a half thousand leaders through this programme. Completely ridiculous. So no wonder HR gets a bad rap sometimes, right?

Let’s go onto the next one cause we don’t have a huge amount of time. We’re covering three questions today. The next question is from Lily. So Lily asks, “I’m a young leader just finding my feet in a leadership role. I’m still finding it difficult to engage or voice out my plan to team members without getting frustrated at myself and not being able to clearly speak my mind.” I can so relate to Lily. Being succinct is something that I’ve been trying to work on my entire career. So it is, I always feel like I’m waffling.

I know, I’ll keep giving you opportunities to practise, Em. Don’t worry. But look, I think this, this is quite a difficult question for me cause I’ve got to cast my mind back to when I was a young leader and I find that difficult because I was really shit when I was a young leader. I was not good at it at all and I hadn’t actually understood what I needed to do. So, this is really from the perspective of me thinking, “If I was to go back now, what would I actually do first and how would I do it?” So I guess, you know, start with the basics, right? So, I’ve got three things I’d actually start with, first and foremost as a young leader of a team, you know, first time out of the blocks. Number one would be understand really, really clearly what you’re trying to achieve and most of all, how that creates value.

Now once you’ve got a pretty good idea of this, you confirm that with your boss and your boss’s boss, like you confirm this up the line. So you’re pretty sure you’ve got support for the value that you’re going to bring. Um, and that clarity gives you some confidence that what you’re doing is the right thing for start. It has the added benefit of getting some direction from your boss who can weigh in any way he or she feels necessary. And then you have a compelling story for your team because you can talk about the value that certain activities and behaviours and approaches is going to bring to the organisation. The second thing I’d say is create a really solid plan for delivery. And this was something that I wasn’t great at when I was young in terms of having a really, really clear expectations set that I could measure without diving into the detail. So I’d say get used to that early on.

It’s not something you do alone, get the buy in of your team, get together with them and get them to help in the planning phase and work with them because this has the added serendipity of the fact that they actually own the outcomes, they believe in the outcomes and they’ve had input into the process so you get much more likely to get them to put their shoulder to the wheel when it comes to execution and delivery. And the third thing I’d do is say, create a communication plan with really simple messaging. So pick a few things that are important and stick to those. Now I think, you know, if it’s, as Lily says, you know, I’m having trouble explaining things and getting my words right in terms of my communication, it’s probably because the really clear objectives, the plan for delivery and the simple messaging hasn’t been created.

But I think going through that process is probably the way to start with anything you’re doing, whether you’re a young leader in the organisation you’ve been in for a while or whether you’re a leader going new into a separate organisation, these are really good basics to start with. And look, before we close off on that question, I think in the background, Lily, and anyone who’s in this position start building your leadership foundations. So there are some foundations of leadership that will really hold you in good stead as you’re going through this process. The first thing is the respect before popularity concept and getting your head around this as early as you possibly can is going to save you a hell of a lot of grief, it’s going to make you a much better leader for your people and you’ll get better results earlier. So if you haven’t listened to episode one of the podcasts, go back, right back to number one, respect before popularity. There’s a reason we put this out first.

The second thing is building resilience. So you’ve got to find a way to improve your resilience as time goes on. And the faster you do that, the more you throw yourself into building your resilience, the easier you’ll find the task of leadership. Um, I think the transition to being a professional leaders is other things, you’ve got to get your head around the value that there is intrinsically in the leadership function and why that’s just as important, if not more important, than technical delivery. And then wrap it all up together with the challenge coach confront framework, which we did an episode fairly recently on, I can’t remember which episode it was. Do you remember Em?


[Episode] 57 yeah. Fantastic. So, so get into that because that was only a couple of months ago. And very, very important episode in terms of what the leaders’ toolkit it is from the most junior levels of leadership right through to CEO or board level.

I’ll put the links for those episodes in the show notes as well so that you can find them easily.

Yeah. Good. So that’s it. We got through the three questions and brings us to the end of episode 79. So thanks very much for joining me Em. And look, remember at your CEO mentor. Our purpose is to improve the quality of leaders globally. So please share this episode with your network, this is how we reach even more leaders.

Thanks for having me on again, Marty and guys, if you haven’t subscribed to or rated the podcast, please take a minute to do it now, it would mean so much to us. All right, Marty, great chat. I will see you for the next Q&A!

Yeah, thanks Em. And I’m looking forward to next week’s episode, which I love. It’s called “Decision fatigue: Is it really a thing?” Until then, I know you’ll take every opportunity you can to be a No Bullsh!t Leader.


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