Organizational Excellence

People and Process Improvement

How Countable Are You?

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“Countability” was coined by John Maxwell in The 17 Indisputable Laws of Teamwork:

9. The Law of Countability. Teammates must be able to count on each other when it counts. Is your integrity unquestionable? Do you perform your work with excellence? Are you dedicated to the team’s success? Can people depend on you? Do your actions bring the team together or rip it apart?

My leader has asked the questions many times: what exactly is “accountability”? What does it mean to hold someone “accountable”?

It’s time to take a swipe at this snipe called accountability.

I am your leader, I am counting on you to make the best possible decisions within your area of responsibility. By the same token, you can count on me as your leader to clearly define what’s expected of you, and to make sure you have the information, skills and tools to deliver on those expectations. A good leader does not count on more than their followers can deliver. A good follower delivers no less than what they are capable of.

Don’t expect me to make decisions for you when you are capable of making the call yourself. That’s just abdicating your responsibility. And, no offense but I have more important things to do. If you make a decision to the best of your ability, within your defined area of countability, you will not be chastised if the decision turns out to be wrong. We need to figure out WHY it was a wrong call, and learn from it together.

We have more than enough definition and structure: work instructions, standard work, targets, ISO9001, leader certification, hourly associate performance expectations and assessments, salaried performance management, policies. All we need to do is execute consistently every day to the best of our ability. No exception to this is acceptable or justifiable on the leaders’ or followers’ part.

Our success hinges on clearly defined expectations and responsibilities and leaders supporting the team–providing what they need, enabling followers to get the job done. A leader cannot succeed without ensuring the success of their followers and having a team that is countable. That is a leader’s number one job.

A company cannot succeed without people who are countable, people who do what is expected of them, up and down the line. When people deliver the goods, they need to know it. When they fall short, they need to know it. And if they need help to pick things up a notch, they need to get it.

Countability applies to all levels of leaders and all followers. No rocket science, nothing more than fundamental chain-of-command.

How countable are you?


Written by Craig

July 2, 2012 at 9:42 am

Gotta Love Those Life-changing Events

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It’s June 16, 2012. A beautiful Saturday morning except that it’s my third sunrise looking out a hospital window. I’ve had a heart attack, fairly minor but still way up there in the hierarchy of life-changing events.

The realizations creep in one-by-one. This is my third too-close brush with being finite. I’m 58 and maybe I’m not indestructible after all. Maybe I need to finish writing those songs. Maybe continuous 13-hour days are not as do-able as I thought. Maybe I do need to pay attention to what I eat. Maybe I need to pay more attention to my wife’s nagging (?) and start taking all those supplements. Maybe I don’t have forever to do all the things I really want to do.

We’re each given only so much of it…maybe I need to stop wasting time.

This book project has plodded along for well over two years, through numerous direction and design changes and spurts of progress before stalling out again. The irony: Connections makes the case for identifying, understanding and relentlessly pursuing your values-driven goals, to become fully connected with what is truly important to you, to set your direction then doggedly stay on that path. The destination: a happier, more productive, longer and healthier life.

Physician, heal thyself!

They told me this morning it would be at least two weeks before I go back to work. That’s a great chance to get things in perspective and get back on track, even though I hope to negotiate that “two weeks” down a bit (see, there I go).

One thing I’ve learned that I hope you can take to heart: the wake-up calls we get can be extremely rude and obnoxious if you don’t tune in and pay attention to the more subtle signals.

Tomorrow is my first day on the outside. It’s also Father’s Day, and I’m going to ease into this recovery business. Going fishing with my daughter.

Look, listen, connect. It’s a good place.


Post-fishing excursion update: I’m afraid I exceeded my 10lb weight restriction a couple of times. What was I supposed to do, hand the pole over to my daughter and say “you better handle this one-it’s too big for me”? Not gonna happen.

Written by Craig

June 18, 2012 at 5:02 pm

One Pebble, One Pond

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 I’d love to change the world, but I don’t know what to do…

So I’ll leave it up to you. (Ten Years After, 1971)

1971 was at the tail end of the most socially conscious decade in American history. A great many movements and world-changers. I’d Love to Change the World lamented the state of society, and a perceived helplessness to do anything about it.

The “Occupy Anything Anywhere” movement 40 years later is nothing new. We used to call them “sit-ins” back in the day…right on.

Sit-ins, demonstrations and unauthorized occupations are not the only way to effect change, and possibly not even the most effective. What happens after the tribe disbands, and the event and press coverage go away? Change is more than an event. South American social guerilla / change agent Che Guevara knew it. He maintained that the only way to achieve lasting change is through controlling the education and communications systems–what people learn and what is continuously reinforced.

For those of us who are not radical wearers of Che beanies seeking to overthrow governments, for those who can’t take months off work to camp out in a public park to make our statement, we still have a huge impact opportunity in front of us.

It starts with one pebble, one pond — with me and my circles of influence. The tiny ripples from my single pebble eventually overlap and join with others, until the smooth pond surface is in constant motion, unrecognizable compared to the mirror surface it once was.

If nothing happens over time, the pond surface will revert back to what it was.

Nothing lasts without continued effort and focus on what must be accomplished. We need more pebbles and more people dropping them. One pebble, one pond.

Circles of Influence, Meet Chain of Command

Influence is the unofficial authority a person of credibility has, and it has impacts that reach way beyond positional power. People comply to the orders of a position, they commit to follow a person of influence. Big difference!

This is not a denouncement of chain of command, it’s an endorsement of influence. A positioned person needs influence to be an effective leader of people; without influence that person is just a manager of things. Credibility feeds influence, which feeds things getting done. So if credibility is the trigger, how do you ‘do’ it?

People earn credibility, and a company or organization does as well. Both earn credibility when they consistently deliver results with integrity…

with integrity?!

Credibility and integrity are almost interchangeable. One certainly enhances the other. The difference: while credibility has to do with how well you do things, integrity comes into play with how you behave while you’re doing those things.

You can have one without the other:

John is the go-to guy for this kind of project. He can do it in half the time and get amazing results. But watch out…his “get it done whatever the cost” approach has left broken people in his wake more than once. But that’s the price you pay for tapping his expertise. Ouch.

Mary is the consummate team player. She’s great to be around, and you can always count on her to be there and do what you ask of her. But she has a hard time taking the initiative to move forward on her own without approval. It’s really tough to find something of importance that you can be sure she is able to do without guidance, and you need low maintenance self-starters to get this project done. Ouch again.

What we really need is John and Mary in one package. But if you could only have one which is more critical—credibility or integrity?

Written by Craig

April 11, 2012 at 7:55 am

Norms and Culture: Structured or Organic?

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For well over a year I’ve been working hard on the boss (OK…I’ve been obnoxiously, doggedly persistent) on how badly we need to put clear definition and substance behind “The (Company Name) Way”…our version of a beliefs statement. I’ve been looking at norms and culture as something you can set clear expectations around to accomplish. But have I been missing the mark?

Culture is defined by shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices, expectations (norms) rules and a lot more. Norms are implied or stated behavioral expectations based on the group’s beliefs. Norms may be reinforced by official mandate and / or informal social pressure. There are rewards for compliance, and consequences for noncompliance.

Beliefs are highly individual. My beliefs may be considered by others to be highly quirky. But when a group shares the same quirks, somehow the quirks magically become norms that go a long ways toward defining a culture! So culture only takes hold when a critical mass believes in the same thing and lives it every day, whatever “it” is. If culture is strong the pressure to comply to norms is greater. By the same token the greater the compliance to norms, the stronger the culture. Culture and norms….chicken or egg?

My head hurts now, so back to the original dilemma. Can you force the issue with either culture or norms?

Money can’t buy it, slogans can’t make it happen, bosses can’t demand it. And laws and policy will get you compliance if you’re lucky. Maybe you can’t craft culture or mandate norms. 

You can’t put substance and structure into beliefs to make them more real, you can’t force “shared” beliefs even if you set clear expectations to behave in a way that models a set of beliefs. Beliefs are what they are, and they are highly individual.  By the same token you can over-document vision, and if you publish stated values they become dogma: We believe the moon is made of blue cheese and YOU will believe it too… or else!

Seriously? Culture, norms, values, beliefs just happen? I have a hard time leaving such critical things to chance.

What are the pros and cons? Can you / can’t you….should you / shouldn’t you clearly define and neatly package culture, norms, values, beliefs?

Written by Craig

March 21, 2012 at 5:27 pm

What Drives You?

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Connecting is a personal thing, the essence of being human. Connecting is the fuel that keeps the fire of high engagement burning, and engagement is the great difference maker in peoples’ lives. Lasting engagement is driven by connecting—first connecting with myself, then with others one-on-one, in up close and personal relationships.

This thing called ‘connecting’ is what drives me. I can look back on my path and identify significant things that have happened and helped shape the person I am.

What drives you? What experience(s) really stick in your mind and have a good deal to do with who you are, what you think, what you do? Of the two drivers that really stand out for me, one is more personally impactful than the other, therefore tougher to relate. I’ll start with the less challenging of the two.


I first came across a short story called Cipher in the Snow by Jean E. Mizer in a college textbook that has been long lost. Even though Cipher is fiction, Cliff Evans has haunted me since. My fear is that this fiction all too often reality.

I was a substitute teacher for a couple of very rewarding years. Teachers would typically pass along their insights as to who to watch out for…the problem students. I was expected to be the regular teachers’ surrogate iron fist for these problem students, and march them to the office at the first sign of insurrection which, they assured me, was sure to come.  

A school administrator once told me the toughest thing to accept for any educator is that you cannot win every battle. I was just a substitute but the story of Cliff Evans drove me every day, not those all-knowing cautions.

If I am heading into battle, I first develop a strategy. My favorite substitute strategy was to convert any alleged Enemy I received intel on. If successful, the battle is won. So I made special efforts to connect with those tough cases I was warned about, those who had been written off. More often than not, I won.

That was several years ago. Still, when I run across one of those tough cases now and then we are genuinely glad to see each other. They remember and appreciate that I cared enough to connect with them. We still have a genuine connection.

What really drove me in education, and what still drives me in business and socially, is this burning question posed by Mizer in Cipher:

How do you go about making a boy into a zero?

     The grade-school records showed me. The first and second grade teachers’ annotations read “sweet, shy child;” “timid but eager.” Then the third grade note had opened the attack. Some teacher had written in a good firm, hand: “Cliff won’t talk. Uncooperative. Slow learner.” The other academic sheet had followed with “dull;” “slow-witted;” “low IQ. “ They became correct. The boy’s IQ score in the ninth grade was listed at 83. But his IQ in the third grade had been 196. The score didn’t go under 100 until seventh grade. Even shy, timid, sweet children have resilience. It takes time to break them.

How about beyond education? How much influence does ranking individuals drive the reality of who they are and how they perform? Can we make a worker a “zero”? It seems we are obsessed with making people “average” starting very early in the education system and continuing with traditional performance assessments and competency-based development.  

All in all, we’re just another brick in the wall.  If this link is still functional, it is a powerful piece on human mass production.

A while back I revisited Cipher. It’s easy to Google. I had never forgotten the story’s title, or the lesson. Or Cliff Evans. But I had forgotten just how powerful Cipher really is.

How could a person not care?

Driver #2: Steely Dan

I’ve lost good friends I played music with, some of whom self-destructed. While I’m rather fond of Steely Dan the band this is about Steely Dan the man, and it is a tough one to relate here. “Steely Dan” remains deeply unforgettable thirty years later.

Dan had destructive habits. I believe we must chart our own course, and I felt back then there were personal space lines I shouldn’t cross. So I was the bandmate who was always there to pick Dan up and put him back on his stool. No judgment, no criticism, no meddling.

I wasn’t there the last time Dan fell off his stool. I was hundreds of miles away. Just like Cliff Evans, he collapsed in a snow bank one cold January Iowa day and died. I realized I had been an enabler. I didn’t connect with Dan like I could have.

Those things have shaped me, along with my professional experience in influence-wielding prior roles. When is it my responsibility or duty to step up, voice my concern, get involved? Conversely, when do I need to make the choice to shut up and let it go? And, can I live with the results of shutting up?

 These drivers have set the stage for a great internal conflict, and it is a continuing source of stress for me. Life really is all about choosing your battles wisely, about being able to deal with the reality and the consequences of not winning them all. But when you are driven to connect, driven to be the great problem solver and wise counselor for all, how do you survive?

Still looking for the answer. If you join the search please let me know if you come across the key to this dilemma. There’s a lot at stake.

Written by Craig

January 6, 2012 at 7:51 pm

Was Darwin Right?

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It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but rather the one most adaptable to change. (Darwin)

Following is a real-world dilemma, once again using the bell curve. What would you do?

You’ve been tasked to research leadership development material for a rather “young” group of leaders in a startup operation. Based on comments and observation you are concerned with the varying levels of team leader buy-in to the training. Your original focus was “what is the best way to get everyone on board?” But the initial effects of the kool-aid have worn down and now you’re beginning to wonder “can we realistically expect everyone to happily hop on the bus and go to Disneyland with us?”

Framed in terms of variation and natural distribution, below is the bell curve of leader buy-in. The left tail is comprised of nay-sayers and no-wayers, while the right tail has visionaries and natural leaders. The largest population is the fence-sitters in the middle.


Would it be more effective to offer elective leadership development to any interested person, regardless of whether they are currently leaders? The “deadwood” on the left can choose to participate and improve, and we may convert some of them. But if they don’t want to or can’t get on the bus, we can’t drag them on board and expect good results.

I really hate to ask this…would we be better off developing from scratch those with potential and the right attitude, rather than attempting to shape and mold miscreants against their will?

This is a major shift for me, may lose some sleep. Your thoughts?

Written by Craig

June 29, 2011 at 6:52 pm

The Bell Curve and Performance Levels

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 As it so often does, a conversation on the Employee Engagement Network  has prompted a spinoff here. The topic on the EEN was recognition and engagement. A few factoids from the posting, based on Gallup data from research of 4mil US workers:

  • Number of workers estimated to be extremely negative about work or “actively disengaged”: 22 million
  • Cost in US dollars due lost productivity, workplace injuries, absences and fraud: 1 trillion
  • Rank of “feeling unappreciated” among reasons for leaving a job: 1

Check out the EEN thread.  For now I’m going to diverge…

 Discussion prompter Steven noted….it’s hard to imagine somebody being a top performer while being disengaged.  

Hard to imagine but not unheard of, if you consider engagement as a combination of high levels of both performance and job satisfaction. There is that rare endangered species that is compelled to excel in their performance regardless of their level of satisfaction. It may be possible to sustain high performance short-term without high satisfaction, but long term the inevitable outcome of “all give and no get” is burnout.

 So there is yet another indicator of the importance of the good fight the practitioners of engagement are embroiled in.

 EEN contributor Anita said: …Usually the high fliers get the rewards, the failures are mentored. and the good enough person is ignored!  Not good for morale.

 Anita’s statement led me to the following. Hopefully it won’t upset statistical purists too much if I borrow their bell curve of normal distribution attributed to variation that can be found in everything under the sun …. Including job performance.

 If you were to plot an organization’s level of job performance by individuals the variation would result in a roughly bell-shaped curve. The low performers and high performers would occupy opposite tail segments of the bell curve while the “good enoughs” are the Great Majority in the middle. For nothing more than critical mass, Anita’s ‘good enoughs’ in the middle are a dangerous segment to ignore.

 What if the “good enough” were made more of a focal point…if that population was positively impacted would not the entire distribution shift to a new, higher midpoint due to critical mass if nothing else? The high performers would be driven to ‘stay ahead of the pack’ while the tail end of the dog would either try to keep up the rear or fall off completely.

 Just thinkin’.

Written by Craig

June 29, 2011 at 6:45 pm