Leadership Accountability

Yesterday morning, I watched the Cut the Clutter, Episode 606, in English, by Mr Shekhar Gupta of The Print. It was about Mr Nitin Gadkari’s speech, in Hindi, during the inauguration of the new NHAI building in Dwarka, New Delhi. Maybe many of you might have watched one of these two videos in YouTube. Otherwise, you may want to, by clicking on the YouTube links I have provided!

Today, in my blog, I want to use an experience from my leadership role and share my thoughts on Leadership Accountability.

I remember a normal Saturday, in my early days of leading the plant in Jaipur, my Secretary reminded me of the weekly Continual Improvement Presentation ceremony. I started off very eagerly, as usual, to recognize the improvement movement in our plant. We had multiple schemes for recognizing continual improvement – Lessons Learned with Horizontal Deployment, Waste Elimination Projects, Quality Improvement Projects, Individual Improvement Projects, Best performing self-governing teams, etc. As I approached the presentation area, the team was still busy preparing the presentation.

The team finally was introduced and then made the presentation.

I complimented the team members for the effort and mentioned that I can’t be awarding the team that day, since they had missed out a key step in the improvement process and hadn’t still implemented systems for sustaining the improvements done. My leadership team, already used to me being candid, was rather surprised on my comments. Wanting to react and ease out the situation, they recommended that I should go ahead with the awards, so that the team will not be motivated. When I did not budge, my leadership team went on, to preach me, on setting a precedence.

At this point, I intervened and explained that I felt equally accountable for giving the awards and motivating the teams for continual improvement. However, I cannot be complimenting for shabby work, more so, when the multiple hierarchy levels between my role and that of the team members, too have contributed to this shabby work by not supporting them with guidance. Thereafter, I directed the team to go through the project again for ensuring thoroughness and then present the same next Saturday.

Of course, the team did an exceptional work and presented the project again to get both the applaud, recognition and the awards. My leadership team also improved our system to avoid missing of these key steps. Looking back, today I feel very satisfied and happy that I had spoken with clarity and at the same time given the entire team a chance to present the project again along with the lessons learned. On the next Saturday, everyone, had sensed success, true success. Maybe, I could do this since I was in Private Sector!!!

It was rather surprising that apart from The Print, none of the other news media, tried analyzing this speech. On the reactions front, there were many who felt that their voice was spoken and many others who sensed irresponsibility by blaming the team. Likewise, even many in my plant may reacted differently during the week till the next presentation. Later they saw the outcome and become more accountable for both their process and results. I will share sometime later the other routines, most of them being practiced even today, that I had championed.

I would have liked Mr Nitin Gadkari’s speech, even better, had he directed the same team and given them a time bound task to come up with lessons learned from this project and recommendations for implementing these lessons learned in across all the departments. While transferring officials, the most popular solution chosen, is surely a “Stick” option, I am of the strong opinion, that an exceptional leader would get the best out of ordinary, or even sub ordinary people by selling dreams worth realizing despite unsurmountable obstacles – “Carrot”. Well, in my experience this “Carrot” can only be done by

  • securing the buy-in, engagement and inspiration for the desired outcomes – process, result, and perception
  • putting values first with absolute clarity of thought
  • prioritizing merit over loyalty, while being compassionate
  • demonstrating fairness in all dealings without any favoritism
  • being able to call spade a spade without any obligation

The key is to touch the hearts. Every person wants to succeed and succeed the right way. In my assessment, for the delays, I would blame everyone, including myself, for being helpless to address this absurdity. I wonder what I could have really done other than voting differently as I grudgingly kept taking the deviations to cross over Hosakerehalli underpass being build for years. With the wisdom I have gained so far in my life, the only and the only way to address this issue of unaccounted unjustifiable delays is to bring in transparency through process automation along with automated publicly accessible performance analytics.

I hope we achieve this someday shortly!!!

Coming back to my experience, we reduced our Ø mileage defects from a 4-digit ppm level to a 2-digit ppm through our focused scientific continual improvement.

I will end my blog with a quote by Steven Covey

“Accountability breeds response-ability”

Happy Reading!

3 thoughts on “Leadership Accountability”

  1. Nice post! Over the years, we have become a nation of the mediocre, by the mediocre and for the mediocre. Unless our back is against the wall, we don’t perform. The sense of commitment, work ethic and professionalism is slowly coming in as we are being pushed to compete in world market. I am optimistic that we will be forced to mend our ways in the years to come. Seriously, you must write a book based on your Bosch experience. It will be a valuable resource for upcoming professionals.

  2. Well said. Accountability is truly critical. And it is incumbent upon the leader to not accept sub-standard work, but as you point out, perhaps more important to ask them to revert with very specific tasks and time-bound delivery date. Setting expectations and clear instructions is important. As I was telling my staff once about this … when my wife would ask my (then teenage) daughter to clean up her room, as long as my daughter could walk to her bed and be able to sleep on it, to her, the room was clean. To my wife, the room was a mess, and always resulted in blow-outs because mom’s perception of clean was different from the daughter’s. What we had to tell her was, pick up and fold those clothes and put them in the closet. Those books must be on the shelf. The bed sheet must be properly laid out on the bed and pillow on top. Do these five (or however many) things, and I will come back and check in ten minutes. And ten minutes later, the room was indeed clean, and no blow-out. To your point Dinakar, specific directives and time-bound expectation for delivery of those directivesis is always critcal.

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