Lion Up for Accountability – There is No Wizard

What is Accountability?

At one time or another we have all heard it – that accusation around missing accountability: “No one is holding them accountable!” We have an expectation that accountability has to be made visible through punitive actions. Stephan Brandt of Door Training has a different view, and it is refreshing.  It does require a paradigm shift: connect accountability to clearly defined results, not to a failure to achieve.

Photo 1-29-2014, 1 28 57 AM

Lion up for accountability – there is no wizard.

Recently Stephan joined us for lunch, and I am sorry if you missed his enthusiasm and passion for a subject which hits many of us hard in the workplace. His talk was based on The Oz Principle a book by Roger Connors, Tom Smith and Craig Hickman. Dorothy, Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Lion all have a role to play in accountability. Ultimately, the authors remind us that accountability is a personal choice.

Our brain does much of its work underwater, in other words, unconsciously. We learned from Stephan about above the line and below the line behaviour. Below the line behaviour includes blaming, stalling, and ignoring and results in victimization.  Above the line behaviour is about actions, and importantly, results.

The below the line behaviour is defensive. As we protect ourselves, we unwittingly and unconsciously create victims. This behaviour is destructive.  Stephan reminded us that this thin line separates success from failure. Shifting above the line from the victimizing blame game to accountability requires finding courage like the Lion to retell the story. It requires finding a heart, like the Tin Woodsman to own it and like the Scarecrow, finding the wisdom to solve it. Finally, like Dorothy, you need to do it. I am reminded that the Wizard could not help Dorothy; she had to find the means to do it herself, and she had it all along.

So how do you close your accountability gaps? How do you help others find the courage to see things differently and the wisdom to look for new solutions?  The powerful & reliable way to close Accountability Gaps, according to the authors is to follow the Steps To Accountability and the inspiration of the Oz characters: See It, Own It Solve It and Do It.

Embrace Your Enemies, and Collaborate!

Dave Savage is a mass of contradictions – hippy from the Kootenays (me too), businessman, capitalist, activist. In short, he is a disrupter. In his latest project, the book Break Through to Yes, Dave and his cohort (including my colleague Michelle Phanuef) tackle the collaborative juggernaut.  Collaboration is the holy grail of leadership and insight, and yet it can be elusive.

A few weeks ago, Dave began our luncheon discussion by inviting each of us to consider the question – How can we help you with your collaboration? This is Dave at his best – engaging and open. A cornerstone of collaboration is of course, asking for help, and setting aside egos.

Set aside your ego, and seek contrarian thinking. This message resonated with me from our recent talk.  It is required if you want to effectively embrace the 10 steps of collaboration outlined in Break Through to Yes. Collaboration is a system; it is not an event. The 10 essential steps provide concrete steps for building a culture, learning together and creating a breakthrough in thinking.

Dave wrote his book about collaboration through a collaborative process. He has engaged, and continues to engage, a wide range of people about collaboration with the goal of understanding it more deeply and, in his words, to evolve the discipline of working together.

How comfortable are you when you don’t know the outcome?

It is counterintuitive – not knowing implies ignorance or even negligence.  For Dave, not knowing is an invitation to learning. He asked us this provocative question, as he asks any CEO who wants to work with him. The goal is to view a problem with beginner’s eyes and to meet it without judgement. How comfortable are you?

How do you include the people who are trying to get you to fail?

Dave told us some good stories about engaging the enemy.  He has been challenged in one of his many guises – an executive from the oil patch? This is California! You can’t help us! What is that gas guzzler you are driving? Dave engages his clients to think provocatively and to embrace the enemy.  To embrace conflict, to seek diversity, to engage others with an open heart, requires designing collaboration to include those who are trying to get you to fail.

So, embrace your enemy, and collaborate!

Hunkering Down & Cutting Back – Where is the fairness?

Here in Alberta we are confronting a new possible normal…in 2 to 3 years back to oil at $45/barrel? We are staring at a 7.9% unemployment rate – the highest since August 1995, and the natural resources/mining sector has been hard hit with losses of some 15,200 jobs in the past year. Wilma Slenders of Transcend Management Advisors Inc hosted a very interesting discussion with us recently, and we examined the behaviour and the reaction in the Calgary workplace to the depressing economic environment.

To set the context Wilma reminded us that as Milton Friedman asserted in 1970, that the sole purpose of a business is to make a profit for shareholders. While we may disagree that it is its sole purpose, without profitability businesses would not exist. At a recent Soul of the City event (hosted by Calgary Economic Development) discussion centred around the economic challenges and the fact that Calgary is not known for innovation. As the pressure increases, companies are hunkering down and cutting back. One would think that a natural reaction would be to innovate, however, a quick survey around the table did not reveal much evidence of innovation.


As the pressure increases in Alberta companies are hunkering down and cutting back.

So we talked lay-offs, using as the basis for our wide-ranging discussion several case studies which Wilma introduced. For me, there were a few significant takeaways.

Stress leads to poor decision making. Uncertainty leads to stress. We agreed that though it can be difficult, the worker who is able to take control of their own life will make better decisions and provide better support for their staff. We heard an example of the HR director who sees their name on the cut list and takes the bull by the horns to negotiate their package first before tackling the others. It takes courage! But it leads to certainty.

“Don’t take it personally” is a phrase which will never land well. The leader who anthropomorphizes “the company” and uses that as an excuse can never get away from sounding pejorative. It is personal.

The high performing team or individual can get isolated. When you are on sinking ship watching the captain load supplies onto a dinghy you know you can’t get on, it can test your spirit of generosity. Different business, and indeed different units of the same business, are having very different experiences in this downturn. Some are contracting and some are growing. When both are happening in the same company it is challenging. To keep staff motivated, managers must be transparent and open with the challenges they face.

Involve employees in the decision making. This can be good for keeping employees engaged, but it can also be dangerous – as it is not always possible to keep promises made even with the best of intentions. When the price of oil changes, everything changes.

Separate the people from the problem? This is a quote we use quite often in conflict resolution. One story shared tested this – the fellow who arrives at “the meeting” with the spreadsheet of metrics & performance statistics to make the cut decisions, looking around the room. Didn’t you bring your spreadsheet? he says to the others. No. We know who has to go. All decisions are made at some level on emotion and gut instinct. Every company facing cuts is facing complex decisions – laying off the high performer to save the job of the new parent? This is a problem that cannot be separated from the people.

There are no rules for this new normal. We struggle with a larger than ever and uncontrollable circle of concern. As we grapple to enlarge our circle of influence, our values will be tested, our security will be tested, and so will our conscience. Hang on, it is going to be quite the ride; it isn’t over yet.

Through Transcend Management Advisors Inc. Wilma Slenders provides professional objective guidance for growth and change. 

Mentoring for Leadership

When establishing a new mentoring program it is crucial to get buy-in from senior leaders, develop a strong training program for mentors as well as mentees, outline clear expectations and protocols and clearly define your terms of reference.

June Read developed Pacific Western Transportation’s first group mentoring program. She shared her learning, pitfalls and the opportunities with us at a recent Workplace Fairness Lunch.

The peace bridge Calgary

At Pacific Western Transportation, June ran two new mentoring programs which ran for 1 year each with two groups of people. In the first group of 7, she recruited 3 existing employees and 3 new hires, and in the second round, they worked primarily with new hires. In one year, the interns circulated through departments at Pacific Western at a pace and in a program customized for them. While June acted as the anchor, overseeing their year, they were matched with a mentor and coaches in each department.  The goal was to develop leaders by giving them the opportunity to learn the pain points in each department and gain learning through the breadth and depth of the business.

This ambitions program met with great success but was not without it’s own pain-points.  From June’s comments, I gathered the following learnings:

  1. Establish clear expectations, and be transparent at all stages. Setting expectations at many different levels is very important. It includes things like work hours and duties, values and goals, processes & procedures, and appropriate behaviour. Success is based on having mentees that understand and share corporate values and expectations.
  2. Define roles and terms of reference clearly. At PWT they established roles for a coach and a mentor that had different expectations. In this case, the coach was expected to demonstrate skills, observe, and correct. It was the mentor’s role to aid self-reflection, focus on the long term big picture, ask questions, and support with strong emotional intelligence. At times, though not always, the mentor and the coach were the same person. This definition may differ from your understanding of the role of the mentor. In the end, what really matters is a shared specific understanding of the terminology you use.
  3. Establish a recording and evaluation protocol. Mentees were expected to complete and record assignments and assessments which were collected by June and returned at the end of the program. Mentees were pleased to have a record at the end to aid their memory and learning.
  4. Work with business leaders to develop understanding and buyin. One of June’s major challenges was getting buy-in from senior leaders. She initially met with resistance in the form of comments like “I don’t have time for this.” This approach is not unusual with mentoring programs, and is often rooted in a fear – for example of being replaced. Asking patient questions and taking the time to build relationships with staff at all levels of the organization who were impacted by the mentoring program paid large dividends for June and the success of the program. June stressed that a program must be led from the top down.
  5. Celebrate the milestones and acknowledge participants. After each unit finished, participants celebrated with their mentors and coaches. Both mentors and mentees benefited from the experience as it gave them an opportunity to see their jobs in a different light. Mentees thanked all coaches and mentors with personal notes and gifts.
  6. Train mentors and coaches rigorously. 20 mentors and coaches were trained to push out information to 115 people.


The Mentoring Group website contains many useful references, including the Mentor’s Guide, the Mentee’s Guide and New Mentors and Protogees, all written by Linda Phillips-Jones, PhD.

The International Mentoring Association is a source of newsletters and webinars.

Cyber Mentor  is run through the University of Calgary. This program matches female mentors with young women who are interested in careers in science, math, engineering and technology.

Fred Jacques, PhD, of the University of Calgary Haskayne School of Business provides consulting services and information on setting up mentoring programs.

Software for leveraging mentoring and coaching is also available, including Chronus and Riversoft.

June Read is a committed volunteer for a number of organizations like the Calgary Immigrant Women’s Association and the Institute of Performance and Learning, as well as the Chair of the Business Administration advisory group at SAIT, to name just a few of her initiatives. She is recently retired after many years working with Pacific Western Transportation Ltd. In her last few years as PWT, June Read was instrumental in establishing a highly successful new mentoring program designed specifically to develop new leaders.

Give up Judgment; Dump the need for revenge; and Get Curious

There is a paradigm shift that is required to instill  hope and achieve better decision making.

Marc Lavoie, an independent Leadership Coach and HR Consultant has long been a support of the work we are doing for Workplace Fairness, and when he spoke to our luncheon group on October 23 he provided some tools for helping us shift from blame to accountability and from judgment to curiosity.

HR Consultant, Leadership Coach, Training Specialist, and deep thinker.

HR Consultant, Leadership Coach, Training Specialist, and deep thinker.

To read about the  7 Living Principles of Enlightened Leadership here: Lavoie Culture of Enlightened Leadership.

A Conflict Experiment

A Conflict Experiment – October 15, 2015
in the +15 between Gulf Canada Square and Bankers Hall
7:30 -10:30 am

Got Workplace Conflict?  You are not the only one.  To mark Conflict Resolution day on October 15th, The Workplace Fairness Institute will host an event in the +15. Stop by our table in Gulf Canada Square on your way to work and take part in our experiment to explore the causes of and solutions to workplace conflict through our highly interactive display.

“I often work between meetings in common areas of the downtown core.  I hear many employee conversations focused on conflict in the workplace and wonder how much time is spent on these issues and the resulting inefficiencies in organizational performance” comments Don Frehlich, an employee in Calgary.

Conflict Resolution Day was started in 2005 by the Association for Conflict Resolution in the United States to raise public awareness of creative and peaceful means of resolving conflict and now groups around the world hold events to mark Conflict Resolution Day.  Conflict Resolution Day is held on the third Thursday in October every year.

Conflict Resolution Day was started in 2005 by the Association for Conflict Resolution in the United States.

Conflict Resolution Day was started in 2005 by the Association for Conflict Resolution in the United States.

The Workplace Fairness Institute (WFI) is a Canadian company focused on affecting organizational culture through collaboration, communication and proactivity in managing conflict. Workplace Fairness recognizes that equity of concern and respect for each employee when managing conflict influences employee engagement, diversity and inclusion, change management, productive working relationships, efficiency and innovation, health and wellness and the organization’s reputation.

Rather than adopting traditional approaches to solving workplace complaints, such as taking disciplinary action or hoping the issue will simply go away, the WFI offers employers and employees a way forward. Their goal is to prevent existing workplace fairness issues from triggering a costly fall out that affects productivity, employee engagement and company culture.  It’s a sentiment echoed by Blaine Donais, President and Founder of WFI: “Businesses can’t afford to let workplace fairness issues create long-standing problems within their organization: the WFI is here to get employers and employees on the same page when it comes to mutual respect, trust and productivity.”

Michelle Phaneuf and Marjorie Munroe of the Workplace Fairiness Institute. Photo Credit Monique de St. Croix.

Michelle Phaneuf and Marjorie Munroe of the Workplace Fairiness Institute. Photo Credit Monique de St. Croix.

Feedforward, instead of back

You need to use an extra wide trowel. And feather it out.

I heard this feedback from down the hall as I was standing in my bathrobe, silently thinking that the previous day’s efforts preparing the bathroom for painting had gone rather well.

I did use a wide trowel. I did feather it out. 

Giving, and receiving, feedback can be a tricky business.

Giving, and receiving feedback, can be a tricky business.

At our Workplace Fairness lunch recently, Shawn Stratton came to share some harrowing stories about leading teams on the edge, and to talk about Feedforward. Shawn learned about leadership in the trickiest of situations, as a National Outdoor Leadership School instructor in places such the Alaskan Arctic or deep in the Himalayas.

Shawn reminded us that good feedback is actually Feedforward. It

  • is timely
  • is specific
  • shows cause and effect relationships
    • highlights the activity and not the person
  • is owned by the sender
    • presents as a personal observation rather than a directive
  • is growth-oriented
    • focuses on the future
  • preserves dignity
    • suspends judgment
  • inquires
    • explores reasoning, and how it lands with the receiver

Shawn walked us through a Feedforward exercise which really resonated with people. We were asked to pick one behaviour we would like to change; describe the behaviour to a random participant; ask for Feedforward (2 suggestions for the future which might help change the behaviour); listen attentively and take notes; say thank you.

The key to this exercise is not discussing the past at all, and responding to the suggestions only with a “Thank you”.  Hmmm. Thinking about my drywall mudding expertise, I do need some Feedforward. But it might land better coming from a more detached, expert observer.  We cannot separate suggestions from our relationship with the sender. Did I mention it was my husband?

At our Workplace Fairness lunch we tried Feedforward instead of Feedback, and we liked it. If you would like to read more about Feedforward, Shawn provides some references for Leadership Thinker Dr. Marshall Goldsmith and comments on his blog here.