Inspiring Accountability Through Inquiry - The 7C Methodology

The power balance between employer and employee has shifted in the US and across the industrialized world. Employment levels have peaked, and companies everywhere are finding it challenging to secure proficient workers, especially in major cities.  Previously, most organizations were accustomed to hiring from a position of power. Today, employees have that edge and they are less willing to make concessions. They know that work opportunities abound, and they don’t fear being left without employment. What’s more, social media, the internet, and the proliferating workplace-review websites now make it easy for employees to get the “inside scoop” on companies, to find out if they are good places to work. Millennials, who will comprise more than 50% of the workforce by 2020 and 75% by 2025, won’t stand for “or else” management. The days of command and control leadership - of “just do it because I said so” are over! Millennials are educated consumers who seek to retain the work/life balance they value so highly. They know their value in the marketplace, they know your competition, and they know what kind of wages and benefits they can command. Today, the burden is on you, the employer, to attract and retain your workforce. They want to be aligned with and inspired by the mission, vision and values of the organization they work for. And they want to be led by compassionate and caring managers who seek to understand what matters most to them and who are committed to satisfying their needs.


There are many reasons why what we term “non-accountability” has been expanding in the workplace, including an employee disengagement rate that according to the Gallup organization’s 2017 report, “State of the Global Workplace” has alarmingly hit the 85% mark, worldwide. Because of disengagement at work, employees of companies large and small, domestic and global are less likely to demonstrate full ownership of their responsibilities, and less likely to deliver hoped-for results to their bosses. Even senior-level employees in Fortune 500 companies, many of whom have been sent to me for executive coaching, disappoint their CEO’s.

Leaders and managers of people at all levels of the organization need to embrace a new paradigm when it comes to accountability. Leaders need to change their mindset from one of “holding people accountable” to “inspiring people to be accountable”. This requires an entirely new style of leadership and a different set of leadership skills. People behave the way they do for reasons that are internally logical to them (read Freakonomics) and that are consistent with their personal values and beliefs.  Unless we understand what is motivating an employee’s behavior, we cannot hope to change it. That means we must change our behavior as leaders. We must want to get inside their heads and understand why they do what they do. We must change our approach from a passive one of just making assumptions about why they behave the way they do (they’re incompetent, lazy, uncaring…) to a proactive one of understanding their truth behind why they do what they do. Leaders need to create a culture of open dialog and appreciative inquiry that makes it safe for employees to say what they think and feel and that enables managers to really understand what is driving an employee’s behavior.

In my soon to be published book, Inspire Accountability! The breakthrough workplace transformation for 21st century leaders in the Age of Millennials, I outline a 7C Methodology for appreciative inquiry. It provides a basis for managers to explore and understand why employees behave the way they do and what they need to do as managers to inspire different behavior from their employees.

Here is a brief overview of the 7C methodology:

The first C is Culture. Understanding why people behave the way they do starts with a culture that makes it safe for people to say what they think and feel and safe for them to respectfully challenge the requests of authority regarding acceptable standards of performance and deadlines. (For example:  Do you really need this done today, or can it wait until Friday?) In many large organizations where I have coached executives, it is frowned upon to ever challenge or question authority. When your boss says jump, you say how high!

The second C is Clarity. You can’t be too clear and just because you said something doesn’t mean that people truly heard and understood what you said or requested. As a leader you need to hold yourself responsible for the hearing of the listener and make all your goals as SMART as possible (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-bound).  If they aren’t smart, they lend themselves to mis-interpretation and faulty execution. (I thought you wanted it done quickly, not perfectly!)

The third C is Capacity. When managers ask an employee to do something, oftentimes everything seems urgent and important and employees are left wondering what to do first and what to delay, delegate or drop. As a manager you need to ask employees what else is on their to-do list before assigning a new task and help them assign priorities to tasks. You also need to engage them in a conversation about whether they have adequate resources to accomplish the desired task in the time requested vs. saying “I want no excuses, just get this done”. In the absence of this, you may say get this done by Friday and they may think, there is no way I have the time to get this done with everything else on my plate and no one to delegate things go.  At the minimum this causes stress and disengagement for the employee. It is also likely to cause rushed or faulty execution.

The forth C is Competence. Before you hire an employee, you review their resume and work history and satisfy yourself they have the skills to do the job you are hiring them to do. Then the needs of the job changes in real time and the things you expected them to do are no longer the things you are asking them to do. As a manager you need to know whether you are asking them to do something that is consistent with their skills, or if you are expecting them to do things they were never trained to do and never expected to have to do well. Effective management puts the burden of providing ongoing training for employees so that their skills grow to match the requirements of the tasks you expect them to complete on you as the manager. In the absence of this, you can’t blame the employee for a lack of skill. Blame yourself!

The fifth C is Confidence. Oftentimes people have the competence to perform a task, but they have never performed it before under the pressure of deadlines or when there is a high risk of failure and serious career consequences associated with failure. It’s up to you as a manager to make it safe for an employee to fail at a task as long as they learn from the experience and don’t repeat the same mistake twice. You also need to make it safe for them to ask for coaching or guidance on how to do something. Especially with Millennials, it is important to provide coaching and encouragement to build their confidence before assigning something they haven’t done before.

The sixth C is Commitment & Caring. I put these two together because if an employee isn’t committed to you, their boss, and/or to your company, they are unlikely to care about results. This is the hardest C to fix. When an employee first joins your company, they are excited to start a new job. If they have lost heart and no longer have affection for you as their boss or for the company, they are unlikely to do whatever it takes to get a task done well and on time. Your role as a leader is to demonstrate your caring for employees through your behavior as a manager.  You need to survey your employees frequently regarding their engagement with your company and what they would like to see changed at work. Furthermore, you need to respond to suggestions you receive in a timely fashion and make changes that are economically sound that improve work conditions or performance.

The seventh C is Compensation. Many organizations think that compensation is the most important motivational tool. The assumption has been that people work primarily for the money they earn and that they will do whatever they have to do to earn more money.  Today, this is no longer true for many workers, especially Millennials. They are no longer motivated by money alone. They desire to earn a good living, but they also want a reasonable work/life balance, opportunities for learning and growth, fun and social interaction at work, and respect and caring from their managers. When companies only look to tweak their compensation or benefit packages, they often miss the mark. As a leader, you need to align your compensation system with the rewards that matter most to your employees. It may be that they would prefer more time off or more flexible working hours to more pay.  Many people would take less money to be able to work from home.

In conclusion, to quote Stephen Covey – “Seek first to understand and then to be understood.” Your path to higher accountability starts with inquiry and only flourishes in a culture that permits an open and honest exchange of feeling and ideas.  The 7C’s provide you with a framework for appreciative inquiry. When you seek to find out why people do what they do, you can also learn how to inspire them to do what you would like them to do.