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One leader’s brush with accountability

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in Leaders & Managers,Management Training

Jack Stack, the guy who invented a form of open-book management called the Great Game of Business, says you can go too far in trying to light a fire under people.

He pleads guilty.

Stack had decided that each manager in his heavy-equipment manufacturing company should be expected to meet a list of 10 accountabilities over a year. They were specific. (“I got them down to a gnat’s ass,” Stack says.)

Trouble was, he made them so specific that they overlapped and conflicted. Employees had to step on each other’s turf to win.

Stack thinks the system may have worked if each employee did 80 percent of what he was asking for, but he had two guys who were striving to be the best in every category, and they nearly killed each other.

Stack’s mistake: thinking people would see the accountabilities as guidelines, not to-do lists.

The reality: Evaluations inspire fear, and conscientious people think that if they don’t meet every single accountability, they’re not doing their jobs. They don’t see the goals as ideals but as minimum standards of performance.

So, Stack’s two employees confronted each other. Stack heard them arguing. He took the accountability sheets, went out back, put the sheets in a metal wastepaper basket and set them ablaze.

The point: Everybody needs to pull together, and Stack hadn’t realized the fear he was building into his system by pitting one person against another.

“Security comes from being with other people,” Stack says. “There’s a lot to be said for knowing that everybody’s in the same boat … and that you don’t have to do it all on your own.”

— Adapted from The Great Game of Business, Jack Stack, Currency Doubleday.

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