Of storks, babies and employee accountability

Employee accountabilityIt’s worth repeating: Engaged employees are an invaluable asset.

But the key question is not “Is employee engagement good?” but rather “Does employee engagement truly drive results?” It’s not engagement but accountability that gets the credit for good results.

The example I often use to demonstrate this is something I learned in a beginning statistics class. We were taught the importance of differentiating between correlation and causation.

Did you know that the old wives’ tale that storks bring babies was based on statistics? Many years ago, people in northern Europe discovered that when stork populations increased, so did the human birth rate.

This finding was studied, and the correlation was strong. When the stork population increased 10%, so did the human birth rate. If it declined by 6%, so did the number of human babies.

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How could this be coincidence?

People began to assume that more storks meant more babies and vice versa.

We can sit here today and say, “But that’s ridiculous!” because we know that’s not how it works. But they saw the correlation and assumed a cause.

It wasn’t until years later that researchers factored in a third phenomenon, which was the quality of the food harvest. Migratory birds such as storks will go where food is abundant.

When northern Europe had a great harvest, the storks appeared.

And it turns out that a great harvest also made human beings happy, and there would be a lot of merrymaking, including drinking alcohol and taking part in other kinds of activities that led to babies appearing nine months later.

In addition, better maternal nutrition led to higher live birth rates. Turns out that the storks didn’t bring the babies—the great harvest attracted storks and provided the conditions that accelerated the birth rate.

It’s not engagement (storks) that is driving performance (babies)—it’s the great harvest of accountability.

By cultivating personal accountability, you can affect engagement, personal performance and business results.

Excerpted from NO EGO: How Leaders Can Cut the Cost of Workplace Drama, End Entitlement, and Drive Big Results by Cy Wakeman. Copyright © 2017 by the author and reprinted by permission of St. Martin’s Press.