Accountability, a threat or promise?

Imagine you are sitting in a meeting at work. The manager leading the meeting announces, “we are going to be holding you accountable for results on this project.”  What response do you feel in your gut? You might think this is great - finally, the lazy bums I’ve been carrying will be doing their fair share. More likely, you might feel that the entire team is being threatened – as usual, management will be looking for someone to blame if their plan doesn’t work. If you work in a culture of high trust, you might feel reassured. Your team makes and keeps promises to one another and this project will be no different. You can count on others to support you and they will be counting on you.

What does accountability mean anyway?  When we first learned about accountability as a child, it was probably through one of three ways, religion, parenting or teams/society.  Your lessons in accountability might have been threatening - as in when you die, you will be held accountable for your sins. You better not screw up, or your will pay for every mistake or bad decision you ever make. Further, you will pay the ultimate and highest price imaginable. Perhaps your parents had a system of carrots and sticks such as an allowance and privileges associated with the completion of chores and homework, and punishment associated with a failure to perform as expected.  Beyond religion and parents, society teaches us what is expected and how we will be held accountable for achieving or not achieving what is expected.  That society could have been made up of scenes on the playground, classrooms or sports teams. The closest I ever got to sports, was that time I was “sporting” a bad haircut. I learned that, as a child, if you have bad hair, your peers held you accountable for “less than expected” performance. Unfortunately, that playground standard is still the norm for many people, and we all have bad hair days.

I was a band geek, so on a more positive note (pun certainly intended), I learned about teamwork and accountability by only being able to achieve my goal by working with up to 200 other people in perfect harmony (pun certainly intended), to produce the desired outcome. There was an implied and voluntary promise to practice, learn our parts, listen to one another, play in the background when that was your job, and to step up and perform brightly in a solo when that was your job. Every mistake made in practice brought encouragement from the “team” who could not succeed without my success. Every mistake was letting my friends down and drove me to work harder for the goal.

This was different from any other experience in my young life because it was voluntary. I chose to be in band. When we do not care about the goal or the team, there are not enough carrots and sticks in the world to make us better.

Accountability works best when it is a voluntary, two-way promise, made between parties with a high level of trust, to produce win/win results that matter to everyone involved. When employees have no input in the plan, when they are told what to believe in and how to produce the results, when teammates are negative and uncaring, it is impossible to carrot and stick them into being accountable for your success. A culture of mediocrity will not produce more than mediocre results. Results will only change when the culture changes.

To be accountable is to be trustworthy. Like all virtues, this begins with our self. Without it, we will not be comfortable being held accountable and we will not honestly and effectively hold others accountable. If we break our promise to get up early, exercise, eat right, be patient with our kids and clean the garage, we no longer trust ourselves. We do not like or feel good about people we do not trust. If this resonates with you, do not beat yourself up. I teach a number of methods to turn this around easily and quickly. You are a good person who is doing good things. Most of us just need a tweak now and then to get back on the right track.

Involve your team, keep your promises and be strong enough to value feedback. Engage your team by actually wanting and valuing their input. Keep promises by making sure you keep promises to yourself. Solicit and value feedback – after all, if you are screwing up and no one says anything, it means they have given up on you. Only speak what you truly believe and do what you say. Most of us think we already follow this, but others might misunderstand our actions and not believe we walk the talk. In teams, others’ perceptions are critical if accountability is to be a promise, not a threat.

Appreciating Employees

By Michael Kline
as published in Conway Daily Sun

Before you look for ideas on how to show your appreciation to employees, it is easier if you actually feel some appreciation for them in the first place. Where do you fall on the appreciation spectrum? 

At opposing ends of the spectrum, one employer (who may sound shocking to some) says “Employees are paid to do a job; they cost wages, benefits and taxes, plus recruiting and training is expensive. Now they want a bonus for doing what they were hired and paid to do in the first place. There is no loyalty so they’ll leave the minute they get a better offer anyway.  Most employees only do what is required of them, and only care about their paycheck.”

At the other end of the spectrum, an employer (who may sound shocking to some), says “I could not live without my staff. We would have nothing if not for them. Most of the best ideas come from my people, my customers love them and they come up with solutions to problems before I even know we had a problem, they create new ideas to make our work more fun, and they’re always inventing some new and better way of doing things. I owe my career and financial results to my team!”

If you find yourself wishing you lived at the positive end of that spectrum, but it seems unrealistic, you should know that such work places do exist. In fact, they are more common than you might think. If you’ve never seen such a workplace, it may seem impossible to achieve. I invite you to expose yourself to more positivity – read books like Theory U (okay, that’s a giant book that never ends, but I would give you credit if you just skimmed a few chapters). Read Conscious Capitalism and/or Firms of Endearment.  The companies featured in Firms of Endearment are the highest super-achieving companies in the world, yet what they do and how they do it is startlingly simple. The culture described above is in fact, possible as soon as the leadership believes it is possible. Once their minimum financial needs are met, most staff values appreciation more than money and benefits.

To increase your appreciation of staff, start by appreciating your staff.  That’s right, appreciate is a verb – it is something you do, so just do it. I have a few gratitude buddies. Each morning, I text this small group a short statement of something I am grateful for.  There are 4 of us in the group, so if I forget one morning, I will get a text or two from my buddies to remind me. I admit, some days it can be difficult to feel grateful, even though intellectually I can name 100 little things for which I could be grateful, I may just not be feeling it. Bringing this to my attention is powerful. I force myself to state something, anything.  You could do this at work each morning and make it about something or someone at work that you are grateful for that day.  You may be surprised at how powerful this exercise is when you do it every day. If you’re at that point, you could encourage your entire staff to participate in something similar.

If you are not normally one who expresses your appreciation, you may be seen as insincere when you start making awkward and manipulative sounding statements. Just smacking someone on the back and saying “good job” might backfire and build resentment. I suggest you be honest and make yourself a little vulnerable. Simply start by admitting that you have become aware that you don’t express your appreciation well and you would like to get better at that. Tell them up front that you are trying to get better and that you value their contribution. If you are a step-by-step person, try building up to the thank you in 3 simple steps – use their name, tell them what you appreciate them for, how it helped, and then end by saying thank you.  For example “Alice, I appreciate your help with the newsletter. Thanks to you, we got two new customers this week who responded to your idea you put in the newsletter and it already brought in X dollars. Good job. Thank you!”  Now, would that be so hard?  - Remember – use their name, what they did, how it helped and thank you!

Anyone can do this, you don’t have to wait for your boss to lead the way. In fact, the boss might get more comfortable after she sees you modeling it! Anyone can follow this technique with any co-worker, boss, supplier or customer.  Think about it, on days when you went home feeling under-appreciated, would it have helped if anyone at all had shown some appreciation to you? Of course it would!  So you can do the same for anyone you meet. Try it on the cashier at the grocery store. Try it on your spouse or children. As the saying goes, become the change you want to see in the world.

I appreciate you. I am grateful to my readers who email me and share my columns via Facebook or email. This helps spread positivity and productivity to others and when you send me messages it encourages me to write more and lets me know my work has value. That makes it much easier for me to do what I do every day. Thank you!

Engagement:The Missing Link

By Michael Kline with Howard Stanten
as published in Conway Daily Sun

You can’t get very far surveying the current wisdom of cutting edge management theory without coming across the issue of engagement. Organizations like Gallup and Towers Watson continue to do large scale research on the issue. Leaders across all sectors are talking and complaining about engagement. “Why won’t they just engage?!” I heard a leader say recently as she shook her head in frustration and banged her hand down on her desk.

There are three primary reasons for the lack of sustainability experienced in most efforts to bring higher levels of engagement to the workplace:

1) Top level leadership does not engage in the organizational transformation programs they initiate. There is want for someone or some program to “fix my people” but less willingness to begin the change process at the top.

2) Mid-level managers put up roadblocks that squelch implementation. With fires to put out coming from above and below, managers will not prioritize change efforts especially if top leaders themselves are not engaged.

3) Organizational change efforts overlook winning over the hearts of the people in the organization. Dr. John Kotter of Kotter International emphasizes that most change efforts have a mind/heart focus of 90/10 or 80/20. Kotter argues that to get sustainable transformation, successful organizations need to have at least a 60/40 heart/mind focus.

“Focus on the heart?” “We haven’t got time for that, we’ve got a business to run!” Such reactions are common place. But, so is the desire for increased engagement. This begs the question, “What is engagement, anyway?” Any definition will include at its core the emotional stance an employee takes towards his or her work. Engagement, in the final analysis is all about emotional connection. Leaders want their people to be enthusiastically involved. Leaders want proactive problem solving. Leaders want increased discretionary effort. An enthusiastic, proactive problem solver that takes 100% responsibility and gives 100% effort is someone who is fired up and passionate about what they do.

Stephen Covey taught that we now live in the “knowledge-worker” age. In the by-gone industrial-worker age, most of us were asked to hammer square pegs into square holes. The knowledge workers of today, however, are most often asked to figure out how to get square pegs into round holes. Workers who show up saying “Just tell me what to do” are dis-engaged and costing the organization money. Leaders who show up with a disinterest in learning how to win over “the hearts” of these workers are also dis-engaged and costing the organization money.

In the New York Times and Wall Street Journal best seller, Drive, Daniel Pink’s research clearly shows that knowledge-workers are motivated by autonomy, mastery, and purpose. Today’s worker wants to feel that they’re valued enough to try out new ideas, have the satisfaction of getting really good at what they do, and feel that the work they do matters. Sounds a lot like the knowledge worker wants to be engaged. Why then is engagement such a challenge?

In a recent meeting I facilitated, one of the front line employees said, “I absolutely love my job, I just miss it. We have a lot of changes happening around here and not much appreciation for all the work we are doing. We have some new ideas, but no one is listening. Honestly, there’s not much gas left in the tank.”

This employee is clearly becoming dis-engaged. Her opportunity to try new ideas (be autonomous), grow in her job (gain mastery), and feel like what she does matters (be connected to purpose) are all being threatened. The irony here, again, is that she wants and her leadership wants her to be engaged.

The missing link is “winning over her heart.” Leadership must listen to how she feels about issues related to autonomy, mastery, and purpose. To do so, leadership must fully engage with this core sustainability strategy. If brought forth with a sense of urgency, transparency and authenticity, managers will prioritize and engage in the effort as well.

Leaders must also allow themselves to be vulnerable enough to hear feedback about their own leadership. Vulnerability modeled from the top will create an atmosphere of trust and interdependence. Simply put, a leader who wants engagement needs to stop banging her hand on the table and start having conversations with people at all levels about how they feel about issues that matter to them. Leaders that want engagement need to, as Stephen Covey once wisely said, “Seek First to Understand.” Real understanding involves putting yourself in someone else’s shows. It involves empathy. It involves connecting not just at the head but at the heart.

As a local resource on the topic, on April 22nd, we are offering a seminar entitled “Engagement Leadership.” Are you a leader challenged with the issue of engagement? Are you willing to take 100% responsibility for meeting this challenge? Go to our website for details.

The Emotions of Success

By Michael Kline
as published in Conway Daily Sun

Emotions may be more important than all other success ideas combined. I’ve been teaching workshops based on a book called The Success Principles – How to Get from Where You Are to Where You Want to Be, by Jack Canfield. This book, hailed as the new self-improvement classic, contains 67 of the most powerful principles of success known to humankind. In my studies of the subject, I have come to understand how the many principles interact and sometimes even contradict one another. I also learned the complexities of principles that otherwise seem really simple on the surface. I have had the pleasure of befriending not only the author but some of the people featured in the book’s success stories. All that aside, the biggest breakthroughs I experienced were not in the book. My personal breakthroughs came over time as I slowly processed the information from 8 weeks of workshops and countless practice sessions. I was gradually (think polar caps melting) moving from processing information in my brain to creating awareness in my heart. My personal success breakthroughs came to me in my own time and place and in my own head and heart; mostly heart.

A lot goes on in my head. It is a busy place; sometimes even chaotic. My intellect has gotten me through the launch of six successful businesses of our own and dozens of successful startups, mergers and sales with franchisees and clients over the years. My intellect, while not always right, is pretty smart. But, as brains go, it doesn’t have anything on my heart. It turns out that my best ideas, happiest moments and brightest communications have always happened when I’m in my heart, not my head. When I get in my head, I get very average. When I’m in my heart, I’m brilliant, irresistible, unflappable, confident, and humble all at once. This, you and I have in common. Science is only beginning to learn how powerful the heart is as a brain. I have discovered that my heart doesn’t have the inner voice, constantly judging me, others and the situation. My heart doesn’t have the inner voice of restlessness, hyper-achievement, perfectionism, or my Aunt Jeannie telling me why I’m not good enough. No, the heart has connection to our highest strengths, purpose and passion. Spiritually, mathematically and electrically speaking, our heart has connection to all other people and the infinite resources/Source of the entire Universe. So what does it mean to get out of our head and into our hearts? How does that work and does our heart really work better? What about business, financial and career decisions? Should we reserve the soft, touchy feeling stuff for relationships and counselling sessions? It is my contention that success in every area of life is better found through the heart.

What is that feeling inside that causes a little hesitation just before you pick up the phone to call the boss you need to listen to, the prospect you really want to become a customer, the employee you need to correct but don’t want to lose, the upset client you want to save, or your mother. Perhaps you approach every call or contact with complete confidence and certainty. What might you be missing that would have you be a little less cavalier – is there something you don’t know that you don’t know? And what would it take to rattle your nerves a bit, are you only calling on people and only dealing with situations you know you can be confident in? Would you be willing to welcome being uncomfortable if you knew you could get comfortable being uncomfortable? When are you going to start calling on people and dealing with situations you don’t think you can handle? Will your intellect alone get you through the tough challenges and find you a solution for every challenge you face? Neither did mine.

What I found is that when I am highly resourced, in touch with my imagination, my unconscious and sub-conscious mind, my connection to Source Energy, and feeling it at a deep level, I can handle just about anything. I think more clearly and creatively. I connect more easily with most anyone, and I find joy in my work. Making decisions and thinking with the heart is not an easy or a fast shift to make, but it is a shift that some of the most successful entrepreneurs, athletes and scientists throughout history have discovered. Somehow, when we get to work, we put our brains in charge and leave out the vast majority of our resourses. I am willing to accept that my brain may be very capable, even impressive. I am infinitely more resourse when I tap into my heart because I am tapping into my connection with you and the collective intelligence we all share. Let us find more ways to come together, literally and figuratively to solve the complex challenges we face. Let us all tap into our genius and the genius we are made of so that we can all rise to our greatest potential in everything we do.

In my workshops, I introduce some concepts to help get you “out of your head” along with all the information you can turn into your personal success story. Details are on my website for our next success principles workshop.

People vs. Systems

By Michael Kline
Published in Conway Daily Sun
Picture Systems, systems, systems... for years, it seemed like all I talked about. The fact is, most large businesses have serious systems
challenges and most small business have a serious lack of systems all-together. The truth is, your systems are designed perfectly to produce the results you are getting. Repeat that and read it slowly: Your systems are designed perfectly to produce the results you are
getting. Slow sales? That is a result of your sales system. Blame it on the weather? The economy? Your sales team? Your systems allow for these factors. Even if you sell parkas and it never gets cold, perhaps your sales system has a lack of diversification. Just about everything that happens is the result of your systems or lack of systems.

I hear your point that your systems didn't cause your key supplier to go bankrupt, or your mall's anchor tenant to move out, leaving you with no traffic, or for your most productive employee to get married or retire. So how can I constantly preach that everything that happens to you is your responsibility? That everything is within your power? I thought you would never ask!

About every few months, most organizations have a challenge that, if left unaddressed, could jeopardize the success of the organization. It would make sense then, to have a system for adapting to change. Now before you roll your eyes and tell me I'm crazy, this isn't some deep philosophy of embracing your inner thinker or forgiving your mother.
This is about a real, tangible, teachable, practical and useful approach to handling change and activating your team to their battle stations.

I've always preached that to produce predictable results, you should design your business around systems, not people. Then, you hire people to run the systems. This remains basically true for many small startups because most small startups are not launched by people with a natural orientation toward creating systems. Either way, your systems will be obsolete very shortly anyway. The marketplace is moving at break-neck speed, so no matter how good your idea is today, it is likely to require minor or major adjustments soon. What's more, is that even if you were smart enough to create all the systems (hint - you're not), how do you inspire everyone to follow your systems? How do you create the accountability for following the systems? How do you find time and energy to create the next new system after you're in the deep weeds trying to juggle everything you have to do? Right, you create a system for
creating systems!

This “Mother of all Systems”, will need to have a rhythm to it - our recommendation is a quarterly review of systems and the people running them. Annual employee and system reviews are far too infrequent to be useful. (If you don't do it at all, you should feel a little panicky right now). Covey's first habit of highly effective people - Be Proactive. That means find and fix problems before they happen. The way to get ahead of the curve and stop living in crisis mode, always "putting out fires" is to get into the practice of "fire prevention". Quarterly review of all systems and the people running them and weekly accountability with every team member reporting in on their contribution to the systems. This is hard core, focused, highly productive, strictly enforced, take no prisoners, all-business, no-more-Mr. Nice Guy, my retirement is on the line, grown-up work time! The Industrial Age is dead (no newsflash there). So why do we still try to motivate and correct employee behavior with the old model?

To do all the above will require a team of people who love working with you and with each other. We need to create
a serious game that people take seriously and still have fun playing. Professional sports players take their work very seriously, work very hard, are extremely disciplined, held accountable, and have fun loving their work. Why then, in the typical workplace do we think that people can't enjoy their work life the same way? Let's be brave enough to be vulnerable, to ask for help, to count on the team, to invest in the team, to nurture the team, to engage the team and to hold the team accountable. It's time we took all the wisdom from the great business books we read and figure out what it would mean to really apply the lessons. I mean to really, really apply the lessons. My greatest joy is helping an individual or business discover how to put into practice, a system they created to produce the results they want and to repeat that process with predictability. You can get this process started on your own by reviewing your own goals, the systems you have to reach those goals and the people running those systems. Contact me if you get stuck, I'm good at un-sticking.

Its summer, so I hope you're reading this from somewhere beautiful. If not, we can work on that as a new goal! Because my systems allow me to be where I want, pursuing what I want, I'm in Scottsdale this week, renewing my personal and professional skills. I promise to find some time to work on my next column about systems for communicating vision and co-creating goals and strategies with your team.

How to be Thin, Tan & Rich in 4 hours

By Michael Kline
As published in Conway Daily Sun

When you start a new job, your employer teaches you their systems. Experience has proven these methods produce the results they
want with predictability. Never mind that many businesses need to create more and better systems. Let us imagine you went to work for a well-funded, progressive, brilliantly staffed and professional company with excellent systems. Perhaps you could imagine that you bought a franchise with the same qualities and every franchise that has implemented thPicturee systems has been a wild success. It creates wealth for its owners and employees and a lifestyle that allows you to pursue happiness in your personal life. You would be enthusiastic about going to training and working the systems. You would quickly learn that some of your fellow franchisees (or employees) misunderstood the deal. They thought the systems worked on their own. You watch those people flounder. You know you must work the systems constantly to produce real results.

In all of life, do the same principles not apply? There are principles (systems) by which we live, that when practiced in a dedicated fashion, any person can produce predictable results. We teach children the value of doing their homework, and they get good results. Most adults do not do their own homework. We teach children to keep
trying, to believe in themselves. When applied, this principle produces achievement and self-esteem. Adults seldom believe this about themselves, beyond the comfort of what they already have proven they can do. We teach children to be kind to one another, and as a result, others will be kind to them and they will be happy, positive people not hung up on the small stuff. As adults, we keep saying we want people to be kind. By that, we mean we want other people to be kind to us. Mostly we are often unkind to ourselves, being self-critical and/or not taking care of ourselves, and this drives much of the unkindness to others as we protect our turf, fight for credit and compete for attention and love. Somehow, we find it hard to be motivated to use these simple “systems” taught to us as children. Perhaps we do not deserve them or we’ve been disappointed so many times we’ve lowered our sights.

Teachers, employers or franchisors hold us accountable and coach us to success. The lack of accountability and self-discipline is one of the biggest contributors to failure in business, health, relationships and a life less fully lived.

It makes sense to take advantage of proven systems. This removes some of the risk and fear of inventing your own wheel, and launches you on the fast track for success. You could apply the same thinking to every aspect of your life.

Let us say that your goal is to create some wealth, good health and positive relationships, to engage in meaningful work and be able to contribute to your community. Sign me up! There are systems for all of these. When you have some control over your life, you reduce stress, improve health, create wealth, improve self-esteem, decrease ego, improve relationships, feel more positive… is there a pattern here? You already have that control, but are you using it? By the way, it does not matter if you are just starting out or an accomplished millionaire with a thriving family, it is relative and the tools for pursuing life mastery remain the same.

My first self-improvement training program was Brian Tracy’s Psychology of Achievement from the 1980’s. Dozens of genius-trainers later, I am now studying directly under Jack Canfield, as I see him as the master of creating user-friendly, practical training for life success. Maybe you prefer Tony Robbins or Wayne Dyer, or someone more or less spiritual, etc. It doesn’t matter. I promise they all carry essentially the same wisdom. The proven systems for living a great life have not changed through the ages. Our environments have changed. Modern gurus can help us apply the wisdom to our current circumstances.

These are lessons we study over a lifetime, but we have to start somewhere and we need to take action sometime. If not now, then when? I suggest a good time and place to start would be Friday June 13th, at Granite State College. I will be teaching a half-day introductory workshop, based largely on Jack Canfield’s Success Principles. I am doing this as part of my training program, so I’m happy to work for free. The only cost is $39 per person to cover the room, refreshments and material. Details and registration are on my website listed below. Learn the systems. Work the systems. Live the life you want.

Become a Sponge

By Michael Kline
Don’t you just love to absorb information? I suppose you’d say it depends on the subject; I hear you. As a kid in school, I paid attention in History, English, and Music; not so much in trigonometry or chemistry. Unfortunately for me, I earned a scholarship to study Chemical Engineering and Military Science. What were they thinking?!

With our children, as with our employees and applicants, we need to stop measuring only so-called aptitude and pay attention to passion. We need to stop measuring only IQ and start measuring EQ (Emotional Intelligence). When we have a passion, we can soak up knowledge like a sponge.
So, for what knowledge would you be a sponge? What information or lessons would benefit you? Not feeling passionate about learning? If you’re passionate about the benefit of the lesson, you could easily get excited about the lessons. Let me explain.
Let’s say you are passionate about buying your first house, retiring on a golf course, or whatever your goal might be. Let’s assume your work contributes toward that goal. Then being passionate about the goal, means you should be pretty excited about the work and the lessons that help you achieve more with that work. I already admitted to not really paying attention to math, but I think the equation was: if A=B and B=C, then A=C. In this case, if lessons = better pay, and better pay = goal, then lesson= goal. That’s mathematical proof. If you can’t get excited about the work that gives you your goal, you must not be very excited about your current goal.
In recent years, I’ve been trying to devour books, audio tapes, guru blogs, and as many live seminars as I can find. Here in rural New Hampshire, we don’t have much access to seminars. I suggest you take advantage of everything you can get; relax, this isn’t just self-promotion.
To prove my point of how important frequent and consistent education is, I teach my own seminar series as a service to the community. To be clear, we do charge for the seminars to cover our costs of advertising, etc. With such small class sizes, you don’t have to do a lot of math to know we don’t make a living by selling seminars. Speaking of math, when you try to calculate the return on the training investment, the results are a staggering no brainer. Kline Seminars exists to further the mission of improving the quality of life in the valley by improving the success of our small businesses. Another excellent source that is a perfect complement to my seminars is the Mount Washington Valley Economic Council’s boot-camp series. I’m looking forward to the fall lineup; from what I hear on the street, it’s going to be excellent.
Additionally, you should consider looking online for webinars or tele-seminars and buy recommended books and audio seminars on your most important topics. According to Brian Tracy (one of my favorite motivational speaker/authors), if you read a book a week, related to your field, you will have learned the equivalent of a university PhD in that field.

Finally, my best training tip ever – buy books on Audio CD’s (or download) and put them on your iPod. Now, walk an hour or more a day listening to your training programs/books. We all want to be a little healthier and we all want more time to do things like read or exercise – do them at the same time!
Become a sponge, my absorbent friend – soak up everything you can that relates to your goal in any way. You’ll quickly become unstoppable!
Michael Kline is a local retailer, success coach and trainer. He may be reached through his website,, or e-mail,