Where are you on evaluation, planning organization, people and accountability

September signals a "back to school" mindset for many of us.  For business leaders, owners and managers, we may not be literally heading back to the classroom, but the workplace is actually a wonderful living laboratory and learning environment in which to hone our leadership skills.

Whatever your level of expertise, it is always smart to revisit the fundamentals. As a leader, you have basic roles and responsibilities that are central to the discipline of management and leadership. Five basic functions constitute this discipline, and a strong leader's skill set includes them all.  None are optional.

The first is evaluation, colloquially known as "taking stock." Evaluation involves thoughtful reflection, study, consideration, appraisal and assessment. This is perhaps the most neglected of the leadership functions, sacrificed in the service of the "just do it" mentality, the press of urgent demands and perhaps the unconscious fear of what the answers might be to tough questions.

Evaluation activities include market research, quality control, customer satisfaction surveys, employee feedback, peer reviews and other self- and organizational assessments. Major benefits can be gained by simply asking, "How are we doing?" on any important aspect of the business and then proceeding with integrity and honesty toward the answers.

Planning is the other side of the evaluation coin, and the second most-neglected leadership function.  Planning can be for a specific task, project or situation, or it can be comprehensive and long-range.  From a larger perspective, planning is the opportunity to envision your desired future, to ask what you want to accomplish and where you want to go as an organization, and then make conscious choices and decisions about how to get there.

Intelligent, disciplined strategic planning can profoundly set the course for an organization's future success.  The work of leadership is to commit the investment of resources to a planning process. Clearly it requires time, thought and energy, but planning is the proven method for increasing the probability that your company will accomplish its goals and achieve its desired results.  What better investment could there be?

The third basic leadership function is organization. Its purpose is efficiency, and it involves creating order by developing, improving and refining systems. It starts with the very structure of the organization itself, represented graphically in an organizational chart that depicts the logic and distribution of the work in the company.

Other aspects of the organizational function relate to the work environment, materials and inventory management, space planning, records management, information systems and time management. Good organizational practices control costs and preserve resources, both tangible and intangible, and create a stable foundation for the work of the enterprise.

The fourth leadership function has to do with people.  This was formerly called personnel, then human resources, and now talent management.  Recruitment, selection, orientation, training, performance management, coaching, supervision and mentoring are but some of myriad aspects of this critical function. If this responsibility is neglected or poorly performed, all other aspects of the organization will be negatively impacted. Weaknesses in other areas can be more readily compensated for than weaknesses in this one. A leader's predominant responsibility involves inspiring and guiding the people in the organization.

The fifth and final basic management and leadership function is accountability.  In previous generations of management literature, this function was called "control." I prefer the modern term. Accountability involves cultivating individual responsibility, which is its very essence.

Important new light has been shed on this subject recently by the authors of the companion books "Crucial Conversations" and "Crucial Confrontations." Their research found that most organizations perform between 20 percent to an astonishing 50 percent below their potential because of leaders' and employees' inability to hold one another accountable. In contrast, effective leaders are able to step up to colleagues, co-workers and even bosses and hold them accountable. To do this effectively takes considerable skill and discipline, and it is at the heart of a person's ability to be influential.  Here's an excerpt from "Crucial Confrontations:"

“When problems arise, in the worst companies, people will withdraw into silence. In your average company, people will say something, but only to the authorities. In the best companies, people will hold a crucial confrontation, face-to-face and in-the-moment. And they'll hold it well. This of course, takes skill.”

Leaders and managers reading this article might benefit from a quick self-assessment on these five basic functions. Simply rate yourself personally and then your organization on each function. Identify your strengths and weaknesses, and then make a plan to capitalize on the former and minimize or remedy the latter.  Information and help is readily available in all of these functional areas.  Every leader and every organization has weaknesses. The mistake is in ignoring them.

For those who still might be hesitant to tackle a problem, I offer the observation that in my experience, working to remedy a weakness is far less distressing than trying to continually cope with its negative impacts.

Dealing with it openly and finding ways to improve the situation are actually far less difficult than enduring the unhealthy and unintended consequences of trying to work around it.

These basic functions, the work of leadership, are a means to an end: your organization's success. The key is balance and the measure is effectiveness. Develop your skills in these five basic leadership functions, and you and your organization will thrive.


Mary Luttrell helps business leaders turn challenges into opportunities that move their organizations to new levels of success.  With more than 25 years of consulting experience, she is known for her ability to simplify complexity by creating an inspired yet practical plan of action.  Ms. Luttrell is a certified management consultant whose firm was named one of the 100 Leading Management Consulting Firms in North America by industry analyst James Kennedy.  She specializes in strategic planning, marketing, organizational performance and leadership coaching.  To receive her white paper on The Four Cornerstones of Business Success, contact Ms. Luttrell at 707-887-2256 or thecoach@sonic.net.