Part One of a 2-part podcast interview with Denise Boudreau-Scott, founder and president of Drive, about accountability.

By Pam McDonald

[The following is an edited version of a two-part Senior Housing Forum podcast interview by Pam McDonald, podcast producer and co-host. She’s discussing accountability with Denise Boudreau-Scott, founder and president of Drive. This consulting and coaching firm assists senior living and healthcare organizations to  obtain favorable business outcomes by creating powerful company cultures.]

PAM: Thank you, Denise, for talking with us about accountability and for sending me information about assessing company culture and employee values.

DENISE: Oh my gosh, it’s crazy. I saw it about two years ago, this tool that measures culture. It actually gives you a number, which I think is so cool. I was like, “oh, I got to get certified in this” and so I finally did it this year. And it’s been so neat to see these organizations that we’ve done it with . . . what floats to the top, what they . . . what people are saying is a problem they have no idea is a problem. And so, it looks at all the values. It’s been interesting. 

So, the tool we use is called the Barrett’s Cultural Values Assessment and it asks people to pick the top 10 values that are important to them as a person. What are the top 10 values that you see in your organization today? And, what about if this was your dream place to work. What are the top 10 values that this organization would have if it were the perfect place to work?

And so, in that, what’s risen to the top, which I just think is so interesting, in the top 10 values for people’s personal values is accountability. And then what we’ve also seen in the desired culture, people are picking accountability in their organizations as well. It’s just not something I would have thought of, you know?

PAM: Right. So, Denise, given that people want accountability, how do you establish a culture that teaches department heads how to keep their staff accountable – in a nice way?

DENISE: Yeah. Yeah. So, I think one of the things . . . the first thing is that sense that people are even clear on what the expectations are because it’s hard to have accountability. So, you might have in your mind what people should be doing and then they might have in their mind something else. And so being very clear about what your expectations are, what their expectations are, where those things might meet, and where there’s not clarity that you clarify that.

Whether it’s a new employee or someone who’s been there a long time, think about making sure those expectations are clear on both sides. And another piece of it is letting people know that you support them. So, if we’re going to hold people accountable, how can I help? Once we’re clear on the expectations, how can I help you in whatever role I’m in? How can I support you meeting those expectations?

Where we have to give a little bit in leadership, I think, are some of the paths there. So, we set the expectations, we set the outcomes that we want to have, but in the middle, there can be some play with how people get things done. And you know different . . . obviously, regulations, financials, all these things play a part in it. But at the same time maybe you’re going to have a team of people that want to work together and care for residents as a group.

Maybe I’m serving in the dining room and I’ll say, “I’ll do all the appetizers and my buddy’s going to do all the entrees” or something. Together they can work it out. But my expectations are that people sitting at the table get served at the same time, that our meals are out by a certain time, that we have this level of customer service. So, we’re clear on all that, but the way that gets done, they can decide. 

PAM: Denise, are those expectations and outcomes usually spelled out in the job descriptions?

DENISE: I don’t know. Most of our job descriptions really stink, to be quite frank. They’re not very good. And so, there’s a lot of task, task, task, task and there’s definitely an opportunity to sit down and maybe perhaps do your job descriptions. But I think even more important is those conversations with people, because interpretation sometimes . . . how I’m interpreting something might be completely different. Or maybe there are 50 things in that job description. What’s the priority?

PAM: The executive director of the building or even a regional manager of the function isn’t going to be able to go around all the time and talk to each employee. So, do they do it in their weekly meetings with the department heads or what’s a good forum or format for them to make sure that all their people in the community are up to snuff on this?

DENISE: That’s a great question. So, a few things. Yes, as the executive director or the administrator or whatever level, CEO, a person is at, they can have those conversations, perhaps in large settings. But they’re obviously not going to have the impact nor the sense of giving people clarity around expectations. And certainly, people aren’t going to feel the accountability that they do want – we don’t think they want it, but they want it – in those kinds of meetings.

So, the responsibility of the ED, for example, would be to the people who directly report to them. “Here’s my expectations.” A one-on-one conversation, whether it’s with eight people or 10 people. And not in a “here’s my expectations” but that . . . I had a conversation today with someone on my team saying, “Here’s what I’m thinking we need to do in this role. Tell me what you’re thinking. What did I miss? What did I add? What are the barriers to some of this stuff we’re talking about?”

So, I had these expectations in my head, now we’re talking about them. What are the barriers? And then she’s able to share, “Here are some of the barriers. When you’re on the road and I can’t get”, you know? And so, these are the conversations that we can have. Then the department head would do it with either their supervisors or their direct reports depending on how large that department is and have those same conversations.

But that accountability, to me, goes in all different directions. It’s not just supervisor to employee saying, “Here’s what needs to be done.” This is a conversation of accountability for myself. Am I playing the victim? We love to do that. We say, “They at corporate told us blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. Or a department head might say, “Well, the ED said . . .” and all that takes away that sense of accountability from that leader. So, we also have a piece to play in this as well for ourselves for accountability. 

PAM: But it goes back to the question, how would an employee know if they’re being accountable? How do they go about tracking that accountability? 

DENISE: A huge part of it is self-awareness. And so, when we’re looking at playing the victim, and if I’m blaming my boss about something . . . We deal a lot with people coming to us that are dealing with recruitment and retention issues. And so, we’ll meet with teams and teams will say, “Well this is bad, that is bad, this is bad, and this is why new people are leaving.”

That might be so, but what’s in your control? So, I would say to you, “Pam, you’re working through to 11 as a nursing assistant and what are you doing when a new employee comes on to help that person feel, well, forget about your boss, forget about anybody else. What is Pam doing to make that person feel welcomed, to feel supported in this new role?”

I challenge myself with all this too, you know, I’m complaining about someone and I’ve got to look and say, “Wait a second, am I doing everything I could be doing, whether it’s work or life? You’ve got to look in the mirror sometimes . . . it’s easy to cast blame.

I think personally for people listening to this who are at leadership levels, instead of placing blame with employees about why things aren’t happening – or to their boss above them, or maybe it’s a Board or an owner – that some of it can be, “Let’s look at ourselves too and am I doing everything possible?

And I don’t know that anybody can answer that question and say, “Yeah, I’ve done everything possible. I’ve learned, I’ve grown, I’ve tried new things. There’s usually some opportunity for us to be doing more personally.

NOTE: You can listen to the full podcast here: Episode 6 — Accountability, Part 1. And be sure to check back in two weeks for Part 2 of this interview!