20 Nov. 2012 | Comments (0)

In my last blog, The Effects of Positive Peer Pressure on Accountability and Alignment, I spoke about how positive peer pressure can create an environment where employees and managers are held accountable for their work. I also mentioned how our energy research has demonstrated that despite various efforts to roll out alignment strategies, employees remain confused about their company’s direction. Moreover, we found that a lack transparency from both leaders and HR departments regarding business strategies hinders accountability.

My work with energy started in 1996, and we have evolved the process since that time. The energy research and client work I have conducted proves that accountability increases through positive peer pressure, and is driven by high visibility. This research then begs the question, “How does one create positive peer pressure in their own workforce?” We found that the core of this energizing process consists of a series of what we call “pulse dialogues.”

Throughout the years, our research has taught us that participating in ongoing pulse dialogues creates higher levels of employee accountability, alignment, and action within an organization, and that this process works anywhere. This practice has had success in both large, global firms, as well as in smaller, start-up organizations. It has worked in manufacturing businesses, unionized firms, and in organizations throughout Brazil, Russia, Japan, Spain, the Czech Republic, as well as 50 other countries. Employees around the world want a voice; employees want to be challenged. Positive energy is a universal construct.

Below is a summary of how the pulse dialogue process works: 

  • “Pulse dialogues” require employees to provide information about their energy at work and respond to other inquiries about the business. Pulse dialogues match the rhythm of the business. If the organization reviews business data weekly, fortnightly, monthly, or quarterly, then the pulse dialogues are on the same schedule.


  • Data from pulse dialogues and the associated action-taking process are blended with other business metrics and processes. This puts human and relational capital metrics right into the middle of the business discussions, which means they are taken seriously, and managers are immediately held accountable in the same way they are accountable for other business outcomes (e.g. sales, costs, quality, production goals, etc.).


  • The energy metric is coupled with other custom questions that meet the specific needs of the business on the day the data is being collected. Every organization using the energy system has a unique, customized metrics strategy that can be adjusted on a moment’s notice to fit changing business conditions. During implementations, managers and sometimes all employees are involved in helping shape question ideas.


  • The overall metric strategy is a horizontal (questions spread out over time) versus a vertical process (all questions loaded into a once-a-year big project survey). Pulse dialogues are short and easy to do. Trust is built over time because employees have experience in submitting data, engaging in dialogues, being part of an action taking process, and learning as recipients of results or news about outcomes.


  • Reporting is frequent and provided to everyone. If pulse dialogues are done weekly, then reports are delivered weekly; if they are conducted monthly then reports also are provided monthly. The pulsing process is used with all employees, not a random sample. This is because all employees and all managers receive reports. This is what builds accountability. If a company wants to increase accountability at the line level, then the line needs its own data. Thus, the energy pulsing process keeps the pulse dialogues short, and it provides trend data and regular fast reporting to everyone.


  • The energy pulsing process is built to give employees personal reports. Every single employee can see his/her own data compared to the trends for the company overall or by department, location, or occupation. This moves accountability from leadership and HR to the manager and to every single employee. By sharing the data with everyone, one improves the visibility of both problems and opportunities.


  • All employees use the event log (to track their own experience) and the action-taking module. The action-taking module is attached to reports, providing employees with a tool for reviewing actions taken by others and recording their own actions. The system tracks opportunities, actions against opportunities, return on investment (ROI) when an action is closed and/or an ROI story. Storytelling about successful actions is where the positive peer pressure starts to develop.


  • Everyone can nominate actions as best practices. The process builds heroes, and by this competition for doing your best, accountability takes hold in a positive, results-focused way.

Accountability and alignment are outcomes of employees networking and taking action to meet business priorities. The organizational objectives are the focus of all this activity because they are at the core of the metric strategy used to power the pulse dialogues, which kick off the interactive dialogue driving action and results.

Accountability for taking action is not created through threats, nor is it the outcome of a new compensation or performance management system. Accountability grows out of active, high-energy participation in a process designed to make the workplace better.


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  • About the Author: Theresa Welbourne

    Theresa Welbourne

    Theresa Welbourne is a Research Professor at the Center for Effective Organizations (CEO) in the Marshall School of Business, University of Southern California.  She is also the President and CEO…

    Full Bio | More from Theresa Welbourne


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