Holding people accountable can be one of the most time-consuming and thankless jobs out there.  Maybe that’s why many leaders struggle to do it – or don’t do it as consistently and relentlessly as they should.  The payback isn’t always immediate or apparent, the conversations can be difficult and there’s way too many other priorities.

A few months back I wrote that there are no fairy godmothers and no magic wands when it comes to managing people.  Well, thanks to a couple of my clients (you know who you are :-)), I’ve found the next best thing.

It’s a tool called 15/five...And although it’s been around since the 80’s (pioneered by ESPRIT and Patagonia), it’s now available in a great software package – and it might just be as close to a “magic wand” as you’re going to find.

(Full Disclosure – This isn’t a commercial, an advertisement or an official endorsement – nor do I get any financial incentives from recommending this tool. But it’s been a raving success with the CEO’s we’re working with…and I love making people’s lives easier.)


15/Five (thanks to the folks at 15/five for providing their “history”)

The idea behind 15Five originated in the 1980s with ESPRIT founder Doug Tompkins, who realized that if he asked all of his employees to spend 15 minutes writing a report that took their manager no more than 5 minutes to read, his employees would feel heard and he would have better insight into the workings of his company. Doug shared it with his friend Yvon Chouinard, founder of Patagonia, who had built his company around his passion for climbing and spent ample time each year away from Patagonia pursuing his passion.

According to the 15/five website, Yvon used the practice to keep his employees engaged and to stay informed even when he was out of the office climbing and surfing for up to 6 months each year. (Taking the kind of time away from his business that most of the CEO’s I know wouldn’t dream of doing.)

Later, Brad Oberwager, CEO of Sundia learned about the practice and tried putting it to use in his 100+ employee multinational business so that he could get better information from his employees and avoid the case of bad news traveling slowly.  And 15Five CEO David Hassell has taken it to the next level by putting it online, creating the vision that 15Five could become the communication backbone for thousands of companies where employees could be supported, transparency and trust would thrive and everyone could show up more empowered, creative and committed.

The result?  Well, you can read the rest of the story here.  But practically speaking, we’ve found that 15/five does five things that help to build Accountability…

1)      Good Execution is all about having clear priorities –  Simply put, with 15/five, every week employees (and you as their manager) get an email prompting them to put in the TOP planned actions or goals for the past week, what they accomplished AND what their TOP priorities are for the upcoming week.  It forces people to clarify what they’re going to focus on and keeps them on track.

2)       A Quarter is a 13 Week Race – that’s our motto for creating urgency in the companies with which we work.  By breaking down goals into weekly or biweekly increments (15/five allows you to do both) you make the work and projects “manageable” and allow you as the manager to stay on top of when things get done – and when they don’t.

3)      Recognize and provide constructive feedback – 15/five also has questions about people’s challenges and their wins for the week.  The tool makes it easy to let your employees know that you’re pleased with their efforts and recognize their hard work and effort.  (And gives managers the reminder to look for opportunities to provide feedback and assistance.)

4)      The Power of “anonymity” – Even though the 15/five is going to their boss, the leaders with whom I work say that their employees are more forthcoming and honest about what’s working and what’s not when they use the software (Maybe because it’s like an email and you don’t have to look the person in the eye?) And there’s a great question that you can include about how is the morale of the people around them that gives you an immediate pulse on the emotional health of your company’s employees as well.

5)      And my personal favorite?  “Is there anything else I should know about (as their manager)?” This is a question we added to make sure that we covered everything.  (The tool allows you to make up your own questions.) But there’s others that can be added without making the tool too cumbersome to use like, what’s one idea you had this week to improve the operation AND what kind of resources/ support do you need from me?

A primary job of a manager is to remove the barriers that are getting in the way of their employees being productive and 15/five opens up the communication channels to let that happen more easily. If you are intrigued and want more, 15five.com offers free one month trials.  And you don’t even have to give them a credit card!

You could certainly “do it yourself” too with emails – but be warned.  When Brad Oberwager first tried putting the concept to use he found attempting to gather reports by email to be overwhelming and ineffective – thus the vision to create the software.

So what are you waiting for?  Haven’t you always wanted to have a magic wand? 🙂

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