Podcast Transcriptions

Pursue What Matters

Episode 113: Responsibility – The First Pillar of Accountability

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Dr. Melissa Smith 0:00
Peter Drucker, the famous leadership thinker, has said leadership is responsibility. What do you think of that? Of all things that leadership is responsibility? Well, today I’m going to make a case for that.

Dr. Melissa Smith 0:13
Hi, I’m Dr. Melissa Smith, welcome to the Pursue What Matters podcast where we focus on what it takes to thrive in love and work. And so if you have listened to some of my podcasts, maybe you’ve heard me talk about the fact that accountability is a two way street. And so today, with the podcast, I want to break that down a little bit more and help you understand what I mean by that. And so this week’s podcast is all focused on responsibility, which is one pillar of accountability, right? So if we think about a two way street, one way is responsibility. The other way, is ownership. And so next week, we’ll be talking all about ownership.

Dr. Melissa Smith 1:16
But today, I want to kind of break down accountability into this first pillar, which is responsibility. But if we just take a step back and look about look at accountability in the workplace, right, it means that all employees are responsible for their actions, behaviors, performance and decisions. Right? So accountability is on everyone. And so it’s a pretty important term to understand. Accountability at work is also linked to an increase in commitment to work, and to culture, which, of course, we know leads to higher performance. And so understanding accountability can really make a big difference. You know, as I work with leaders, whenever I see that they have friction points, or you know, these parts of the of the work or the business that seemed to be stuck points, I always point them to accountability. What kind of accountability do you have in place? What kind of processes do you have in place, what kind of follow through do you have in place, because there are a few things that will grind work to a halt more quickly than a lack of accountability. And so that’s what we’re really going to take a look at today.

Dr. Melissa Smith 2:36
And of course, each week with a podcast. My goal is to help you pursue what matters. by strengthening your confidence to lead, I do that in one of three areas leading with clarity, which is all about connection to purpose, leading with curiosity, which is all about self awareness, and self leadership, and leading and building a community, which is all about effective leadership skills to help you strengthen, build, lead, and become part of a strong community, team or organization. And so today, as we think about responsibility as the first pillar of accountability, we’re really primarily focusing on leading and building a community. So what needs to be in place on the part of a leader to really help to ensure that accountability exists at work. And so that’s what we’re going to be paying attention to.

Dr. Melissa Smith 3:32
So let’s just say a little bit more about these two pillars of accountability. That’s the way that I talk about them. I also talk about them as a two way street. So in order to be effective, right, any process improvement, or organizational change must include both pillars of accountability.

Dr. Melissa Smith 3:52
So the two pillars are first responsibility, and second ownership. So let me say a little bit more about each of these. So responsibility. When I talk about that I’m talking about responsibility on the part of the leader for structuring the accountability process, leaders must provide structure, leaders must provide a framework for the work, it’s one of your most important responsibilities.

Dr. Melissa Smith 4:19
And then pillar two is ownership. And when I think about ownership, I think about ownership on the part of each team member for owning that change, owning the process, owning the task. And so hopefully, as we go through this, that will really make sense to you. Because in order to have effective accountability in place at work, we must have both pillars in place we must have responsibility on the part of a leader and we must have ownership on the part of each team member.

Dr. Melissa Smith 4:52
Okay, so let’s jump in and learn more about responsibility. And then of course, stay tuned for next week where we will be talking about ownership. So as I mentioned, responsibility, when I talk about that I’m talking about responsibility on the part of the leader for structuring the accountability process. And so again, Peter Drucker said, “leadership is responsibility.” And when I was looking at some of the work related to responsibility, I came across a really great interview with Robert L. Joss, who, at the time, this wasn’t too long ago, was a retiring Dean from Stanford. And he talked about leadership. And he said that leadership is all about responsibility. It is not about power set, right, that those days are gone. And those days weren’t really very effective. And so the questions that I have for you, based on his statement that leadership is about responsibility, not power is what is your responsibility to those you lead? Right, and when you can ask this question, when you can approach your work and your leadership, in terms of what is my responsibility to those I lead, you will start to look at your work very differently, you will start to look at those you lead very, very differently.

Dr. Melissa Smith 6:16
So you know, one of the things that I have come up against, in my own leadership, and my own organization is just being too darn busy, right, like being too much in the work, that it really has made it challenging for me to lead the work and, and that’s an important distinction that we want to pay attention to. And so as I, you know, try to get myself quiet, and really, you know, do a little bit of some self awareness, self assessment and self leadership, right? When we think about curiosity to lead, I really was trying to pay attention to where, where does my first responsibility lie here, right? Because it’s easy to make a case for, I need to be in the work, right, I need, I need to be in the work. But as I really take a look at my role as a leader, and my invitation for each of you, is that, you know, your first responsibility is to those you lead, right, that it’s more important for you as a leader to lead the work, then to be in the work. And that, as I kind of got quiet with myself, what I recognized is that I wasn’t giving enough time to leading the work, right? I mean, and I think how that showed up for me is just kind of undermining myself in terms of my own self care. And so, you know, I had, I had to, you know, really take a look at that and take responsibility for, hey, I need, I need to lead the work more than being in it. And so that led to, you know, some some hard decisions, they were actually, they were hard because it made, it meant significant changes for some of the folks that we serve. But in many ways, it was a pretty easy decision, because I had some clarity, that boy, like I need to, I need to carry this responsibility to those I lead and really show up for them and make sure that I’m guiding the work and guiding the vision of the organization.

Dr. Melissa Smith 8:20
And so that is my invitation for you is that you can really look at what your responsibility is to your team, whether that’s, you know, I need to have some office hours I need to be more available, whether that is I need to think about strategy. And I need to help the team, think about strategy, these things really matter. So if we go back to jobs and not interview, so this is the retiring Stanford D. Dean, he, you know, in speaking about responsibility, he said, “a group needs a strategy, it needs a framework, right. And that this is work that a leader must lead.” Now, a leader doesn’t have to have sole responsibility for this. But a leader really sets the course. And one of the most important ways that you set course is by having a clear strategy, and having a clear framework for accountability, right for executing on that strategy. And so, you know, in this interview, Josh said managers can take steps to improve planning, staffing and organizing, but those are not enough. So he continues, “they help you push the group in the right direction. They bring a discipline and a focus to the organization. That’s extremely valuable. They have a lot to do with how the group acts, but they have very little to do with how it thinks or how it feels.” So how the group thinks or feels. And he said, to do that, you’ve got to pull the group along. And that takes communication, a lot of communication.

Dr. Melissa Smith 9:49
So when which I love right, so one of the things I’m fond of saying is, when in doubt over communicate. And so what he’s saying here, right is that good organization, planning and staffing aren’t enough, right? When you’re leading an organization or leading a team, you really need, you need to make a case that’s persuasive, you need to invite them along into a story into a vision into a mission that really matters, right? So paying attention to how a group thinks, and how a group feels about the work, and that communication, and responsibility are your tools, right. And so we really do want to pay attention to that. So let’s, let’s take a look at how you can really lean into responsibility and embrace responsibility as this first pillar of accountability. Okay, and so, with that, I have three key points for you to help you to really embrace responsibility to those you lead.

Dr. Melissa Smith 10:57
Okay, so let’s go ahead and start with point one. So the leader is ultimately responsible for the process, right, another way of saying this is the leaders are ultimately responsible for the work at the end of the day, the leader, the leader is the one that’s responsible, that’s part of why there can be a heavy burden on your shoulders, because the buck stops with you. And so when we think about that, in terms of processes and framework and the unfolding and execution of the work, right, a leader ultimately must ensure services and products are delivered effectively, and efficiently that clients and customers are satisfied. And so the leaders task is to establish an effective and efficient process structure for So another way of saying process structure is framework, you’ve got to organize the work. So, you know, we’ve got to pay attention to that. And we’ve got to address process problems, before focusing on compliance, right. And so, you know, building a framework for the work is something best done just in small steps, step by step, recognizing that you iterate as you go. But what an effective process structure or framework does is it provides clarity to the team about what is expected.

Dr. Melissa Smith 12:24
And then along with that, right? You, the leader has got to be communicating, like Joss teaches us has got to be communicating about why that matters. So the framework provides clarity to the team about what is expected, right when it comes to the work. And always be communicating about why that matters, why that matters for our mission, or vision and where we’re going. So that’s the first point the leader is ultimately responsible for the process. And the more that you as a leader can take absolute 100% responsibility for that process, the more effective you and your team will be, it doesn’t mean that you don’t delegate I mean, that’s the last thing that I would want you to take home from that, it doesn’t mean that you don’t give appropriate responsibility to team members. But it means that when it comes to, you know, a lack of execution, or difficulties within the process, the leader has got to take responsibility for that.

Dr. Melissa Smith 13:28
Okay, and now, let’s go to the second point around responsibility. And that is the clarity of the process structure or the framework, right. And so the leader really needs to take responsibility for having a clear framework or a clear process structure. So there are a few reflection questions that I have for you to really identify your needs around your framework around your process. And so right, we want to think about some of these questions in terms of first, clarity of goals, right? So this is where we think about purpose. The second category is clarity of problems or friction points or tension points, whatever you want to call those.

Dr. Melissa Smith 14:18
And then the third area is clarity of solutions. Okay, so and I have a few questions for each of these areas that really help you as a leader to reflect on the clarity of your process structure, okay, because here’s what I see happen. So often with leaders, the process is clear in their head, maybe because they’ve been doing it for a long time, maybe because they have a lot of expertise. But what happens and this is where things fall apart, is that they fail to communicate that process to those they lead. They assume that the process is Clear and intuitive. And so they can blame those they lead when team members don’t get it or have a hard time really executing on that. And so they, you know, and so a part of that is that they fail to communicate, right? Like they assume it’s clear. They assume if it’s not working, that is a failure on team members. And this, again, is where it’s so important for leaders to take 100% responsibility for that, to look at. Okay, there could be some individual team member issues, right? We’re not saying that that isn’t necessarily a possibility. But still, the leader needs to get curious about that. The leader needs to look at that process, and ask some of these questions in terms of how clear is this process? Do we know where we’re going and why it matters? And so I want you to look at these questions in these three different areas.

Dr. Melissa Smith 16:01
So the first set of questions is around clarity of goals. Okay. So as a team, do we agree on the goals? Right? Because you might not, that might seem very apparent to you as a leader, and it’s not very apparent to others, or they’re not on board. And so right, there’s more work around mission and vision that needs to be done. The second question is, Do we agree about expectations, okay, and this is a really big one. So much of the trouble that we run into is when we have missed expectations, or we don’t have clarity, about expectations. And so when it comes to agreeing about expectations, right, as a team, as a leader, right, you want to identify expectations and why they matter. And here’s my advice to be more clear than you think you need to be, be more explicit than you think you need to be over communicate about this clarity. And then you’ll about habit, right? I mean, you just if these are some of your most important targets in terms of the quality of the work, and what we do. It’s, it bears repeating. And so getting that message correct, is really, really important. And so then, you know, once we identify the expectations, we really do need to align expectations across the team. Right? So do we all want the same thing? Do we do we agree that this is an important project or an important agenda item, right? And these can be very uncomfortable conversations. For teams, they can be very uncomfortable conversations with leaders, especially if you’re getting an agenda item, push on you from higher above, right? And then you need you and your team needs to execute on that. Right, that can be really challenging if you don’t feel like you have clarity on the goals, and why it really matters. And so that, again, we think about 100% responsibility. So your work there for your team is to get those questions answer to understand from maybe your superiors, why, why this project matters, why this agenda item is important. And so you know, it doesn’t mean at the end of that process that everyone agrees. So consensus in the work setting and consensus on teams can be a pretty dangerous goal. But we can’t can we have commitment to the team? Right. So that might that might look like you know what, I don’t agree with this. I don’t think it’s going to be very helpful. But I recognize that this is the decision that has been made, whether that is the decision by the team, or whether that is the decision by a leader, right. And always, we want to be able to have a clear rationale for why this goal, why why this goal over another goal. And so it’s not that we’re striving for consensus, as we look at these at these questions around aligning expectations, but we want an opportunity for collaboration, we want an opportunity for communication, we want an opportunity for concerns to be expressed. And so all of that is really important when it comes to aligning expectations.

Dr. Melissa Smith 16:33
Okay, then the second set of questions that we want to pay attention to, when we’re looking at the clarity of process structure or framework is clarity of problems and friction points, right. So we just talked about the clarity of the goals, where are we going? Why does it matter? And now we really want to look at understanding the problems, right because for each of us in the work, we do We have different friction points, we have different problems, it is just the nature of work. And so these are some questions that I would invite you and those you work with to really explore as you as you pay attention to your process structure and these friction points.

Dr. Melissa Smith 20:20
So the first question is, Do we agree about the problem? Now, I think this is a really a really great question to really just see where people are at. So for example, maybe as you talk this out, and I would encourage you, as a leader to do this first on your own, and maybe even invite everyone on the team to kind of go through some of these questions on their own. And then you all join together to have a conversation, I think sometimes that can be even more effective, because it gives people a chance to kind of be thoughtful about the process. And so some examples that you might explore, as you look at Do we agree about the problem could include the process, right? Like, maybe what you come to is, we don’t have a process in place for this, we’re just kind of doing it in a highly variable manner, each time we approach it. And that can certainly be the case, when you have a new process, right? It can also be the case when you have high turnover, right? That maybe if you had a process, if some of the stakeholders of that process, are not, are not still there or have moved to other departments, then you can have processes fall apart. And so and this is where right, like those folks who have been around a little bit longer, they can really have some misalignment with newer members of the team, because newer members of the team are like, Hey, I don’t have what I need to be successful. And if you’re not careful, that’s where team members can really get into a little bit of the blame game. And so this is why having these discussions and these questions around the clarity of the problems can be so helpful. And everyone has the same goal, right? Like we all want to make the work better. We all want to work better as a team. And so it’s really about approaching these issues collaboratively, right. And with curiosity, not with judgment, not with blaming, knowledge shaming, obviously, we don’t ever want any of those happening. And so some other examples about how maybe we agree or disagree about the problem. could include, okay, we have a process, but there’s inconsistent use of a process.

Dr. Melissa Smith 22:46
Now this one I see all the time with with organizations and with teams is that they have a pretty good process framework in place, but they don’t, they don’t use it consistently. Right. And that can be that can really send mixed messages. So when there is inconsistent use of a process, this makes the work really challenging because there’s just not much predictability. Okay, so another example of you know, do we agree or disagree about a problem? Is the lack of clarity about the task? Or the project management, right? Like, do we all agree that we’re working on the same thing? And this really goes back to the first set of questions around clarity of goals? Do we all agree on what we are actually working towards? And so there can be a lack of clarity about that. And that leads people, you know, working in all different areas, and really cuts down on effectiveness and efficiency.

Dr. Melissa Smith 23:45
Another example I’ve kind of talked about this a little bit, is the failure to communicate clearly. Right? And that’s a big one, right? So first of all, failure to communicate, clarity about the goals, and failure to communicate about concerns and to really hear and allow the concerns to be voice that’s really important. Because, right, there’s a lot of power and inherent wisdom in a team, right? We think about groupthink, which is absolutely a thing. But we also recognize when you have a strong cohesive group with unique skill sets, they often can get to better solutions. And so we don’t want to lose that by not communicating about projects clearly. And then the other way that this communication shows up is the failure to utilize existing communication channels, right. So if you have some communication channels built in as part of your process framework, but you fail to use them, right, that’s another failure point. That’s another friction point. And so making sure you’re using your communication channels, and then of course, the failure to follow through on communication. So you might have a great meeting. About a status update and next steps and everyone gets their assignments, but then there’s a failure to follow through. And that just, you know what that leads to a loss of motivation for team members, because it’s like, what’s the point like I worked on this, I tried to meet this deadline. But there wasn’t ever any accountability. And again, that’s on a leader when we think about the leaders responsibility.

Dr. Melissa Smith 25:25
Okay. So when we think about clarity of problems, or friction points, the first set of questions is, Do we agree about the problem? The second question, and I absolutely love this question is, who is this a problem for? Right? Because it might only be a problem for one person on that team. And so we want to get very curious about that question. Who is this a problem for? You know, what’s the big way that this shows up, is, if you just stay at the level of your team and your work, it’s very easy to say, this is not a problem. But when you start getting feedback from clients, or customers, you recognize, oh, my goodness, we have a big problem on our hands. So is it a problem for your team members? Is it as problem for leadership? Is it a problem for your clients? Is it a problem for other stakeholders? Right? So you really need to get curious about who is this a problem for so that you can have more buy in for actually addressing it? And then of course, with that question, we want to ask why, why is it a problem for them? or Why is this not a problem for others. And so sometimes, what you can see, as you look into this is that you might have some perverse incentives set up within your organization. And those, we always want to surface and, and get rid of as soon as possible. And then the third set of questions around the clarity of problems is how do we create coherence about the problem?

Dr. Melissa Smith 27:04
Okay, so when I talk about coherence, I am not talking about consensus, right? I said a little bit more about that a few minutes ago. But coherence is not the same as consensus, right? coherence is some clarity, coherence is some commitment. So right at the end of the discussion or the process, you might not necessarily agree, but can you get on board, because you see, this is right, this is the direction the ship is heading. And if just in your heart of hearts, you can’t get on board, then you really need to assess whether you know, the work is a good fit for you. And so, you know, when we think about the requirements of a process framework, you know, we really the message is you don’t have to like it. But we all kind of need to do things for the good of the organization, right? When I think about the accountability pieces that we have in our organization, right, I can say very clearly that our team members don’t really love those accountability pieces, but they recognize that it’s part of having coherence around the work. It helps us to unearth problems very quickly. And it helps us to communicate about what’s happening as we do the work as the work unfolds. But right, like having communication and coherence, like, it doesn’t necessarily mean you agree, it doesn’t mean you like it doesn’t mean you’re excited about it. But can you see why it matters. And again, that is always the work of a leader to make the case for why it matters. Okay, and then the last set of questions that we want to look at when we think about the clarity of the process structure or framework is clarity of solutions, right? So we talked about clarity of goals, where are we going? And why does it matter? clarity of problems and friction points, where are we getting stuck? And then clarity of solutions.

Dr. Melissa Smith 29:06
Okay, and so the questions that I really want you to explore in this area is Do we agree about solutions, right? So just like the problem, do we agree about the solutions here? Why or why not? These can be really valuable conversations to have. The second question, Do we agree about how to solve the problem? Okay, so that we all might agree that this is the solution, but there can be a lot of disagreement about how to get to that solution. Okay. So if the answer is yes, that you agree about how to solve the problem, then how do you ensure alignment consistently, right? And so that’s where we really think about accountability checks, a communication process, a review process, a retro process, to really make sure that you’re aligned on that solution and that there is consistency across the team. And then of course, if the answer is no, right, like there is not agreement about how to solve the problem, then the focus becomes how do we create alignment? Okay. And I think the most powerful way that you can appeal to alignment is around purpose and mission. That’s why purpose matters so much. Sometimes, you may need to look at incentives, right?

Dr. Melissa Smith 30:34
So thinking about carrots, and sticks, right? So incentives and disincentives. Now there is a place for these at work, but what I would say is, it should be a really small part, one of the things that we don’t want to run into is that, you know, you get to a point where you’re incentivizing the work that they were hired to do, okay, like, that is a problem. Because that’s where we really see intrinsic motivation fall apart. And that’s where we see an erosion of culture. And it really can become a very selfish approach to the work, like, I’ll do this, if it helps me, I’ll do this, if I get, you know, this bonus, that sort of thing. And so it makes, you might get alignment, but you’ll always right, like, it’s going to be so much heavy lifting on the part of the leader to maintain alignment. And so again, like, there is a place for incentives, I’m not saying that, but you need to use them sparingly. You need to be so incredibly thoughtful about how and when you use incentives. Okay.

Dr. Melissa Smith 31:48
So if we think about, if we think about an example here, in terms of, you know, clarity of a process framework, right, let’s think about project based work, where, you know, the concern, the problem that everyone agrees on, and the solution is that we need more timely completion of tasks, right, like across the month, so that we can smooth out the workflow, we can have more predictability, on use of resources. And so we can deliver consistently for clients. Right? And so what might that require of different team members? Right? So it might require the CEO to have better organizational management, right? This is where org charts really matter? Because they’re a visual representation of workflow, who does what, where are our gaps? You know, if we think about finance, it might mean better budgetary oversight, which can then strengthen planning to really pay attention to what are the numbers that matter so that we can really hone in on those and help with some predictability across a month or a quarter or a year. We think about operations, and better planning for consistent operational output, right. So better use of resources, whether that’s team members, whether that’s time, whether that’s budget, whether that is additional specialists, right, and it also leads to more accurate information, for cells, and for marketing and for all of the other departments. And so we really do want to pay attention to that planning. And then, you know, when we get to the level of specific team members, right, there’s more consistent workflow throughout the month.

Dr. Melissa Smith 33:47
Most of us in our life, especially work life, want more predictability. And so that can be one of the pleas that you make in terms of ensuring alignment is that, you know, as we really follow this process, it’s going to result in more predictability for each of us, it’s going to lead to less cramming at the end of the month or the end of the work week. And so making the case for that, and then of course, following through on that, and that’s a team effort that requires everyone.

Dr. Melissa Smith 34:18
Okay, so those are the questions that we want to look at when we’re thinking about the clarity of the process structure. So again, the first category is clarity of goals. Second is clarity of problems. Third is clarity of solutions. And now, I want to talk about the third key point when it comes to leaders taking responsibility, right. So the first point, just as review, was that the leaders ultimately responsible for the process. The second point is that the leader is responsible for ensuring clarity of the process structure or the process framework. And then the third point that we’re going to talk about now is a leader wants to consider specific accountability levers? Right? So remember, we’re talking about accountability and the leaders role in this. And so what can the leader take responsibility for when it comes to accountability levers? Because those are important. So, you know, a couple of examples would be utilizing deadlines, and touch points for more efficient workflow. Right. So this is where we think about a stand up meeting, where there is a touch point, whether it’s every day, whether it’s a couple times a week, whether it’s once a week, right, that cadence will depend on the needs of your team and the needs of the project. But having these touch points with the stand up meetings, can be such an important component of increasing accountability. And then, of course, utilizing deadlines, like pinning people down on deadlines. And you know, less important than, you know, always 100% sticking to a deadline is this idea that folks know that there’s accountability there. And that if a deadline needs to be changed, right, there’s a conversation about that, so that everyone on the team knows how the work is going how its unfolding, so that you don’t get to the end of a project and got a rude surprise that someone didn’t meet their deadline, or their part of the work is now going to hold up the rest of the project. And so you want to push maybe timelines up in the month, you want to create aligned incentives, or disincentives. And then of course, you always, always always need to enforce those, when reward those depending on the situation.

Dr. Melissa Smith 36:54
And then the second thing that we want to do when we consider specific accountability levers is to utilize a primary communication process that includes all relevant team members. Okay. So maybe that’s status updates, again, the stand up meetings, having consistent status updates throughout the week, the month, the life of the project, and having these status updates required of all team members, because again, it becomes a really important communication tool. These don’t have to take long, but it’s just okay, we’re going to have a check in point. And then consider how your existing communication tools can be leveraged more effectively. So if you think about project management tools, if you think about in house communication tools, are you using those effectively? Or have they become part of the problem, which can sometimes happen? And so thinking about how you can leverage your communication tools more effectively? And then, you know, this communication process, right, this primary communication process serves as a collaboration tool for the team, right? Where you can see Oh, I can see what you’re working on, hey, I’ve got something to add to that. Or have you thought about, you know, this, this piece of the work that might be helpful. And so it can really result in more effective work, more collaboration, more creativity on the team. And so we think about the leader leads the work, right, the leader leads the team, we think about the different team members, you know, whether they’re leading the project, or they’re leading specific tasks within the project. And so everyone has responsibility for something, right. And so, again, with today’s episode, we’re really focusing on how leaders must take 100% responsibility for the work and for the process and how it unfolds. And so the the three key points that I’m inviting you to pay attention to are first the leader is ultimately responsible for the process. Second, the leader is responsible for the clarity of the process. And third, the leader is responsible for addressing specific accountability levers in that process.

Dr. Melissa Smith 39:25
And so I hope you will stay tuned for next week’s episode, where I’m going to be talking about the second pillar of accountability, which is ownership and it is just as important as what we’ve talked about today. And so head on over to my website to check out the show notes and the resources for this episode at www.drmelissasmith.com/responsibilitypillar. So one more time, that’s www.drmelissasmith.com/responsibilitypillar so I hope you’ll also consider giving me a review for the podcast on iTunes or Spotify. It really does help me to reach more people. And I’d love to hear from you. I’m on Instagram at Dr. Melissa Smith. I’d love your thoughts and feedback. So I’m Dr. Melissa Smith. Remember love and work, work and love. That’s all there is. Until next time, take good care.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai