We spend a lot of time in business talking about accountability. Often the focus is other focused- how do we increase the team’s accountability? Why can’t that poor performer be more accountable? When will that partner/vendor improve their accountability? But instead of looking at the finger pointed at others, let’s think about the 3 fingers pointing back at us. As leaders, we are accountable for accountability. We do that by modeling accountability, inviting accountability, and by expecting accountability. Focusing on the actions and behaviors we need to do can move us from talking about accountability to creating it.
Modeling accountability. The first step in accountability is for you as the leader to model it. That begins with setting clear expectations. This starts with actually setting expectations. Does your team have clear objectives for each quarter? Where are they posted? Have you shared your specific objectives for the quarter with the team? And your progress against them? Research from Kaplan and Norton found that only 5% of the work force understand their organizational strategy. Not surprising given that their research also found 85% of executive teams spend less than one hour/ month discussing strategy. Visual management is a simple and effective way to model accountability. Create a visual management board for your team- either a real board on a wall or a virtual one where you post the organizational goals, your leader’s goals, and your goals, and your teams’ specific objectives for this quarter. Start by focusing on your goals, and add a red, yellow, green box to show what progress you have made toward each of those goals. Update it weekly. Most importantly, be honest. It’s okay if you don’t have everything green- what you want to model is being transparent about results, openly discussing road blocks and challenges, and how to get back on track. If you want others to be accountable, then they need to see that you are accountable – so make your accountability evident and open.
Inviting accountability. Think about what the end of the quarter looks like in your company. Do you/your leaders act like this quarter is the most important quarter in the history of the company- every quarter? Here is a list of the most common quarter end activities: Calling your team and reading them the sales results – even though they have the same report(s) you do. Telling them you expect them to close the gap and then some, no excuses. Knowing their budget was unreasonable but driving them into the ground to meet it anyway. News flash: this does not create accountability, but it is a great breeding ground for resentment and disengagement. The word invite is intentional – you can’t force accountability and sustain great results. When people don’t buy into a plan and things head south, they jump off the race track and into the spectator seats. What you want to cultivate is a team who stays on the track and shifts into problem solving mode when they hit a speed bump. Inviting accountability forges a new road to results. Ask your team to create a quarterly plan that maps out what they will do to reach their key goals. Review them on a regular basis throughout the quarter. Shift the conversation by shifting your focus from the results (# new customers, satisfaction rating) to the inputs that drive those results. Ask questions about what’s working, what’s not working, and offer some coaching on what else they can do. End the session by asking them what specifically they will do before your next check in. And then at the next check in follow up to see what they’ve done. If people create a plan themselves, they are much more likely to be accountable to it. And you may just be surprised with the ideas they come up with.
Expecting Accountability. So let’s imagine that you have shared your goals and results with the team. You have created regular meetings to assess their progress toward their goals. And you see they are really trying. But one employee, Jim, is not consistently following through. He sort of works on his plan. He hits one or two of their goals. But he is more of a coaster than a go-getter. How you handle this will either cement or crack your team’s commitment to accountability. Accountability means everyone, for everything, all the time. Or it is meaningless. Speak to Jim in clear terms about his performance, and the gap in his delivery. Start with the facts: he committed on X date to Y deliverable, and to date you haven’t seen the results. Follow up with the impact: Because he has not completed Y, let him know the specific impact on his peers/customers/vendors. Then set the consequence. If Y is not done by Z date, he will be taken off the project. Given an unsatisfactory rating. Written up. Ask him to go back and update his plan with a new approach to hit the new date. End by asking what help he needs from you or others. Confirm his understanding and re-invite his commitment. If he doesn’t want to get on the bus, then work within a plan to get off it. The team already knows Jim is not carrying his weight- and if you don’t do anything to address it, you risk losing both their accountability and their respect.
Being a leader means both enabling and expecting accountability. As the leader you assume accountability for the teams’ results. What you don’t want to do is assume that the team understands what it means to be accountable. Steven Covey says accountability breeds response-ability. You can drive accountability in your team and enhance their response-ability by modeling, inviting, and expecting accountability.