“We need more accountability around here.” “We need to hold people accountable.” This is one of the most consistent themes we hear from clients when asked what they would like to achieve or improve in their business. It’s a worthy goal, but the path to success is not simple. You can’t mandate accountability. Accountability is a choice. Here’s a formal definition of Accountability: the willingness of an individual to account for their actions, accept responsibility for them and disclose the results in a transparent manner.
We often think that by applying negative consequences, or calling people out, we’ll be able to enforce accountability. Who wants to be the accountability police? Our time as leaders is much better spent figuring out what we can do to create an environment that encourages accountable behavior, a culture where people are willing to account, accept, disclose, and even ask for help when needed. Before you jump straight to consequences, make sure you’ve done your part to create an environment where people will choose to be accountable.
Step 1: Common Purpose: Start with WHY. Make sure people understand why things matter. What’s the big picture here? You can often link it to the left hand side of your One-Page Strategic Plan OPSP.... your Core Purpose, Core Values, BHAG, Brand Promise. These are all things you have decided as a company are important to the long-term benefit of the organization. If people understand the greater good supported by achieving a goal, enforcing a policy, attending a meeting, working overtime, completing a report.... the list goes on and on.... then they will be much more committed to seeing it through.
Step 2: Clear Goals & Expectations: Get clear about WHAT needs to be done. Don’t be vague or assume everyone knows what you mean. One of the biggest breakthroughs for new clients using our Rhythm Strategy Execution Software program is the discipline of setting Red/Yellow/Green success criteria up front. And make sure to state your goals and expectations using SMART criteria: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-bound. Getting clear and aligned from the very beginning around what success looks like can have a powerful and positive impact on results.
Step 3: Effective Communication: Don’t assume that just because you said something once or sent out an email, everyone got it. Even if they all heard you say it or read the email, that’s no indication that they all understood you. The goal of all communication should be shared meaning. A good rule of thumb for communicating an important message to a group of people is to strive to share your message seven times in seven ways. Speak it, email it, create a visual tool, put it in the newsletter, review it in meetings, ask them to repeat it, be creative. Seven times may seem like overkill, but you get the idea. People process information differently, so make sure your message has been received and understood.
Step 4: Coaching, Feedback & Adjustments: It’s important for people to know how they’re doing, and to be able to share their progress with the team. Your weekly team meetings and Red/Yellow/Green status updates are great tools for monitoring progress, identifying areas that may be falling short, and making critical adjustments before it’s too late. One of the truest tests of an accountable culture is the team’s ability to provide and accept coaching and feedback from each other. It requires a high level of trust and a deep understanding of best intentions by all (back to common purpose), but once you get there, accountability will soar, and so will results.
Step 5: Consequences: There it is..... consequences.... but not until you’re sure you’ve done your part on the first four steps. And don’t forget that consequences can (and should) be both positive and negative. Recognize and appreciate great behavior and great results, and celebrate your victories!
Increasing accountability in your organization, or even just on your team, is within your grasp. Be fair and consistent, be true to your word, and set a fitting example. Accountability can be contagious. See additional accountability examples.
Want more information on Team Accountability? Check out these additional resources:
The Power of Systems and People: Accountable Leaders and Teams
Learn more about accountable leaders and teams.