First Steps Toward Accountability

21 May 2019
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I have 2 clients who are focused on “accountability” this year, and it’s proving a hard row to hoe for both of them.  Why?

Well, first of all, accountability is a somewhat scary term.  If someone is saying we need it, then that must mean that we are not being accountable, and that sounds like someone’s not happy with people’s performance.

Worse, if there’s not a way to gauge performance, then people are likely to take a need for accountability as a judgment on their dedication.  They’ll confuse accountability with work ethic.

It’s unfortunate that accountability gets this reaction.  In Stage 2 companies, accountability is more about making things that used to be managed intuitively into things that are managed objectively.  It does make a judgment about how people are working, but not in the way they think – accountability focuses on working on the right things, not the level of effort.

In fact, most of the time I work on accountability, people have a clearer sense of direction and less stress in their jobs.

I can spend lots of time talking about how to make your organization more accountable, but for now, let me finish by answering the question, “How do you overcome the initial resistance to accountability?”

I recommend 3 steps.  First, before you bring up accountability, praise the team’s work ethic (assuming it deserves praise…if it doesn’t, that’s a deeper problem…), so that they know that you know they are dedicated.  Second, give them an example of people spending more time in an area than they should.  (Serving the bottom 20% of your customer base is a fairly typical area.)  Finally, ask the team, “Do you have a way of quickly seeing whether the other people on the Leadership Team are succeeding?”  If you don’t, then you’re probably spending more time than you should simply understanding how you’re doing, instead of diving into the issues that will make your business better.


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