By Jeffrey Scott
Accountability is a rare thing — it is what every manager wants for their business or department — and what most managers struggle with.
Accountability is not well understood. Clients, business owners and managers approach me often with questions like: “What do I do if a guy doesn’t follow the rules, do I just fire him?” “Of course not,” I answer. “But then what do I do?”
There is no silver bullet. Accountability is created through a layering effect of many approaches and communications and tools. At the most basic level you need to start with employees who take personal accountability for their actions, but it would take much more to discuss personal accountability at length. For now, we are going to explore accountability on the four levels of personal interaction:
Accountability to the boss,
Accountability to the team,
Accountability to the peers,
Accountability to the clients.
Accountability to the boss
Everyone intuitively understands accountability to the boss, though it is often a struggle for many to make happen.
The challenge with to-the-boss accountability is to formulate one’s job description in a way that makes it easy to be accountable. Many managers tell their employees what to do, and what rules to follow, and then they think — and hope and pray — that this is enough to be able to hold an employee accountable. What they sometimes leave off is the “why.”
The key is to state responsibilities in terms of results/goals, and to give employees the why behind the goals. If your employees understand the goals and the why, they can engage their own minds and motivation toward achieving the goals and developing a better how-to. It is the basics of proper delegation.
Going through this process will ignite your people’s passions and give them clarity of tasks and goals — and accountability will then be that much easier.
The main obstacle to this approach is that it is not always easy to define responsibilities in terms of goals. It takes time to figure it out, which is hard to come by in a busy work environment.
How do you take responsibilities and turn them into inspiring goals? Perhaps you speak in terms of “creating referrals” or “setting up the salesperson to close a higher percentage of sales.”
For manager’s responsibilities, perhaps you turn them into higher-level goals by setting up systems so the department runs smoothly when you are on vacation, or having each key person rise up at least one level on their career ladder.
Make the “why” bigger than the “how.” Everyone has genius in them; your job is to help bring it out and engage it.
Accountability to the team
Accountability doesn’t start and stop with the boss. You also can create a company culture where there is accountability to the team.
The simplest way to do this is to have team meetings where results are shared and goals are discussed, and the company vision is described and explored.
This can be a powerful process. The leader’s job in this meeting is to create a “we” feeling and develop a culture in which people are accountable to the team and appreciated for their support to the team. This can be a place where successes are celebrated, and where people are asked to be responsible to the team for hitting their goals.
One caveat: I heard of a story of a mid-size company that used their team meetings to hold people accountable <dash> but the feeling generated was not a “we” feeling, rather it was a don’t-screw-up feeling. Consequently, the company struggled with gaining buy-in, team spirit and commitment — and profitability.
Create a winning streak — every week — in your team meetings.
Accountability to the peers
Members of your team should also feel accountable to one another. This type of accountability is very powerful.
This is where employees know exactly what to do for one another, so that each person can easily get their job done.
The proof when this is working well: employees don’t call their boss in to referee issues between each other; instead they work out their own differences amongst themselves. For this to happen, employees need to understand exactly how they are responsible to each other. Some experts call this a relationship agreement. This can be as simple as a list of activities and deliverables that each employee does for the other employee. It is the process of taking two employees and their job descriptions, and making sure they understand how their jobs interconnect.
If you are married then you know what I mean. Often each spouse has a role in the marriage, and does certain things for the other partner. This agreement is either laid out, or it is unspoken and implied. Every marriage is different — and every company and company process is different as well. You have to take this concept and apply it to your own company.
Accountability to the client
This last accountability occurs between employee and client. This form of accountability is maintained at the company level, and executed at the individual level. The company should define and teach what its standards are for customer service.
Every company has a unique approach to customers, and the more clearly and repetitively you can define this, and the more customer feedback you can share, the higher the degree of accountability you will have between employee and customer and company.
What about the boss?
Who is the boss accountable to? The following question came up in a recent peer group meeting I facilitated with business owners from around the country: “Where do I get my accountability from?” We found that accountability is a real issue for business leaders. They need it the same as everyone else in their company.
There are many places for the boss to find accountability. He or she can get it from his or her own management team. Also the boss can join a peer group, hire a business coach, or set up an advisory board — or some combination of these options.
Accountability is a choice, and with it you will experience increased productivity and performance in your business.
Jeffrey Scott is an author, speaker and green industry business consultant. He facilitates peer groups for green industry professionals who want to transform and profitably grow their business. To learn more about the benefits of belonging to a peer group, visit www.GetTheLeadersEdge.com. Scott also wrote two books for the green industry, including a book on peer groups called “The Leader’s Edge” — download the first 3 chapters for free at www.jeffreyscott.biz/books.html.