Modern accountability: an oxymoron or secret sauce for productivity?
Many times, especially in modern business culture, the word accountability sends faces cringing and eyes rolling. People tend to associate the word “accountability” with the term “micro-management.” If you’ve ever been in a meeting where the boss or team leader mentions there will be people held accountable, you might have thought to yourself, “oh boy, in two weeks, someone is getting fired!”. I want to talk about how accountability doesn’t have to mean enforcing unrealistic authority sprinkled with manipulation. Accountability can breed a fantastic vibe with company culture. It’s a modern world with windy roads, and accountability is in the driver’s seat.
Let me first say that accountability is in many aspects of our lives, not just business. You are already accountable to your partner, children, pets, family members, and friends. You set boundaries and expectations and earn respect from loved ones by providing for their needs. COVID-19 has taught us to be extra accountable, as we also need to take into account health and safety and be present more at home. Homeschooling and hybrid learning are household expectations, and we all conform to this new modern way of family life. You might be working at home, but you still are accountable to your customers, business partners, employees, and vendors. Even as a business owner, I am accountable to my other partners.
What is the difference between responsibility and accountability?
Often mistaken for synonyms, these two terms are quite different, especially now in our modern world. Both have a place in business and success, but they have distinct differences.
Responsibility (noun): the opportunity or ability to act independently and make decisions without authorization.
Responsibility comes from within. It’s something that comes from the standards we impose on ourselves. It’s a one-way street. The motivation comes from one’s sense of duty. While many companies would love for their employees and team leaders to operate based on their understanding of responsibility, it is highly unlikely that this type of motivation will render success.
Where responsibility lacks is where accountability comes into play. Accountability involves using a two-way street. Accountability relies on two or more people working together to produce results. It is like driving delivery trucks on a two-way street. To pull our weight, we must serve others, be held accountable to deliver on time, and not get lost in the process. Showing consideration for others by having personal responsibility on the team is a modern way to get things done and execute.
In the modern world, you may be given a task by your employer. Your responsibility lies in understanding the job, knowing the deadline, and doing whatever it takes to get it done. Your employer needn’t micromanage your process, but they will hold you accountable for meeting the expectations if you’re late in delivery. Make sense?
Suppose you can re-frame thinking about being held accountable. In that case, you will see that it’s not about authority leaning over everything you do; it is caring so much about the success, community, and culture within the company that everyone agrees to obey the rules of the road and work together to win.
Purpose Driven Action Plans
So many companies have grand mission statements and vision boards. They focus on the big picture and values but fall short when it comes to putting it all into action. Not having an action plan with the big picture is why culture within often crumbles.
Steps to go from “Big Picture Vision” to an “Action Plan”:
1) Employ people who agree on the vision & are willing to work together
2) Write down the big picture
3) Divide it into workable pieces
4) Set clear expectations
5) Assign people to hold each other accountable
Company buy-in is often not talked about but crucial for success. Sometimes this means trimming fat you know is for the overall greater good. No one said this was going to be easy! If someone doesn’t agree on how the team should implement, they will often push back and create internal turmoil. Internal turmoil leads to a culture that smells rotten. People often don’t know exactly where the smell is coming from, but they cannot ignore it, and it tends to become the central focus. It leads the focus being on negative and nit-picky instead of positive and excited. When culture reeks, personal responsibility disappears, and passing off responsibility falls in its place.
How to ensure your team accepts accountability with open arms:
It starts at the top.
If you are the business owner, like me, that means it starts with YOU. Your team takes its lead from you. If you’re not willing to do what you’re asking your team, that makes you a hypocrite. Take personal responsibility and find someone like a partner or coach to hold YOU accountable too.
There’s a simple formula to break down accountability within an organization:
1) Find people who are great at leading people. These individuals will be your management team aka People Managers.
2) Break up the work into projects that a group sees as ‘work that matters.’ Projects in this category would be for people who dislike busywork and the nitty-gritty details but enjoy working for the big picture. aka The Project Managers
3) Create detailed day-to-day tasks that must get done to make the projects mentioned in #2 successful. aka The Detail Doers.
In the above formula, there are three distinct roles: the People Managers, The Project Managers, and The Detail Doers. Many companies are great at 1 and 2 but fail to find the doers to execute the daily tasks. The Detail Doers are not optional. They are an essential part of the team, in my opinion. These detail doers are going to ensure things don’t get messy as the business grows. They keep everyone on track(holding people accountable!). Please don’t ignore them, and please don’t undervalue them! If you are an organization that tries to plan for pre-determined scenarios by creating processes and procedures, you are under-valuing the three types of teams above. You are living in the old way and not the modern way. Instead, let people thrive on your business’s culture and let them be motivated by taking action and making their own decisions.
Ways to Start Accountability/Culture-Driven Teams:
1) Precise Expectations.
Ensure you know what you expect and make sure each person on the team fully understands what you expect. Sometimes this also means taking time to talk things out. Having a “because I said so” approach will only backfire and cause people to lose respect for you. When the individual understands why you are asking them to do something, they are more likely to buy-in and feel connected to the big picture and the company. And when they buy-in, they are more likely to take personal responsibility, which makes accountability easier.
2) Frequent Communication
As I mentioned, the goal is to avoid micromanagement. Instead, replace monitoring every detail with daily communication. Here are some ways to do so: 5 to 10 -minutes a day check-ins. Choose how you do this. Some prefer conference calls; others prefer Zoom; some are still doing in-person round tables. The key is you can be creative and even communicate expectations, remind the team about deadlines, gauge morale, address concerns, listen to new ideas, and motivate the team, etc. In my business, we have a daily 11amEST call that is 10 minutes long. We also have a weekly Sales Team Call on Thursdays. Do you see how this is different than pushing authority over every aspect & detail?
3) (the biggie) Follow Through on Consequence
Sometimes, the daily communication isn’t enough. Sometimes your expectations won’t get met either by an entire team or by an individual. If this happens, it must be addressed with consequences right away. Avoiding a conversation is not going to make it better. It won’t go away. Ensuring you maintain a respectful, responsible, thriving team is the heart and soul of your company. Every business will be different in what they feel is a fair consequence. Going back to expectations, if everyone is clear and agrees, they also agree to the consequence if they do not execute properly.
Did you know that people often tell me why they do not hold others accountable because they don’t dare to take action with consequences?
You are doing your team, business, company, or organization a massive disservice if you think this way. The consequence doesn’t necessarily mean firing an employee. Being quick to fire is not the modern way to operate. It might mean less commission, or not receiving new leads or removing them from a project, redefining their role, etc. Growth won’t occur if you hide behind your responsibility of consequence. (This is why its key to have someone to hold YOU accountable for your responsibilities!) If you don’t have a business partner or peer, buddy up with another business owner. Be each other’s, accountability partners. You’ll see more success than you can imagine if you do this.
Let me assure you. You can be kind, trusting, fun, and friendly AND implement accountability. Being a great leader requires both. When you master the skill of asking questions, assigning projects with clear expectations, and communicating every step of the way, you have made it as a true leader.
When accountability is part of your culture, you’ll soon see the big picture/vision come to life. You’ll see fulfilled employees happy to work for you, grow, and develop into better leaders and team members. You will see your company evolve for the better, and soon you’ll have people asking you what your secret sauce is! If you’re willing to put in the time and effort, you will see Modern Accountability is not an oxymoron at all but is truly your secret sauce for a productive, successful business.