The Five Steps to Accountability

Posted On: November 1

I sent this note to a director of human resources for a large international jet company in preparation for delivering an executive workshop for their top people. She asked me to outline precisely what I was going to teach around the area of accountability.


Amy,

A few years ago, the Apple Specialist Group (independent retailers of Apple products) asked me to put together a presentation on creating a “culture of accountability and disciplined execution.” Their challenge was to make my workshop as simple, clean, and elegant as their products. I spent several weeks intensely studying the topic of accountability. I was able to boil down what I believe are the five key steps you must put in place to create a culture of high accountability.

 

1. 100% Clarity + Authority.

The first step in establishing accountability is to sit down with the person who will be held accountable and ensure that you have 100% clarity on the expectations, the measures of success, the timeline, and resources available on exactly what outcome you want them to deliver. This is critical. You must create specific, measurable, binary goals and objectives that are completely unambiguous. No guessing. Next, you must make sure that the person has the appropriate authority to deliver the results you’re requesting of them. Lastly, you must provide the necessary resources needed to achieve the project you are holding them accountable for. Giving someone 100% accountability but no authority or the necessary resources is a recipe for frustration and failure.

 

2. 100% Agreement.

After you have taken the time clearly explained your expectations, you must get that person to tell you, “I understand the measurements, the metrics, the timeline, and the resources available to me. You have given me the authority I need to accomplish this. I believe it is a reasonable goal, and I accept full accountability.

Until you do these first two steps, there is NO foundation for creating clear accountability. Interestingly, when I teach these ideas I ask every audience: “On your most important projects, the ones that absolutely must be completed. How many of you would score yourself a 9 or 10 on a 10-point scale for always gaining 100% Clarity, authority, and agreement on your most critical projects?” Out of nearly 5,000 people so far, the answer is… zero! Think of wasted money, lost market share, lost profits—the numbers are huge, which is why creating an organization with high levels of accountability is so incredibly critical.

 

3. Track & Post.

After you have established specific measures and gained full agreement, you must track the essential metrics. Create a dashboard so that everyone knows exactly where they stand against their key objectives. Whether you use a whiteboard, poster board, or software, the information must be easy to understand. Accurate and highly visible. Everyone needs to know exactly how they are doing to achieve the goals set for them at a moment’s notice.

 

4. Coach, Mentor and Train.

Once you begin to track and post results, you must use that dashboard to help you identify when people are struggling. Then rush in with all the training, help, support, and resources they need to get back on track and successfully achieve their goals.

* Here’s what you’re going to find out about tracking and posting. A small percentage of your team will love it; those are your superstars, the ones who will always be meeting or beating their goals. They are very happy to be tracked and have their results posted because they are doing fantastic.

At the other end of the spectrum, you’ll have perhaps 10% of your organization that falls on the ground and starts crying, kicking, and screaming—begging you not to track their work. These are the folks who will never like tracking and posting because it will show everyone in the organization that they are mediocre or worse. My suggestion would be to make these folks available to the industry.

This now leaves a huge group in the middle that doesn’t know what to make of suddenly being tracked. The key is to help these people understand that you are not tracking them to punish them. You are tracking them, so the minute they face difficulty and begin to slip, you will be there to catch them and support them with help, training, coaching, mentoring, and resources. Once they understand that tracking equals support and help, they will welcome the system with open arms.

 

5. Reward Success Lavishly/Deal Decisively with Mediocrity.

For the folks holding themselves accountable and delivering the required results. Give them lots of praise, recognition, and rewards. I’m not saying throw cash at them, but you need to encourage their positive behavior strongly. For the others in your organization. Where you established clarity, gave them the necessary authority, got agreement from, and tracked him their progress, and gave them lots of help, training, support, and resources. And they still do not deliver the required results. Well, it is probably time for them to look for a new career opportunity.

 

So after a massive amount of research, Amy, and years teaching about accountability and disciplined execution, it is my firm belief that if you want to create a culture of both personal and mutual accountability, these are the five steps necessary to make that happen.

 

Please let me know if you have any questions, comments, or concerns. I look forward to working with you and your team at the upcoming retreat.

 

Take good care,

—John


If there is anything I can help your organization with, do not hesitate to contact me. john@johnspence.com

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