Wednesday, May 5, 2010

5 Steps to Accountability

Type “holding people accountable” into a search engine and you’ll get anywhere from 600,000 to over 50,000,000 results back (clearly a much discussed subject).

I have been to accountability seminars, read countless articles and books, and have discussed the subject with co-workers, friends and family many, many times. I have identified five consistent steps that when followed help tremendously in creating and sustaining accountability.

Step 1: Define the need

You must clearly define what is needed and why. I have always found it easier to get a buy-in when the other person understands why something needs to happen. You cannot just tell/ask someone to do something and expect compliance. That only works when there is fear of retribution/punishment such as living under a dictator. The person complies, but really only at the bare minimum. The real goal is for the other person to see the big picture and how his/her actions fit within that bigger need. If they understand the importance of the assignment they are much more likely to take ownership.

Step 2: Define success

You must also clearly define what a successful outcome looks like. No one should be left guessing what the end product will look like. I am not saying that you spell out what the final numbers on a financial report should be, but rather, what information should be tracked and tabulated so you have the information you need when the report is finished. Defining success works for any task. If the task is to sweep the store floor what does success look like? Is it running a broom down the center of each aisle and then leaving a pile of debris in the back room? Is it moving each display rack and sweeping from edge to edge throughout the entire store and then putting the debris into a designated trash can? Or is it something altogether different from either one of those two? You would be amazed at the different interpretations to what would seem like a simple task. If you cannot define what the end result needs to be, you really can’t assign hold anyone accountable.

Step 3: Get a commitment

After you have defined both the need and what success will look like you need to make sure the other person truly understands. The only way to know is by asking for feedback. Without feedback you have no idea what information actually made it into the other person’s head. Have them tell you what their assignment is, what the end result will look like, AND when they will have it completed. Getting a verbal commitment on completion is vital to holding people accountable. It is very hard to wiggle or fudge your way out of something after you have looked someone in the eye and committed to a time frame. Skip this step and you can forget about things happening on time.

Step 4: Follow up early

Following up early in the process helps to ensure the other person’s success. By following up early you create a positive atmosphere where it is easy to make adjustments before a lot of time and energy has been wasted. It does not matter if the task is going to take two hours or two full months to complete. No one wants to hear at the end of the job that it was done wrong. That creates frustration and can ruin relationships. Make it a goal to follow up after the person has put in somewhere between 5% and 10% of the time needed. This is early enough to make adjustments to their process without them feeling like they have wasted a lot of time. Inform the other person when you assign the task that you will follow up closely at the beginning just to make sure you are both on the same page and that you’ll then get out of their way and let them run with the ball. This gets everything on the table up front and will help eliminate and bruised egos later.

Step 5: Keep your Word

Do you do what you say? Do you follow through on commitments? Do you follow through with repercussions for poor performance? If you say it out loud or write it down you better be prepared to act. If you promise a reward for hitting a certain metric you have to provide it as close to the event as possible. If you let it be known that certain behaviors or low performance standards will result in disciplinary action, you best be prepared to carry them out. When you make good on your word, both the positive and the negative actions, you will notice the accountability of everyone around you increases. If you never follow through on your promises/threats you lose all credibility and any hope of holding those around you accountable.

These five steps may seem cumbersome when you first read them, but when you put them into action you’ll find they flow easily from one to the other. The more you stick to the routine the faster it becomes, AND the more productive your team will become.

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