Have you ever had one or those moments in life where you felt as though someone had built their entire presentation just for you? A moment in time when the more you listened to what they said, the more the light bulbs went off in your head about how to improve your situation?
As I listened to the CEO of a large company speak recently about how he started turning around his business in the first nine months of his tenure, one word stood out above all others. Accountability. It was not the first time I had heard about the need for it in an organization, but one sentence changed the way I view my role as a leader forever. Perhaps it will change your trajectory, too.
“I’m not used to being accountable to my boss.”
Those are the nine words one of the members of his management team used as he walked into the CEO’s office and resigned his position. Many in the room chuckled as he said, “If he works for you now, I’m sorry.”
But I didn’t chuckle. I was hanging on to every word. As I internalized his message, I realized I may have people on my team in the same boat. I wouldn’t know though because I didn’t have a thing in place besides a time clock to hold them accountable.
The CEO went on to describe how others also dropped off his management team as he implemented change that included holding people accountable in a way that would drive the business forward. As they dropped off, he was able to replace them with an impressive roster of competitive people who had one goal in mind…to win! People who understood you need metrics if you want to improve, and you must have the drive to improve the score.
He also noted the people throughout the company who stayed and the processes he put in place to inspire their success. That inspiration came in the form of scoreboards. Why?
“When performance is measured, performance improves. When performance is measured and reported, the rate of improvement accelerates.”
As I pondered those words, I realized I had a lot of things to fix. If I wanted to give my team the tools they needed to be successful, I had to create the tools that let them know how to measure their success.
I have long known that the number one complaint of employees nationwide is not that their pay is too low or their benefits package isn’t the best. Their number one complaint is they don’t know what is expected of them. That boils down to the lack of accountability that is plaguing workplaces across America.
So I set out on a mission to stop the Accountability Plague in my department. Along the way, I discovered five ways lack of accountability leads to lack in other areas of team performance.
1. Lack of improvement
I believe lack of accountability and complacency go hand in hand. While I had built a team of people who were committed to completing tasks, I had failed to inspire them to really grow beyond the status quo. We went through the motions, but the few numbers I was tracking failed to change. Why?
You can’t improve what you don’t measure. So I set out to create scorecards that would truly measure areas where I knew small changes could create big results. I challenged my team to do the same. Together, we set out on a mission to start improving our department.
Tip #1: What gets measured gets improved.
2. Lack of innovation
Once our scorecards were in place, it became easier to see where problems existed. It was a tough exercise because as I was holding my team accountable, I realized I was also now holding myself accountable. That meant I had to answer to others above me about the multitude of balls I had dropped. Despite all the successful wins I had felt as a leader, I was mortified by what my dashboards showed.
I was also very excited. For the first time in the history of my role in a leadership position, I knew exactly what areas needed to be fixed to create different results. That made it easier to begin discussions about strategy and to put processes in place that ensured we didn’t fail at executing our mission. By implementing measurable processes, our team could now innovate when numbers weren’t performing.
Tip #2: You can only innovate processes when you can pinpoint where things need to be changed.
3. Lack of coaching
Perhaps the biggest “Aha!” moment in my transformation came in the ability to truly coach my team. A good coach always knows the score, and they coach their players on how to improve that score.
Deep down, everyone wants to win. But how can you win if you don’t know the rules of the game or the score? I had failed my team on both fronts.
Our processes became our rules and our metrics became our scoreboards. Our conversations started shifting away from the superficial ones that had celebrated complacency towards successful ones that embraced growth and change. They weren’t always easy because the only people who like change are babies in wet diapers … but they were more productive than any of the other meetings we had before we built our scoreboards.
Tip #3: You can’t win the game if you don’t know the score and the rules.
4. Lack of focus and urgency
Another problem accountability fixed was focus. There was no longer a gray area around what needed to be done. There were numbers we were each responsible for hitting. Now the race had started to see who could reach the next finish line the fastest.
If you take your eye off the ball, you’ll never hit it. As a manager, I had tried to put metrics in place in the past. But I had never followed through with them. My team knew that, and it was not long before none of us were focused on anything other than going through the motions.
As a leader, that wouldn’t cut it. I actually told my boss he should have fired me long ago. He told me, “You now have the opportunity to start over. What will you do differently?” My first mission was to create the dashboards. My second was to implement a Project Accountability Chart that would hold my entire team accountable to their projects on a deadline.
Tip #4: Where focus goes, energy flows.
5. Lack of teamwork
I have spent all of my marketing career as a one man band. I was the strategist, the copywriter, the graphic artist, and the webmaster. I could figure out how to get things done.
As my team started to develop, I gave them responsibility that were also part of silos. Much like me, they mastered their tasks, but we never felt like a team. We set out daily working on “things” without plans as to why we were working on them. Months went by and the fruits of our labor weren’t blossoming.
Accountability helped change that. As our conversations started shifting to how we could change the numbers, our ability to execute improved. Now instead of one set of eyes looking at our little part of the world, we have multiple sets of eyes pondering how to improve our score.
Tip #5: Competition weeds out complacency and creates a place where competitors have an ability to win.
I wish I could tell you right now that we are hitting all of our numbers. It’s still too early to tell that. What I can tell you is we now know the numbers we need to hit. And that’s the first step towards success.
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