Sunday, February 5, 2012

Accountability is so important.

“A person may cause evil to others not only by his actions but by his inaction, and in either case he is justly accountable to them for the injury.” ~John Stuart Mill

People are constantly talking about accountability, yet so few businesses really make their staff accountable. According to my dictionary, “accountable” is defined as an obligation to report, explain, or justify something; responsible; answerable. For me, accountability means that you lay out your expectations for your staff and measure their progress, both rewarding their success and taking appropriate action when they fall short of the desired results.

So many businesses call us for help and admit that their performance is weak because they do not hold their staff accountable. When asked why, they typically say either that they do not know how or that their business culture has simply grown up without it. In the beginning they were working too hard to hold anyone accountable, and this philosophy just became embedded in the organization’s culture over time.

A large service management company we were assisting was having significant profitability issues. They shared with me that their issues were due to the near total absence of accountability. When I probed further, they admitted the real problem was that there were four partners in the organization and no one really wanted to be in charge – yet they all wanted to control everything.

The hardest part of this assignment was getting the partners to understand that their problems rested with them. If they could not hold themselves accountable, that kind of accountability would never trickle down through the ranks of the organization.

We started by listing the strengths and weaknesses of each partner, then based on this list, we identified areas of the organization each partner would manage. The partners were all accepting of the plan to assign them management areas, but we had quite a bit of push back when the discussion turned to selecting a general partner who would have authority above the others. There had to be someone who could make decisions if partners disagreed.

The partners could not agree on who that general partner would be. While not optimal, we established an annual rotation schedule where each partner would rotate into the position of authority for a year. They were not completely sold on this plan, but they accepted it realizing it provided a tolerable solution to their large problem.

After establishing accountability at the top, we were able to turn our attention to the rest of the organization. We are currently moving through the ranks, implementing incentives and performance evaluations to develop accountability at all levels. Each employee is assigned monthly goals and they meet with their manager every month to review their performance.

While it is still early in this process, I am sure that this plan will improve the business’s profitability and culture.

Now go out and make sure that accountability is at the center of any reward or management system. I promise your management job will become much easier if you establish a company-wide accountability program.

You can do this!

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