Building an Accountability-Based Culture

I have been lucky enough to know Bob Prosen who wrote “Kiss Theory Goodbye” and have kept several of his quotes with me through the years.  Bob is one of those guys who says what you know in your heart, but you have never said out loud before.  Our business styles mesh and he has given me some great advice.

The first is about trust and loyalty.  I have been fortunate to work with many people and have gained a reputation for building committed teams who continually deliver results.  I do that by building trust and loyalty in me and then by building it across the team.  How do you do that? It’s so easy that only Bob could say it:

Trust is making and keeping commitments on time WITHOUT FOLLOW UP.

That’s it.  Do it over and over until it is a habit and very quickly people will learn that you can be trusted to do what you say you will do without fail.  Here’s a question: if you could do your job without following up to see if other people were doing their jobs, how much more time would you have?  Accountability and trust will raise productivity across the board.

For a team to get this, they have to understand what they are accountable for doing and have clear and quantified objectives that are measured. When I orient myself to a new team I ask them what they do.  A well-run team answers the question consistently.  If I hear “we’re responsible for in-stocks and replenishment” across the board and they show me the in-stock reports and inventory productivity data they use to evaluate their performance, I know I have an accountable team.  If I hear, “everyone does their own thing” or “it depends what the boss says” I know the team isn’t set up to succeed.

What should you do if your team has fallen into the rut of unaccountability?

First, make sure you are leading by example.  Do what you say, when you say it, without follow up.  Then pull the team together and let them hear you talk about why it is important for them, the company and you.  Talk about the time freed up by trusting things to get done correctly.  Talk about the improvements in cycle time or days in process.  Talk about how asking for help from a peer to meet a deadline will build a reputation getting things done.  Begin to eliminate the status reports and meetings that eat up time in a non-accountable environment.  As you start to hold people accountable, be clear in your expectations and swift in your actions.  Conversations sound like this:

Jay: I have a new report for you to put into production and distribute starting next week.  Can we go over it later today so you know what we need?

Bob: Not today.  I am still working on the XYZ from last week.

Jay: You said that would be done by yesterday.

Bob: Yeah, I know.  But we ran into some things and its taking a lot longer.

Jay: I trusted you to get it done on time and if it wasn’t, to have heard about it before now.  Please put in writing what will fix the problem and I will see if there are obstacles I can remove for you.  Meanwhile, I still need the new report in production next week. Can you do that?

Bob: Yeah, I guess so if it’s a proirity.

Jay: It is.  Can we meet later today to go over it?  You can give me your list of fixes for XYZ then as well.

This may sound hard, but accountability and building it requires a consistent approach and a divide between work and personal relationships.  Jay reinforces accountability and Bob is called out for not completing a project on time nor communicating a late date.  Non-performers will bristle under this technique.  It is exactly what a manager who is creating a productive professional team wants.  Here’s how Jay and Bob sound after a few months:

Jay: I saw the ABC project plan yesterday.  It looks good.  When I shared it with IT they said they could begin development next week because we got our part done on time.

Bob: Yeah, I had to juggle a few things, but I knew it was a priority and they would need it to get started.

Jay: Well, whatever you did to get it done on time like that was worth it.  Thank you.  I know I can always trust you to get things done and that’s why I feel so comfortable putting you on high-visbility projects like that.  You always make our whole team look great.

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