Great businesses are built on teams that take full ownership of individual responsibilities. Too many businesses let people slide by partially doing things, and accepting excuses for delays and mistakes that could have been avoided.
A culture of accountability is one of the most valuable institutional habits that your business can form, and for better or worse, it starts with you.
If you don't move heaven and earth to honor your word and meet all your commitments, your team will learn that they don't have to either.
Here are seven time-tested tips on your role in creating accountability in your company:
• Clarify your commitments in writing at the end of every meeting.
Not only does this make sure that you've captured all your action items, but it is also a powerful way to role model how you want your team to behave.
Wherever possible, try to numerate all your commitments to make it even clearer what you have agreed you'll do.
For example this might look like, "So summing up, I've got three action items here. Item one... item two... and item three..." [Visibly writing each of them down in your notes.]
When your team sees you consistently sum up and write down action steps and who owns them (and by when) after every meeting you'll be amazed at how quickly they will raise their game and start to follow the same behavior. Plus, this will make it worlds easier for you to remember to circle back and check with your team that they have met their commitments and to close the loop by telling them of how you met the commitments you made yourself to them at the meeting. Which brings me to my next tip...
• Circle back with the team members who are involved with your action steps and give them feedback on your progress and completion at regular intervals.
This is a great way to role model the behavior you want from them, and to highlight how important it is inside your company to meet deliverables.
This might sound like, "Just wanted to give you quick update. As committed to, I did [item one] and [item two] today, and will get [item three] done by close of business Friday."
Even when the task isn't complete, don't leave people guessing.
Circle back and say, "I haven't solved the problem yet, but I haven't forgotten you and I'm actively working on a solution." Again, you are modeling the behavior of taking full responsibility to your team.
• Clearly state what you can't commit to so that you don't lower the accountability bar in your company through missing a "phantom deliverable".
Beware of "phantom deliverables" --the things that the other person thinks you committed to but you didn't.
As a leader you need to model great communication by making any phantom deliverables you see come out of a meeting explicit. That way if you can commit to that deliverable, you do so, and if you can't, you clarify that you are not committing to it.
• Be on time, all the time.
It may not seem like it matters, but it does.
Being on time - all the time - is a simple behavior that your team will generalize to mean that you take your commitments seriously and live in integrity.
It is one behavior with a huge return on investment in terms of modeling accountability inside your company.
Too many companies implement respect in a hierarchical manner. Your time is not more important than an employee's time or a customer's time in their eyes.
Being on time shows respect, and it makes a big difference to the receiver.
A corollary of this is to start your meetings on time, versus waiting for the late arrivals to saunter in. You'd better believe they'll get the message that integrity matters when they come in to the meeting 6 minutes late and you take them aside afterwards to ask them why they were late.
• Credibility is a marathon, not a sprint.
It doesn't help if you take off out of the gate gung ho in your desire to model accountability, only to let it slip a few weeks later. How you model accountability is a key ingredient in building your company culture.
If you want it to be real and lasting, you've got to maintain your behavior over time.
• How you own your mistakes and failures is as important as how you model your successes.
You're human, we all are, so you will mess up. Of course you will, to think otherwise is just not realistic.
How you own your missed deliverables is incredibly important to the culture you are building. Do you make excuses? Sweep them under the rug? Melodramatically beat yourself up?
Instead I encourage you to show your team how mistakes are a part of being in business, and often can lead to profitable insights.
When you make a mistake, publically take responsibility, share what you learned and how you'll apply it, and implement a better solution going forward.
• Most breakdowns in accountability come from incomplete or poor handoffs.
At the moment any deliverable is created, it needs to get assigned to someone who will be responsible to see that it happens. We call this assignment of a deliverable a "handoff".
As a leader, you need to model that every handoff clearly details who is responsible for what, by when, what success in meeting that deliverable looks like, and how he or she will be held accountable for that deliverable. (Think back to the first tip that I shared.)
"Sarah, you own this deliverable and it includes doing x and y by Friday close of business. Can you also please make sure to send a quick recap to Tom and me on Monday that shares how Client Z responded?"
The combination of these 7 time-tested tips, applied with gentle pressure - relentlessly - will have a big impact inside your company in shaping your team to help you get and sustain growth.
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