Leading Accountability—It Is a Choice, and Everyone’s Job

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Excerpted with permission from “Achieve With Accountability” Chapter Two by Mike Evans

Who is the “director of accountability” in your company? Oh, you do not have anyone with that title? Whose job is it then?

Developing heightened levels of individual and organizational accountability is the job of anyone choosing to take it on. You do not need permission, a title, or authority to become an impeccable leader of accountability. You merely have to model the way.

Accountability is like love. The more you give, the more you get.

Consider Ted’s experience. The leadership team at Clearwater Technologies was always looking for ways to boost organizational and individual performance. Resting on their laurels was never an option. From the front lines to the senior team, the culture oozed with an unquenchable thirst to improve. That was one of the many reasons they were cited as one of the most admired and respected companies in their industry.

Rhonda, a renowned leadership expert, was hired by Clearwater Technologies to unleash leadership capacity at every level of the organization. The mandate she received from the senior leadership team was to identify opportunities to bolster an already high-performing culture.

As part of her discovery and analysis process, Rhonda met with and interviewed dozens of employees.

Ted, a mid-level manager who had been with the firm for several years, was considered one of the company’s top-performing managers. Rhonda was anxious to learn from Ted what he believed was working well and where he believed opportunity existed to do even better. Given that the topic of accountability was broached in more than 75 percent of the one-on-one interviews to that point, Rhonda decided to explore that further with Ted.

“Ted, I have heard so many great things about you and your team. Spencer speaks glowingly of you and could not say enough good things.”

After some small talk and getting to know one another, Rhonda looked Ted in the eye and asked, “Ted, are you an accountable person?” “Of course I am,” Ted replied proudly.

“Do you need more accountability within Clearwater Technologies?” Rhonda asked.

“Don’t even get me started, we’ve been around and around this topic longer than I care to admit. Just last week—”

Rhonda politely interrupted. “Ted, I’ve asked those same two questions to perhaps ten thousand people in my career. To date, every single person has told me they are highly accountable. Not one person has ever told me they are not accountable.

“But at the same time, 99 percent have confided in me that their organizations need more accountability.”

Ted eagerly offered, “Just like us. As I was saying …”

“Ted,” Rhonda interrupted again with a big smile on her face. “If every person believes they are highly accountable, why on earth would their team or company need more accountability?

“Say 100 percent believe they are accountable, which is the experience I have had over the past twelve years when asking that question. That’s every single employee. So if everyone in the company is accountable, problem solved—right?”

There was silence in the room for several seconds as Ted synthesized the information.

“Whoa, I feel foolish. I fell into the trap,” Ted admitted. “I should know better. It’s something I do with my kids.”

“What is that?” Rhonda asked.

“Model the way. With my children I am very cognizant of the experiences I create around them. I set the example of what I expect from them. I learned that key leadership practice from Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner. It is one of the five practices of exemplary leaders detailed in their book, The Leadership Challenge.”

“Tell me more,” Rhonda said.

“Well, it is human nature to externalize change, to convince yourself that you are doing just fine and that if everyone else would change things would be much better.

“I need to be the change I wish to see in others. I cannot expect anyone to change unless they see it in me. I may believe I am highly accountable, but as you shared with me most of our employees are telling you we need more accountability. Just like I did.

“That poses an important question. Are my fellow managers and I modeling the desired behaviors consistently and visibly so that others choose to emulate them?

“The fact that most employees answer your question stating they believe more accountability is needed leads me to believe we need to do better.

“Our employees are a reflection of us as leaders. For the most part, they think, behave, and perform the way they do as a result of how they are led. The reality is, I have no control over the behavioral choices others make. I can hope to influence those choices, but I cannot make their decisions. I cannot dictate or force anyone to be more accountable. I need to model accountability and set the example.”

With the “aha” moment resulting from Rhonda’s visit freshly minted in his mind, Ted’s team spent time to define the “accountable behaviors” they believed would propel an already high-performing team to even loftier levels of effectiveness. The team sought insight and perspectives from all members of his department. They wanted to know what accountability looked like in the eyes of each team member.

Once their team’s specific accountable behaviors were defined, Ted worked with his group to develop a plan to spotlight the behaviors. Sharing the behaviors through a variety of communication channels was one small piece of the plan. The team put primary emphasis on modeling the desired behaviors and making them visible.

Among the accountable behaviors Ted’s team discovered to be most effective: more precise, open, and consistent communication; unwavering focus and time devoted on solutions rather than assigning blame and focusing on what cannot be done; rewarding effort rather than chiding mistakes; soliciting ideas and perspectives without judgment; collaborating outside of silos to share resources and best practices; moving beyond boundaries and barriers; not blaming other people or events; and growing and learning from failures and mistakes as opposed to stifling positive intent.

Note from Bob:  How did Ted go about creating the “accountability program?”   From what you have read here did he “Tell/Inform his team” of his new “accountability program?” or did he “Lead With Questions” allowing his team to create their own “accountability program?”

The success Ted and his team had did not go unrecognized. Spencer, the CEO, enlisted Ted and his key team members to implement their “accountability program” throughout all of Clearwater Technologies. Other functional leaders welcomed the opportunity to learn from Ted’s team.

With a heightened understanding of what accountability looked like, and with a profusion of “leaders” modeling the way, an already high-performing organization exceeded growth projections the following year by double digits.

If you were to ask an employee of Clearwater Technologies today, “Whose job is it to cultivate accountability?” you would most likely receive the response, “Everybody’s.”

Mike Evans, author of Achieve With Accountability,  has developed a unique perspective from 20+ years of working alongside a star studded list of world-renowned thought leaders, including: Dr. John Kotter, Dr. Stephen Covey, Tom Peters, Jim Kouzes, Hyrum Smith, Steve Farber and Chris McChesney. Mike served in senior leadership roles with Kotter International, FranklinCovey, and Tom Peters Company.  You can connect with Mike @ QuestMarkCompany.  You can purchase Achieve With Accountability by clicking “HERE”

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