“How can I improve accountability in my team?” That’s the question we get again and again. Sometimes that question comes in different words. And when we dig in, we often find this is the question underneath.
Looking for Accountability in Your Team
A breakthrough in accountability on your team could become your company’s unfair advantage.
Therefore, everybody wants one. Few leaders get one.
It’s one of the most common woes of leaders all over the world. “I want more accountability on my team.”
In short, improving accountability in your team is mission critical. If you can’t count on your people to get stuff done, and done well, then you don’t have a team. And if you’re not getting stuff done better tomorrow than you did today, then you can forget growing. And you can forget having a sustainable company. Sooner or later entropy will beat you.
Accountability is the antidote to entropy.
Like the antidote in any action movie, it’s do or die. And, accountability — profound accountability — is hard to come by.
Which leads us to why. Why’s it so hard to get accountability from your team at every level of your organization? After all, you’re accountable.
The Accountability Surprises
Leaders who work with us encounter three big surprises about driving team accountability.
2. You may be inadvertently (but clearly) telling your team that, “Accountability is not a job requirement.”
3. Modeling accountability is not enough to inspire accountability in others.
1. You cannot hold someone else accountable.
The second biggest surprise:
In effect, if there’s a persistent shortage of accountability somewhere on your team, you’re almost certainly sending out a message you don’t want to send. And you’re sending it loud and clear.
For instance, you’ve seen this pattern. Someone on the team chooses not to be accountable. That choice costs that person nothing. That choice “worked out.” The person repeats it. Again, it costs nothing. It worked out again. Behavior reinforced.
The message you’re sending, “Accountability is not a job requirement.”
In other words — and this may sting a little — if your team is persistently unaccountable, then you are not being accountable.
Pointedly, you get what you tolerate. Chronic accountability gaps are a sure sign that leaders are tolerating accountability gaps. If you want a breakthrough in accountability on your team, then you will have to embrace accountability to ensuring accountability.
Lee Cockerell, former EVP of Ops at Disney World, illustrated this idea in a story he told me.
Lee had been the Director of Food and Beverage at a Marriott Hotel. It was summer. And not surprisingly, there were lots of flies buzzing around the dumpster. Some few of those flies made their way through corridors of the hotel to the restaurant.
When Lee gave a tour of the facilities to Bill Marriott, the two of them came to the dumpster.
“If you have flies in your operation,” Mr. Marriott said to Lee, “you must like flies.”
Admittedly, flies will be flies. That’s true. And flies like trash. And hotel restaurants generate lots of food waste. So flies at the dumpster is no surprise.
And still, if you’re dedicated to a restaurant without flies, with effort and ingenuity — with commitment — you can have a fly-free restaurant. Lee took the lesson that, “If I’m getting results I don’t like, it’s up to me to do something about it.”
To Improve Accountability on Your Team
I don’t want my analogy to be too abstract to be plain. Do you see an accountability gap on your team? Then there’s a greater level of responsibility you can take on to help get you there.
Think for a moment of your least accountable team members. If they’re permitted to not choose accountability without challenge or consequence, this let’s them, “off the hook.” And it doesn’t serve them. In fact, it leaves them stuck, arguing for their own limitations. And it leaves you stuck with a post that’s filled with a poor performer, cementing the longevity of mediocrity.
Critically, for your most accountable team members, seeing non-accountability around them builds resentment. Accountable people want to be recognized and appreciated and rewarded for their performance. They value meeting challenges and overcoming them over comfort. They don’t want to see equal rewards going to people who aren’t putting in the effort and the risk that comes with accountability.
Furthermore, they want to be challenged by the environment. There’s fulfillment for our most accountable team members in being challenged to grow still more skill and more accountability. (Truth is, that’s where fulfillment lies for people who resist accountability as well.)
Unaccountable people feel comfortable in environments where accountability isn’t a job requirement. So they stay.
By unfortunate contrast, Accountable people become uncomfortable and unhappy. So they leave.
As a result, the team slowly becomes less and less accountable overall. One at a time, you replace accountable people and behaviors with unaccountable ones. You’re in a crushing feedback loop of doom. You’re unrecruiting.
The third biggest surprise:
Modeling is not enough.
Leaders we work with tell us, “I keep showing them what accountability looks like. I demonstrate it every day.” They ask , “Why don’t my people follow my lead?”
One CEO recently asked, “Why don’t they get it? It’s common sense!”
The truth is, there’s no such thing as common sense. Common sense comes from common experience, and no two of us truly have that.
If you want accountability from the people on your team, yes, you must model accountability. When you’re not accountable, you’ll be seen as a hypocrite for insisting on accountability from others.
And, modeling alone won’t get the job done.
For instance, your people don’t all speak exactly the same way you do. You use the word, “ain’t.” They don’t. Likewise, your team won’t necessarily pick up your behaviors of accountability simply because you model those behaviors.
The single biggest surprise:
What surprises many intentional and conscientious leaders most is this.
You cannot hold someone else accountable.
Accountability is a personal and an individual choice.
We leaders can ask others to be accountable. We can invite them to join us in accountability. And others look to us to draw inspiration. Inspire others to embrace accountability.
What we cannot do is force the issue.
We’re faced with the famous horse adage, “You can lead a horse to water.” Drinking… Choosing accountability… That’s out of our hands.
In fact, try to force someone into accountability, and you’ll earn more resistance than success.
In the next installment of “Improve Accountability in Your Team,” I’ll introduce the not-magic formula you can employ to create an accountability breakthrough in three months or less.