Creating MORE Accountability

Posted On: May 5

I have just returned from presenting a workshop at the Apple Specialist Marketing Conference (what a great group of people, and I got to meet Steve Wozniak while I was there – a really fun and interesting guy!). The session I delivered was on “Building  Increased Accountability” and was extremely well received, so I thought I’d share a couple of the key takeaways with you here on my blog.

Let me begin by framing the topic: Inability to effectively execute key strategies… and then lack of accountability for that failed execution… is probably the single most costly business issue today.

Most organizations are not held back by a lack of creativity, innovation or a supply of good ideas. What hamstrings most businesses is the inability to translate all of those great ideas… into action… and then into positive results. In my view, this is a classic case of the “Knowing – Doing” gap. Many businesses know exactly what they need to do to differentiate their products/services in the marketplace and capture competitive advantage… yet most businesses struggle mightily in creating a culture of accountability and disciplined execution that can translate those strategies and plans into deliverable results. Which means, if your organization can increase its ability to execute effectively by fostering a strong culture of accountability… it could have an incredibly dramatic positive impact on your success!

That is why for the last five years I have been relentlessly focused on understanding what it takes to create a culture of accountability within an organization. My research and field projects indicate there are basically nine key steps to effective execution, but to me four of them stand out as absolutely critical.

1. Vision + Values + Strategy. Do you have an extremely clear and exceedingly well-communicated vision for the future of your company, underpinned by a set of core values that dictate how your people will behave along the way… built on the foundation of a core strategy that spells out the intended outcomes you want to achieve? This is so fundamental to effective execution because it is impossible to hold people accountable to a direction they don’t understand or a strategy they are not committed to.

2. I hate process. I can’t stand Excel spreadsheets. It irks me every time I have to fill out a report or turn in a form. However, I absolutely know in my heart of hearts that it is impossible to produce repeatable success – without processes and procedures. My advice: create processes only around the MOST important key drivers of your business’s success. To me, that means identifying and deeply understanding the Moments Of Truth for your business – those handful of critical customer interactions that must be delivered flawlessly each and every time in order to create highly engaged, satisfied and loyal customers — and then creating the necessary processes, procedures and systems to allow your employees to consistently exceed your customers expectations on your unique Moments Of Truth.

3. Two of the most essential elements of a culture of accountability are: Measurement and Transparency. It is one of my favorite business axioms of all time… People without access to information do not have to take accountability for their actions. In order to be able to hold your people fully accountable for their performance, it is essential that you create a dashboard of the MOST important numbers and measures that drive your business’s success – and then make sure that everybody in your company understands those measures and sees them constantly. Post them on a giant whiteboard in the lunchroom, send out a daily or weekly e-mail  to recap of the numbers, make it the screensaver on everybody’s computer, talk about it in every single meeting. Here is the truth: What gets measured, tracked, over-communicated and rewarded/punished for… gets done!

4. Lastly, as I just stated above, reward success lavishly and deal decisively with mediocrity. When people do a superior job of holding themselves accountable and delivering on their promises it is vital that you give them genuine, honest and sincere praise and reward them for modeling the appropriate behavior. And by the way, when I say reward them lavishly I don’t mean huge bonuses or giant cash rewards.  I am saying be lavish in your praise and appreciation and then give them something that is meaningful to them as an individual. It could be money, it might be a Starbucks gift card, or a better parking spot, or some flex time, or a weekend pass to Disney World for their family… anything that will make that particular employee feel truly appreciated. Conversely, failing to deal directly and quickly with poor performance and lack of accountability sends the message to the rest of your organization that you were just kidding about excellence. It tells everyone else that it’s absolutely fine to shirk your responsibilities, turn things in late, do shoddy work, miss deadlines… and no one is going to hold you accountable for it. Once you start tolerating mediocrity – your organization becomes a magnet for mediocrity.

Although there are many other factors involved in building a high-accountability culture, I believe that if you focus intently on these four steps  it will greatly improve the level of accountability, results and success in your business.

I hope you found this helpful. As always, please feel free to send the link to this blog on to anyone you feel would find value in the ideas I share. I look forward to your feedback and comments on this post.

Take good care – John Spence

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  1. Another great, concise, action-oriented blog, John. Thanks for what you do! I especially like the advice around “moment of truth” process prioritization.

  2. Excellent article John. As usual cutting right to the chase especially with your advice re non-toleration of mediocrity in employees. I have added your article to – my curated business improvement article site. If you would like to curate your own topic on Scoop.It I have 10 invitations to give away to intending curators.

  3. Great post, John! Accountability goes hand in hand with another characteristic you have mentioned in the past — Ownership Mentality! Figuring out how to close the gap between “knowing” and “doing” is a key element to success. Recruiting the right “doers” is critical, so that the Pareto Principle can take effect to breed the culture you are looking for. Combine this, with decisive action on mediocrity, and you can achieve results.

  4. Hi, John,

    Fantastic stuff, as usual. As I read this post, two things occurred to me:

    1. How valid each of the steps listed above seem to be across time, organizations and settings (and how often they are talked about as absolutley critical).

    2. How infrequently these critical steps are enacted.

    It’s been my experience that perhaps the main reason these valuable steps are so often neglected is also identified in a portion of this article: the “hatred” of (or, I think most frequently, the misunderstanding of) process.

    After about 12 years studying these sorts of things (what I call “The Execution Crisis) it seems to me that al four steps listed above require a deep understanding of (and appreciation for) the processes that are critical to make them a regular part of everyone’s day. I’ve found that people can repreat these four steps hundreds of times a year (for many years), but without embracing (and deeply valuing rather than hating) a process-orientation to execution they will continue to be stuck on the Knowing side of the Knowing-Doing Gap.

  5. Thanks John. I will add that it takes a very proactive leader or entrepreneur with a proactive personal vision to build the culture of accountability.

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