We all know that person in the office who everyone talks about behind their back. He regularly misses deadlines. He’s terrible to work with and doesn’t seem to know when he is stepping on other people’s toes. The team is constantly annoyed with him and draw straws to determine who is unlucky enough to work on a project with him. The lack of accountability on his work is tanking the entire business’ culture and bottom line. But no one ever addresses these issues face-to-face. 

Why is that?

Because conflict sucks and no matter how annoying the person is, no one wants to be the person to hurt his feelings and be the bad guy.

As a business leader, holding on to this incorrect and unhelpful view of accountability, either personally or with your team, is going to tank your companies’ culture, and therefore your business’s success. 

You’ve got to put an end to it today or your issues as a business leader are only going to get worse.

What Does Accountability Really Mean?

Accountability is one of those words that sounds important, but you probably weren’t taught in college. So that we are all on the same page, here’s a quick crash course.

Accountability is:

  • holding someone responsible. 
  • providing or assigning a person that someone else has to answer to.
  • having an obligation to explain, report, or justify something.

Remember that person we mentioned earlier who lacks basic accountability and no one wants to work with? He’s the worst, but may not even know it. No one is holding him responsible for being on time. No one (himself included) has assigned an accountability partner that he has to answer to when he is late. And he has no obligation to explain or justify his repeated actions. As far as he knows, no one cares about his behavior because it’s not hurting anyone or anything. Without accountability, he is living in a bubble with only himself to direct his actions.

It’s also important to note that healthy accountability comes with clear goals. Both sides of the accountability coin need to be crystal clear on what the expectations and goals are to which accountability is required. Does that person know when the deadlines are? Clearly establish those two elements first. Then accountability can begin.

Avoiding Accountability Is Going To Kill Your Business

According to Patrick Lencioni’s The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, a team that avoids accountability is headed down a slippery slope to failure. 

A lack of accountability:

  • causes missed deadlines and project deliverables.
  • breeds resentment among team members who hold themselves to different performance standards.
  • encourages everyone to stay comfortable where they are and never grow or try new things.
  • sets the boss up to be the bad guy, since the only discipline comes from the top.

If you are avoiding accountability, it’s likely because your view of accountability is negative instead of positive. No one wants the consequences of absent accountability, but holding someone accountable seems the lesser of two evils if your understanding is off. 

Accountability isn’t a stick to beat someone with. It doesn’t mean that when your colleague turns in a report 73 seconds too late, you pounce on them with a stopwatch and a reprimand. We’re not asking you to get on a high horse here. That kind of accountability will kill your company culture just as quickly as no accountability at all.

The Leader Who Gets It: Setting Up Warning Beacons

Leaders who get this concept have a positive, healthy outlook of what accountability is and how it can be used to grow and improve.

First, a leader that “gets it” has a healthy accountability structure set up for themselves. I challenge you to find one successful business leader who doesn’t have an accountability partner or mentor. They regularly meet with someone they feel has more wisdom and experience than themselves to bounce ideas off of them, ask for advice with tough situations or business decisions, and to be held accountable with the progress towards their goals.

The relationship between a mentor and mentee has a rapport that goes beyond the fear of hurt feelings and power plays. It’s about genuinely looking out for each other and helping the other to make the best decisions for the good of their life and career. And it’s about being open, vulnerable, and honest. It’s not about saving face in the relationship. As a leader, it’s critical to seek out relationships built on trust, that can serve as your warning beacon – “Hey, you are about to do (or just did) something dumb here. Take a step back and let’s chat. We’ll work through it together.”

Accountability for Everyone

A leader that “gets it” not only has their own accountability in place, but they ensure every person on their team has accountability in place as well. Everyone needs to be partnered with someone who can light a warning beacon. Establishing a mentor program among your team is a great starting place. The idea is to get people in relationships where they feel comfortable to approach one another. These people are empowered to say things like, “Hey, I’ve noticed that you’ve regularly missed deadlines this month. Is everything ok? Let’s talk about it.”

For you, setting up an accountability structure frees up your time from being the accountability police. You’ll allow others to light their warning beacons first, so you can pay attention to other leader-level tasks and responsibilities. If something gets escalated, you’ll know about it. But with a healthy culture of accountability, you’ll raise the level of courage and morale in an organization. When high standards meet an encouraging and helpful team atmosphere, accountability can challenge people to grow in ways they never knew possible.

According to Lencioni, a team that holds one another accountable:

  • identifies potential problems early by not being afraid to voice their concerns.
  • encourages poor performers to improve.
  • establishes rapport with others that elevate respect and build a healthy company culture.
  • avoids office politics that hinder productive corrective action and, therefore, improvement.

Doesn’t that sound like an amazing team to work with?

Letting Go Of The Fear

Unfortunately, no one can hide from the fact that accountability comes with a lot of baggage. 

Even with healthy accountability in place, it doesn’t always go smoothly. There will always be poor performers or those who just don’t fit with the goals and vision of your business. Sometimes you have to make hard decisions, like formally disciplining a team member or letting them go completely. It’s not easy and makes for a pretty crummy day.

Your company culture will grow stronger because of these tough calls and experiences. With a strong accountability structure in place, you and your team will know that you did everything you could to come alongside your colleague. You’ll have confidence that you tried to help him to address the issues before it came to the line in the sand. If and when the line gets crossed, remain respectful and help your colleague find a better match for their skills and talents. That might be on a different team or even a different company. This will not only be better for your business but better for their professional development as well.

Accountability – Start Today

The first step to establishing healthy accountability is to set clear goals and standards for yourself and your team. After that, create a mentorship program, or match accountability partners among your team to build relationships founded on trust that can serve as warning beacons. Encourage regular check-ins, which can include casual lunch get-togethers or more formal, scheduled 1:1s. Rewarding the team for their efforts to be genuinely open and accountable to one another is a great nod of approval from you. A company-paid team lunch out of the office at the end of the month can go a long way in encouraging positive behavior in this area.

Putting yourself in the right space, surrounded by people who share these convictions of healthy accountability can also be a huge boost in creating a company culture of accountability. All of us here at MAC6 thrive on healthy accountability and we know from experience how helpful it can be when growing your business. We’d love to have you join other like-minded business in our coworking facility. Schedule a tour today.