Who Is Accountable?

 
I’m finding that my partner and I regularly let ourselves off the hook. Occasionally we might get upset about something the other did or didn’t do, but mostly we accept each other’s excuses. These typically are along the lines of “I couldn’t get it done because something got in the way,” or “Something unexpected happened that disrupted my plans.” The end result is that our company might not perform as well this coming year as it could. How do we fix that?

 

THOUGHTS OF THE DAY: It’s often said that business owners are the least accountable people in the world, because they report to no one — ouch! Ask regularly, “Are you making me a promise to deliver on what you just said?” Don’t wait until failure happens to step in. Go out of your way to treat your partner as a valuable asset, even when bad news is being delivered. If there’s a bigger problem, an elephant in the room, bring it up.

We all perform better when someone is watching over us, challenging us to do better. Respect that truth. Set up rules by which even the partners agree to operate. Include requirements for regular reporting and rewards for delivering on time and within budget. Build trust by offering support and speaking the truth about what’s happening. Apply this to everyone in your organization, not just your partner.

Treat words which are spoken as if they’re promises. Start with a simple question: “Are you making me a promise?” Follow up with a request to restate the ultimate objective, “Tell me what you’re expecting to accomplish.” Go into detail about resources needed by asking, “What’s it going to take to deliver on time, within budget?” Encourage everyone to get on board by saying, “Any concerns? Now is the time to bring them up.” If anything is missing, ask questions. “What about . . . ?” is a good way to get a dialog started.

Break things down into smaller bites. Assign various people to oversee different aspects of each project to ensure multiple points of view. Ask the most vocal people in the organization to be part of the reporting process. Ensure that information isn’t lost due to caution about spilling the beans on the boss by making it safe for people to report in.

Encourage people to speak up by thanking them for their input. It’s often scary to overrule or report bad news to a boss. And yet that’s often exactly what’s needed if things are off track. Make sure the culture of the business positively recognizes people who are outspoken, so long as their approach is collaborative and focused on achieving a positive outcome.

Set up interim checkpoints to measure progress. Establish regular reporting intervals and make sure reports are turned in on time. If it looks like a target will be missed, get together immediately to discuss what’s wrong. Resolve the problem on the spot either by adding more resources or by adjusting the due date. Don’t ignore warning signs that there’s a problem.

Be willing to have the conversation: “We have to hold each other accountable — it starts with us as owners.” Employees look at the values exhibited by the boss. If the boss consistently takes liberties with what was promised, that’s setting a bad example.

Divide areas of responsibility. Match assignments to skills and interests. The more partners understand about a subject, the more likely they’ll achieve positive outcomes. Conversely, if they’re swimming in unfamiliar waters, unsure and uneasy, it becomes more likely they’ll misread problems or overlook key warning signs.

Commit to each other’s success. Positively challenge each other to meet expectations. When there is a breakdown, work together to show employees all partners are focused on fixing the problem and learning from their mistakes.

LOOKING FOR A GOOD BOOK? Try “How Did That Happen?: Holding People Accountable for Results the Positive, Principled Way” by Roger Connors and Tom Smith.

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