#009 - After SMART Goals and Action Steps comes ACCOUNTABILITY. Team leaders must hold each person accountable to every member of the team. Join host Dr. Charles Boyer for some tips and techniques to help you develop accountability for yourself and your team.
Hello again, and welcome to Keys for New Leaders, a podcast just for YOU. I’m so glad you’re here! I’ve been watching the stats for this podcast, and have seen that people from 52 US cities and 7 different countries have downloaded an episode or two. Thank you so much! I hope you find these podcasts interesting and helpful. If you haven’t done so already, please take a minute to subscribe to this podcast so you won’t miss future episodes and maybe a special event or two down the road.
In the last episode, we talked about SMART Goals and Action Steps, an overview of setting goals and developing the action steps you need to reach those goals. It’s not a one-time process, and it takes some time and careful attention to detail to complete all the steps, but it sure is worth it in the long run.
This is another of those “it takes time” topics, not one that you can just snap your fingers and it’s done. In this episode, we’re going to take a look at the next thing that needs to happen with those Goals and Action Steps, and that’s ACCOUNTABILITY, an absolute necessity to getting things done and done WELL.
We hear a lot about being accountable these days. Unfortunately, a lot of it is just lip service, yet being accountable is so vitally important to your success as a leader. It seems to me that we toss around the word accountability and don’t really understand the term accountability and what it means. We may say that businesses are accountable to their shareholders to make a profit. We may say that teachers are accountable, not only for what they teach, but also for improving students’ test scores. We may say that a team is accountable to the fans for its successes or failures. We may say that, but it seems more like we are confusing accountability with responsibility.
I’ve done my share of confusing accountability with responsibility and I was wrong. Here’s what I found recently: In the most basic distinction between responsibility and accountability, responsibility has been described as an ongoing duty to complete the task at hand, the one you have been assigned or have agreed to complete. Accountability has been described as a duty to report – or give an account of – what has occurred in the completion of that task and what results were achieved. To put it another way, responsibility is task-oriented; accountability is results-oriented. That may seem like hair-splitting to you right now, yet there are important distinctions between the two terms. We’ll get to some examples in just a short time.
I’ve often thought that accountability was both individual and collective, but I’m coming around to thinking that accountability is only individual, that is, ONE person is accountable, not a team. The team can be accountable to one another for each person’s results, and can hold one another accountable, but only ONE person can be accountable for the team’s results. Does that make sense? At first, that concept was a little confusing to me, but I’ve come around to agreeing with that point of view. Here’s an example: I remember seeing a picture of President Harry Truman’s famous sign on his desk. It read simply, “The buck stops here,” and that pretty well sums it all up. Many offices and bureaus, many people working in those offices, and multiple tasks going on at the same time. But here was that sign, and it said – no excuses, no blame game, no finger pointing, no hiding behind someone else. There it was, and it said: I am accountable. Would you have the nerve to put that sign on your desk?
Now, we have to be careful here. Saying “I am accountable” shouldn’t mean “I am guilty” or “I have failed” or “It’s all my fault.” Accountability shouldn’t always be considered negative, yet we often jump to that conclusion these days. Accountability should reflect – truthfully and accurately – what occurred, what were the results, what were the outcomes, NOT who didn’t do this or that, or we didn’t meet the goal because THEY didn’t do their job. Do you hear the difference here? Accountability should reflect on the results, rather than point fingers or play the blame game.
So, how do we go about building a culture of accountability in our workplace? Well, it starts with YOU, my friend. No ifs, ands or buts, as the old saying goes. YOU are accountable to yourself and to the people you lead. As the leader, YOU are the one accountable for the success – or failure – of the team of people you lead. And, accountability is not a one-time thing, it’s an ALL-TIME thing. You just can’t turn it off and back on whenever you feel like it.
So, if YOU are the one who is accountable – what about your team? How are they held accountable? The best way I can think of to describe it is that each team member must be accountable to all others on the team. And YOU, my friend, must hold people accountable to one another.
Remember from a previous podcast about DYS-function of a team? The fourth DYS-function is: Avoidance of Accountability. When a team ignores or shies away from being accountable to one another, that team can quickly become dysfunctional. Members of a cohesive team hold one another accountable by identifying problems quickly and without hesitation; they respect one another as individuals and as a team; and they take action without getting bogged down in minutiae or red tape. And YOU, my friend, must hold your team accountable.
Now for the hard part, but it’s also the BEST part: There are several KEY STEPS to help establish a genuine atmosphere of accountability in your workplace and on your team. We’ve said that accountability starts with YOU. You must lead by example here. If you demonstrate to others that you are accountable, right away that sets a positive effect on morale and trust. And like trust, it’s easy to lose if you’re not careful.
Another KEY is that YOU must set clear expectations … goals … a positive tone and direction … and that you keep on clarifying, keep on communicating, as the work progresses. Keep the goals clear in everyone’s mind at all times.
Yet another KEY – and this one is especially important – is to establish a safe place to work for everyone on the team, where ideas can flourish, where problems can be discussed openly and honestly without fear of reprisal or blaming or finger pointing. I have experienced both safe and unsafe teams, and you most likely will, too. One unsafe administrative team I was on was when the head of the team loved to play Gotcha. He would wait until someone got through giving his or her report, and then - GOTCHA – he would find something to criticize or disagree with, or find fault with – and sometimes rather harshly. Well, it didn’t take too many of those Gotchas before people didn’t want to say anything at all in the meetings. When I was fortunate to serve on a safe team, we exchanged ideas openly, offered constructive criticism to one another, and as a result, we got a lot done, we enjoyed the process and had a lot of respect for one another.
In addition to the safe atmosphere, you must hold yourself and your team to high standards of excellence. The old expressions of “close enough for jazz” or “good enough for government work” mean that accepting less than our best is somehow OK – yet IT ISN”T OK!! Remember the 75% Rule? If 3 out of 4 (or 75%) is acceptable, then would you hire a plumber who only fixed 3 out of 4 leaky pipes, or a pilot who lands the plane in the right city 3 out of 4 trips? I doubt it!
YOU, as team leader, must hold your team accountable to themselves and to one another. That’s all good, we might say, but what if it’s a team of volunteers? How can we hold volunteers accountable? After all, volunteers can walk away whenever they choose. Well, it’s still a part of developing a spirit of accountability on your team, and if that positive spirit is present, those volunteers will be a lot more likely to stay. One way to help develop accountability is for each team member to have an accountability partner, someone who will act as a trusted adviser, encourager, or if needed, a prodder when a team member gets off track, or procrastinates, or makes excuses, or … (you fill in the blank here) – whatever excuses come to mind. And there are many possibilities, unfortunately.
For example, what happens if an over-eager volunteer says that he/she will do something, and then doesn’t? All the more reason we must hold one another accountable. Here’s a suggestion: YOU, as team leader, might say something like, “Thank you for volunteering to take on this project. Our team needs to have this completed by the 15th of next month. How does that fit with your schedule?” and if the volunteer assures you that the task can be done on time, then follow up with “How do you want to be held accountable for completing this by the 15th?” and “Who will be your accountability partner?” These are non-judgmental questions that ask the volunteer to account for his/her actions. These questions, asked in an open and caring manner, don’t point fingers or blame anyone. You are simply asking the volunteer to assume the responsibility and be accountable to the team. If you are not accustomed to asking questions similar to these examples, sit in front of a mirror and practice asking such questions to yourself until it feels more natural. It gets easier after the first hundred times or so!
Be generous with your praise for even the smallest step towards the goal. Positive reinforcement of actions, especially with volunteers, is one of the most important KEYS to your success. If you have to, LOOK for ways to say encouraging and positive things to your team members. And MEAN IT when you SAY IT!
That doesn’t imply that you accept mediocre work or excuses for not getting things done. Keep asking and encouraging always. If someone is having difficulty completing a task or project, find out what’s standing in the way. Just be careful how you ask. If you say to someone, “How can I help you?” -- you may have just volunteered for their job! Here’s a better way to ask that: “What support do you need to get this done?” or “Who can best help you with this problem?” It’s a subtle difference, yet it focuses the question on the person, and not on you. And it gets them to thinking of ways to get some help, rather than just dumping it on you because you asked how you could help. Try asking these questions to yourself.
In past episodes, I’ve included three questions toward the end of each session to help you think more about the topic. I’m going to change the menu just a bit, and give you five questions for you to practice asking yourself until you are comfortable asking them of others. Notice that each question is open-ended, not a yes/no type question. Each question also is non-judgmental, and asks the person (not you) what he/she thinks is most important. The word YOU appears in each question, and for a good reason – it puts the focus back on the person. Notice that the word “I” does NOT appear – also for a good reason. And, after you have asked the question, you must LISTEN CLOSELY to the answer, taking note of what is said, how it is said, and just maybe a hint of what’s NOT being said. Now, if a member of your team tells you that he/she is having trouble meeting their goal, or feels stuck, or there is a problem they can’t solve, try asking questions similar to these:
1. What is working well for you at the moment?
2. Who can help you solve that problem?
3. What’s one way you (or your team) could have more fun doing this project?
4. What is one positive lesson you can learn from this?
5. What’s stopping you/your team from taking that first step?
Well, there are many more examples of questions we could list here. This is only a small sample to give you some ideas. What suggestions do you have? How would YOU ask questions such as these to members of your team?
I do have one question just for YOU to think about, and that’s: What ONE thing are you taking away from today’s podcast?
And, that SPECIAL KEY today is the Key of “A” for – guess what – ACCOUNTABILITY. We are ALL accountable to someone for something!
I’ve sure enjoyed being with you for this episode. Thanks for joining me for this overview. My wish for you is that you lead by example, showing indeed that you are accountable to yourself and to those you lead. Next week, we’ll talk more about the leaders we all need to be, and that is: LEADERS SERVING OTHERS. Who are they? Well, they’re very special people, just like YOU, who lead by example, who lead by bringing out the best in others, and who wouldn’t ask anything of others that they wouldn’t be willing to do themselves. Tune in next week, and we’ll have a great session on what it takes to be a leader who leads by serving others.
Until then, take care, my friend, and stay safe and well.