Holding Your Team Accountable To High Standards

“Hold yourself responsible for a higher standard than anybody else expects of you. Never excuse yourself.”
Henry Ward Beecher

Every leader seems to want more “accountability … ownership … and … taking responsibility” in his/her organization. And I don’t blame them. We can no longer afford to keep employees on the payroll who aren’t somewhat self-motivated and self-managing.

Unfortunately, most leaders don’t have a clear definition of accountability … let alone the employees they lead. So let me tell you WHAT it is and HOW to get it.

=> 1. WHAT is accountability?

After all, you can’t expect anyone to be accountable if they don’t know what it is. According to Scott Anderson and Chip Kudrle, in their book, “Attributes of Top Performers,” accountability, in its simplest form is…

**Accepting total responsibility for results.

Accountable people accept praise and thanks when their results are worthy of praise. But, more importantly, they don’t blame other people or outside forces when their results are less than desirable. They don’t blame their companies, their products, bosses, customers, or territories when things don’t go well. And they don’t blame the economy.

People with high levels of accountability do not rely on excuses. They live by the motto, “If it is to be, it is up to me.” Short, sweet, and tough.

Of course, accountable people do more than hold themselves to a high standard. They are constantly…

***Investing in their own continuing education.

They know they can’t do more if they’re not learning more. So they seek out whatever education they need to accomplish their personal and professional goals. As Anderson and Kudrle point out, “They don’t wait for their company to invest in them.”

Somehow or other, accountable people know they can’t face a prospective future employer … during a job interview … and say, “Well, it’s not my fault I can’t do the things you’re asking. My previous company never sent me to any courses that taught me those skills.”

No, no, no! Accountable people do what they have to do to learn what they need to learn. As Albert Gray puts it, “Successful people have the habit of doing things failures won’t.” They make personal investments and sacrifices for their career.

Now you may be thinking these two things … accepting total responsibility for results AND investing in their own continuing education … are all well and good. But…

=> 2. HOW do you get accountability?

If I had eight hours, if you were in my program on “Peak Performance: Motivating The Best In Others,” I could give you a complete answer. However, in the three minutes that I have, let me suggest you do the following.

***Believe in your people.

As the famed physician Sir William Osler said years ago, most patients will get well because of their faith in their doctor. And in a similar sense, most employees will become more accountable if they know their leader believes in them.

Author Richard Beckhard notes, “Truly effective leaders in the years ahead will have a belief in the capacity of individuals to grow.”

So if you’re a leader of any sort, you might ask yourself, “How strongly do your people feel your belief in them?” The stronger they feel it, the more accountable they will become.

***Lead by example.

That’s the way Michael Eisner transformed the Walt Disney Company. He led by example. He exemplified accountability that everyone else eventually emulated.

When Eisner took over as Chairman and CEO in 1984, Disney was a company of family movies and a profitable theme park. Since that time Eisner has created a massive multi-billion dollar empire with blockbuster movies, the ownership of several TV channels and networks, not to mention a host of movie studios, cruise ships, and theme parks across the world.

Eisner maintains that in good times and bad, he creates a culture of accountability by 1) being an example, 2) being there, 3) being a nudge, and 4) being an idea generator. And he says the first one … leading by example … is the most important. He wants everyone to perform what he calls “practical magic.” In other words, he wants everyone to provide exciting ideas but be subject to hardheaded questioning. And “everyone” includes himself.

Could the same thing be said of you? That you lead by example? That you exemplify accountability at all times in all circumstances? That when people walk in your office they know they are entering a “No-Blame Zone?”

Beyond that, if you want your people to be more accountable, you need to …

***Encourage continuing education.

Even though accountable people will seek out the education they need, whether or not their company provides it, smart companies keep on encouraging their people to grow. And they keep on training their people … in good times and bad. Their motto is “Train. Train. Train.”

Vince Poscente, the owner of several companies, even takes this education premise a step further. He says, “I trust the individual knows what areas he or she needs to work on. I offer to pay half of the cost of a course or educational opportunity. The individual thinks twice before requesting a course since his money is at stake too. Plus, when an employee invests his own money, he naturally has an increased commitment in gaining something from the educational experience.”

And then …

***Give some room and feedback.

Tell your people to go out there and see what they can accomplish. As Poscente tells his employees, “If you hang yourself, together we’ll figure out what went wrong.” He wants his people to know they have enough rope to discover new opportunities for the organization.

And as he says, “Truth be known, most of the time, what an employee does is not exactly how I would have done it. Yet, the return on investment of my overall trust is a more loyal, happy, involved, and accountable employee.”

Finally, for today’s purposes, to encourage greater accountability, you should…

***Establish some accountability mechanisms.

Set up some simple systems that encourage and reward accountability. Anderson and Kudrle recommend journaling. In other words, get your employees to record everything they do and the results they get. It can be a huge wake-up call that can turn people around. In one diet study, for example, those who wrote down what they ate were twice as likely to stick to their diet.

You could even set up accountability teams. It’s the secret behind the Weight Watchers program. Those who attend the meetings regularly lose 50% more weight than other members.

So set up some teams of two or more people who check in with one another. Quite simply, if people know they have to report the results they’re getting, they get better results.

In today’s challenging marketplace, we no longer have room for employees who do just enough to get by, and we no longer have time for employees who blame everybody else for their lack of results. We need leaders and employees who believe in accountability … who take responsibility … and get the job done. And these are a few tips to get you moving in that direction.

Action:  Establish at least one accountability mechanism for yourself this week.