How to make ACCOUNTABILITY come alive in your organization

Frank showed up late for work one day and his boss yelled, “You should’ve been here at 8:30!” Frank replied, “Why? What happened at 8:30?”

Funny? Perhaps … as long as you’re not the boss trying to motivate that employee.

Ever since the beginning of time, people have been looking for ways to motivate the best in others. And there have been thousands of research projects dedicated to the pursuit of “THE ANSWER.”

Well, let me cut through all the textbooks and all the consultant psycho-babble. When all is said and done, about two-thirds of the motivational research can be summarized in two principles:

1) That which gets inspected gets done, and

2) That which gets rewarded gets done.

The first has to do with accountability, and the second has to do with praise.

In today’s issue of the Tuesday Tip, let’s look at what it takes to get the ACCOUNTABILITY you want to see in others. It has three phases, all of which you’ve got to understand and apply effectively

► 1. Start with clear expectations.


You see … most people want to succeed in their jobs. But if you haven’t told people exactly WHAT you want done

… and perhaps HOW you want it done, they’ll do it their way and probably be less effective than either of you hoped.

Sam Manfer, the author of Take Me to Your Leaders, says, “What happens next is they become unhappy — strike one. You’re disappointed, which shows — strike two. Then you probably tell them what they’re doing wrong — strike three.”

No! No! No! You’ve got to tell your people WHAT you want and HOW to “get ‘er done.” You can never assume they already know what you want … because they seldom do. And you can never assume they’ll ask if they need to know … because they seldom will.

So make your expectations perfectly clear. I would even suggest saying something like this, “I’m not sure I said that very well. Can you please help me out? What did you hear me saying?”

As they repeat back what they heard, you will know instantly whether or not the two of you are actually on the same wave length. Or as I advise my coaching clients, “When in doubt, check it out.” Don’t assume anything.

You might also check out my keynote and/or seminar on 4C Leadership: Communication, Cooperation, Change, and Commitment. It can make a powerful addition to your next meeting.

And then…

► 2. Inspect what you expect.


When people know they are being observed, when they know their performance is being monitored, they almost always do a better job of living up to your expectations. It’s a simple truth in human behavior.

A Berkeley study confirmed that. And I’ll have to admit I don’t know how they did the study and I don’t want to know. But at any rate, the researchers wanted to know who washed and didn’t wash their hands after using the bathroom facilities.

Their conclusion? People were much more likely to wash their hands if there was somebody else in the bathroom. The fact that they were observed or might be observed changed their behavior for the better.

In other words, you inspect what you expect … which is easier said than done. Most of us are so busy that once we outline our expectations for someone else, or delegate some tasks to others, we want to forget about it. We want to think that job or worry is off our plate so we can concentrate on other things. In other words, we may fail to inspect what we expect.

That’s a big mistake and a sure way to let ACCOUNTABILITY slip out the door.

To actually inspect what you expect, you’ve got a couple of choices. First, you can tell the other person or people HOW you will be inspecting their progress and performance. If you’re the leader, you had better have an answer to that question and your people have a right to know that answer.

Put another way, HOW will you be checking things out?

It was an issue for Joe and the 911 operator. As you may remember, Joe and Dave were hunting when Dave keeled over. Frantically, Joe called 911 on his cell phone and blurted out, “My friend just dropped dead! What should I do?”

A soothing voice at the other end said, “Don’t worry. I can help. First, let’s make sure he’s really dead.”

After a brief silence, the operator heard a shot. Then Joe came back on the phone. “Okay,” he said nervously to the operator. “What do I do next?”

A second way you can inspect what you expect is to make a mutual decision. Ask the other person HOW they would like you to observe and give them performance feedback. Oftentimes they will have some very helpful suggestions that will become a win-win for everyone involved.

And then,

► 3. Revise expectations when necessary.


Sometimes a lack of ACCOUNTABILITY does not come from unclear expectations or undone inspections. Sometimes the job itself … or the expectations around the job … are just plain ridiculous and demotivating.

So if you’re a leader or manager, ask your employees lots of questions to discover the demotivating garbage in your organization. And I don’t mean the trash you throw away. I mean the garbage tasks that rob your employees of productive time.

Ask “Brave Questions”. Ask your employees such things as:

  • What made you mad today?
  • What took too long?
  • What caused complaints today?
  • What was misunderstood today?
  • What cost too much?
  • What was wasted?
  • What was too complicated?
  • What was just plain silly?
  • What job involved too many people?
  • What job involved too many actions?

Questions such as these will help you revise your expectations and help you look for more meaningful behaviors to inspect.

The other way you can go about revising expectations is to give people permission to skip those things they’re convinced are unnecessary. Judith Bardwick talks about that in her book, In Praise Of Good Business: How Optimizing Risk Rewards Both Your Bottom Line And Your People. Bradwick cites Wal-Mart as an example.

At Wal-Mart, employees are told, “If you are required to do something that you think is garbage, you have permission not to do it. If no one asks you ‘Why aren’t you doing that?’ for a week, you have permission not to do it again.”

“If, after that time, someone challenges you with ‘Why aren’t you doing that?’ you have permission to go up two levels higher than your manager to explain why you’re not doing it.”

It’s a great approach that almost any organization could adapt to their situation. I would only add one footnote. You may want to ask your employees to give you some evidence that the skipped tasks are indeed silly, useless, expensive, or time consuming.

In summary, the first great motivational principle says “That which gets inspected gets done.” How are you doing on that?