Sometimes leaders call me saying they want help to fix their team. That’s always a red flag for me, and it immediately makes me wonder what kind of sabotage may be unknowingly occurring.
A CEO of a west coast food company called me a while back. He said his team lacked accountability and he wanted me to “fix them”. As I asked him questions a disturbing trend appeared: his retention was some of the lowest I’d seen in my 30+ year career.
Even his executive team didn’t stick around—the longest tenure there was under 2 years, and the CEO had been around for over 15 years! What was happening here?
How’s the accountability in your organization? Would you like it to be stronger?
3 Quick Tips to Reduce Sabotage
Look at your company’s values – is accountability mentioned and sacred?
Look at your team’s emotional engagement – are they enrolled, aligned, engaged?
Look in the mirror – does your behavior support accountability? Are you a model of it?
It’s because a human isn’t a simple being. We all have parts of ourselves, and some are in conflict with one another. A part of you wants to hold others accountable, yet part of you doesn’t want to be the “the bad guy/gal”.
Here are the top 7 factors that I find prevent, or at best reduce, accountability:
Conflict Avoidance: If we don’t deal with what’s happening, like a missed deadline, then we “teach” everyone that accountability isn’t taken seriously.
Organizational Values that don’t honor accountability: If it’s not part of our code of conduct, of what we hold sacred, people won’t take it seriously (again!).
An Absence of Process: If we don’t follow a standard process to ensure accountability, we’ll have communication misses that will set us back. Do you:
Delegate with a clear spec (and ask your direct report to echo back to ensure your communication was clear)
Empower them to succeed (give them what resources they need and check in mid-way to make sure they’re ok and on track)
Celebration or consequences upon completion (make it feel good to be accountable, and feel bad to not be—remember the human being will always choose the “best feeling” behavior on their behavioral menu… it’s your job to make accountability feel good)
Leaders that don’t model accountability, so the team doesn’t take it seriously: Yes, it’s up to us to walk the walk and talk the talk or nobody else will.
Assumption others won’t be accountable: I see this in cross-functional accountability break downs. One team trashes or distrusts the other, telling their team that the other one won’t come through, and surprise, they often don’t… or if they do they’re perceived as having not come through due to the potent negative PR machine.
High staff turnover: Back to the prospect at the beginning of this blog—he kept deeming people “disappointing” that he either fired them or they quit to find a better working environment. If your turnover is super high, look at how you’re causing it.
Deadlines and projects the responsible party hasn’t agreed to/are unrealistic, constantly changing priorities and incomplete communication overall: Sometimes accountability is broken because a person didn’t agree they could deliver the deadline per the spec they were told, or they don’t realize the priorities have changed—they weren’t communicated to them by leadership. So they’re working on the old priorities. Or they’re scrambling, trying to figure out what exactly the priorities are because they’re hearing from other teams that the world has changed. Or they’re irritated and rebellious because they were told to do the impossible and weren’t given a chance to negotiate a more realistic deadline/approach.
What Actually Increases Accountability & Decreases Sabotage
The great news is you can turn around your accountability challenges quickly, due to your own new behaviors:
Resolve the challenges on the list above that apply to you
Forge a powerful group and individual identity around accountability
Give status in the tribe via public and specific recognition
Noting and sharing each team member’s superpower(s)
Make accountability a “good feeling” behavior
Increase communication and clarity on priorities and performance – use Quarterly Business Reviews or Monthly Business Reviews, Weekly Status Reports, Kanban Boards, SmartSheets, whatever method keeps visibility high
Ensure all understand the what, when, why and how of needle movers/KPIs
The Accountability Equation may come in handy too:
Assigner’s (Leader’s) Clear Expectations + Owner’s (Team member’s) Agreement + Personal Celebrations/Conversations (for Team Member) =High Accountability and Ownership