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Accountability: The New Normal

By Marty Stanley

Continuous Improvement, TQM, Seven Habits, Six Sigma, Five Whatever…

All of these are good concepts aimed to improve results, instill greater productivity or profitability.  Unfortunately most of those processes ended up in three ringed binders that were put on the shelf until the next new process came along because the last one didn’t work. Sometimes the leadership in organizations becomes mesmerized by that shiny object, caught in the lure that this process will really get the organization in shape and position it for the future.

Employees on the other hand, translate the “next big thing” as “Flavor of the Month.”  They work under the assumption that if they ride it out and go through the motions, management will get bored and it will go away and they won’t have to change. After all, by playing it safe and “going along” they don’t become career road-kill when the shiny new process becomes unpopular or doesn’t succeed.

Unfortunately, accountability hasn’t been considered the "next big idea" because it’s not  “flashy.”  There are no “bragging rights” about implementing an accountability process. After all, accountability means people would need to change, rather than a system or process that needs to change. And who wants to be accountable if it means having to personally change?

Lack of Accountability Leads to Loss. On the other hand we’ve seen what happens when there’s no accountability for leading people or processes:

  • The dot-com bust, Enron, Katrina, FEMA...

  • Scandals everywhere: politics, religion, sports...

  • Bernie Madoff, bailouts and industries collapsing…

  • Product recalls, contaminated foods, greed, waste and excess.

Granted these are gross examples of lack of accountability, but every organization has their own version of excess, sacred cows or lack of oversight. When things don’t work, it’s usually due to a lack of ownership or accountability for the decisions that led to those results. Whether it’s lost customers or members, loss of market share or defective products or crummy service, someone was making decisions or communicating information that resulted in those losses. It can be a lack of decision-making or communication that creates the loss. But the bottom line is someone is not being accountable.

Reviving Fundamentals Not Magic Formulas: Somehow we’ve lost sight of the basics. The New Normal is about reviving some fundamental principles such as people are accountable to do the work for which they are hired. Whether it’s a management position or not, it doesn’t make any difference, you are accountable.

The New Normal is about having clarity about expectations and following through. When a person accepts a job, there’s an implied agreement to perform the work for which they are hired. If a person says they didn’t know what was expected, why did they accept the job?

Sometimes it’s easy to blame the boss for not explaining what’s expected or for not providing training to do parts of the job but that’s not a good excuse to slack off. If you don’t know what you are supposed to do why don’t you ask? What are you waiting for? There’s no magic formula for success. It’s really very simple: Success comes from being accountable.

A Manager’s Best Friend: Job Descriptions: Job descriptions are a manager’s best tool in the toolbox for successful management and leadership. They are a great place to start The New Normal for Accountability. Collectively, job descriptions reflect how work flows within a department and throughout an organization and what each position is accountable for doing.

Individually, they can be used to hire, train, evaluate and coach employees.

That’s why it’s important to have accurate job descriptions. They will reflect the major accountabilities of each position and why the position is integral to the success of the organization. (It’s not “flashy” – but it works.) 

If you can’t explain why the position is important, then maybe it’s not critical to the success of the organization. The accountabilities should be congruent, or a logical grouping of activities for the incumbent to perform. Make sure the job description fits the needs of the organization, and is not written to match an employee’s skills.

Four Easy Steps to Holding People Accountable: First, use the job description as the basis for hiring or promoting people into a position. It’s an objective way screen candidates and assure they will have the skills and experience to do the job.

Second, share the job description with the incumbent so they know their accountabilities and let them know this will be used for training, coaching and performance feedback.

Third, have objective ways to measure and monitor performance and communicate those methods to the people performing the jobs. Follow though by providing feedback about performance. Successful managers know it’s their job to manage both people and processes. They communicate expectations, monitor the key performance indicators to assure things are on track and communicate information on a timely basis.  

Fourth, provide training and coaching opportunities to enhance performance.

Overcompensating for Underperformers: Here’s the deal:  Holding people accountable isn’t always easy, particularly with people who are underperforming. Sometimes managers think it’s easier to do the work themselves, or they can do it better, or it will take less time than to train and monitor and coach someone else.

The question then becomes, is it easier to do your work as a manager and their work or to hold them accountable? Unless you are willing to communicate expectations, provide the resources for people to do their jobs and hold your people accountable, you’re the one who is underperforming.

Clarity of Vision and Structures to Support It: Living The New Normal means that organizations understand that the ways things have been done in the past necessarily won’t work in the future. They understand workforce demographics and expectations are changing dramatically and consumers are making more conscious choices about how to spend their time and money.

These organizations will meet these changing needs, internally and externally, with a clear vision, decision making with accountability and communicating in ways that really reach their constituents. From the fundamentals of holding individual employees and managers accountable for their job descriptions to holding larger portions of the company and its processes accountable, these organizations will have the systems and structures in place to support their vision, mission and core values. The result will be alignment and integrity.  

That’s accountability. That’s success.

Read other articles and learn more about Marty Stanley.

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