Pause for a minute before reading this and think about all of the people who make commitments to you in the workplace on a weekly basis.  Now think about how many of those people follow through on those commitments 100% of the time with very little follow up, if any.  These are the people who commit to something and you’re 100% confident it will get done right AND on time.  If you’re like many organizations, that number is likely pretty small.

Now think about the remainder of your workplace relationships where you aren’t confident people will follow through on time every time.  How much time do you spend following up, checking in, and losing sleep over whether or not things will get done and, even worse, what are all of the things that might be falling through the cracks because you’ve forgotten what you delegated in the first place?

Lack of accountability is an epidemic in many organizations.  A 2006 study conducted with nearly 15,000 participants by thought leader Patrick Lencioni found that 68% of teams scored dangerously low on accountability.  Even worse, the higher up the organization you go the worse it gets.  80% of senior executive teams scored in the “red” on accountability.  Senior level executives typically enjoy similar socioeconomic status and, thus, don’t feel justified commenting on a peer’s performance.

If this sounds like the organization you’re part of, what can you do to begin righting the ship?

Call an accountability meeting with your team

Openly discuss how everyone else is feeling about the level of accountability in the organization.  A safe environment where people objectively assess their own level of follow through will create an open discussion without finger pointing and defensiveness.  Ask the question of each other as to whether or not more peer to peer accountability is desired.  Often times we want to be held accountable and will respond favorably to it.

Look for a way to objectively rank yourself and each other.  A simple A, B or C grade can accomplish this.  Rank yourself and your peers and share the results.  An “A” is highly accountable, a “B” is inconsistent, while a “C” is very poor at following through.  Look for ways to help each other improve.

Align people with a clear vision

Accountability will always be a significant challenge if your people aren’t enthusiastically engaged with a clear vision.  Ensuring a values fit, a shared purpose, and an excited pursuit of a long term goal will provide people with the passion that is needed to benefit from a commitment to accountability.  Without this, there is a strong chance that accountability will be perceived negatively and cause further disengagement.

Set clear expectations

John Spence eloquently states that “ambiguity breeds mediocrity.”  Establish clear, measurable expectations for everyone so there is no debate whether or not something has been completed.  Top employees expect this and will lose respect for leaders who don’t provide it.

Link performance to the big picture

Once you’ve set clear expectations for your people make sure you take the next step of making it clear how those performance metrics are helping company objectives succeed.  Having a clear strategic plan that you can fit onto a couple of pages will simplify this process.  Good employees want to see how their individual success helps the company win.

Make performance visible and review weekly

If progress is visible and discussed weekly there is higher likelihood deadlines won’t be missed.  Research conducted by the American Society of Training and Development suggests that you are 65% more likely to complete a task if you openly to commit to someone that you will do something.  Leaders get what they tolerate so make it a habit to confront those who don’t follow through.

Right people, right roles

If people enjoy something it feels less like work and they’ll go the extra mile.  Ensure people are in roles they enjoy and have skillsets to be successful.  When people are in roles they do not enjoy or are ill-equipped to fulfill they are far less likely to consistently follow through on their expectations.  Utilizing behavioral profiling tools can help assess strength of fit.

Leaders must lead

If you’re not modelling the behaviors you expect of others then your people are unlikely to be receptive of higher levels of accountability.  You must follow through 100% of the time, expect others to hold you accountable, and take the uncomfortable step of rigorously holding others to their commitments.  Start by addressing your own shortcomings to accountable behavior and just watch how favorably those around you respond.

Stop doing

If you’re doing everything listed above there is a strong likelihood you’re simply taking on too much.  What are the top three things you could say no to right now?  Alternatively, what are your top two most important priorities that add high value to the organization?  Spending more time on the latter and less on the former will begin to improve your capacity to be accountable.

Becoming a highly accountable organization is a transformative exercise so it takes time.  Like all transformative endeavours; start small, assess gaps, and take action.  Begin to imagine how much smoother things would run if significant improvements were realized year over year.  It starts at the top, so get going!

Article by Jeff Tetz