Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Accountability - A dirty word or a must for business?

Recently we watched President Obama accept full responsibility for the multitude of opportunities by the different federal intelligence agencies to “connect the dots” and prevent the “Underwear Bomber” from boarding a flight to the United States. Throughout his speech the President used some variation of the word “accountable” yet he never stated how he intended enforce accountability within his administration.
Does this word not have any teeth any more? Has it been relegated to the same politically incorrect or overused under-enforced trash heap of words such as “deadline,” “delivery date,” “fixed price,” “trust,” and “customer service”?
I contend that if your business has any ambitions of growth and long-term success then enforcing personal accountability is a must.
My experience in government, corporate America, small business and non-profits has taught me that mediocrity begins the moment leadership fails to hold their people accountable for not achieving specific goals and objectives on time. The message sent when this occurs is viral, spreading with firestorm-like intensity and speed throughout the company or organization. And, like a firestorm, the damage can be overwhelming and take years to overcome.
So what does it take to create a culture of accountability in your business?

1) A Plan - First and foremost it takes a written plan. Operating to a well thought out three-year strategic and one-year tactical plan is one of most important characteristics of companies and organizations that grow consistently in good times and bad. But, just having a plan is not enough. The plan has to be shared which allows every member of the team to know his or her role in its execution. Just as a movie cannot be made without a detailed script for the actors, cameraman, director, etc., a business owner cannot hold his or her employees accountable for completing their “movie” (tactical plan) without first giving them a script.

2) Written Job Description - The relationship between an employee and employer is a contractual one. As far as the business is concerned it should be nothing more. In return for a set amount of compensation and benefits, an employer expects you to have a certain level of experience and education, work a scheduled number of hours and be held accountable for defined responsibilities. With both a plan and a written job description in place, an employer has taken the steps to remove the excuse of “I didn’t know” as a means for employees to fend off accountability.

3) Resources - You cannot hold someone accountable unless you have given them the resources to do the job you’ve assigned. If, for example, you expect someone to build a widget in a certain timeframe, then you must ensure the employee has the materials, tools, instructions, and the proper environment to complete the task. The same is true for your salesmen. You can’t hold them accountable for meeting sales objectives unless you have first given them the value proposition, a clear understanding of the competition and other tools necessary to uncover prospects and close the sale.

4) Implication for Failure - Finally, and most importantly, there must be consistent repercussions associated with failure. A plan or job description is useless if you don’t hold the individual and leadership accountable for fulfilling their responsibility and meeting specific goals and objective. Tying bonuses or a portion of base pay to objectives is one method. Private or public rebuke when a deadline is missed is another. This is clearly a personal decision, but whatever the repercussion, it must be doled out with consistency.

Maintaining a strict culture of accountability does not, as some believe, negatively impact morale or performance. On the contrary, this culture takes away ambiguity and ensures each and every individual knows what is expected of them and as a result keeps them focused and comfortable knowing that if they perform they have a long future.

About the author: Mike Gomez is the President of Allegro Consulting, an Atlanta-based business growth specialty firm. Allegro provides operating advice to businesses and organizations on a wide range of management issues that effect growth, such as strategic and organizational planning, marketing, sales and business process improvement.