If you want to build a team that you can trust, you absolutely need to have accountability. Accountability is the most important ingredient for personal success in life. Countless endeavors fail to flourish, not for lack of talent, but simply because accountability was not present. Henry J. Evans, author of Winning with Accountability says, “Without accountability, people are working on the wrong things and feeling like they lack direction and purpose.” In this article I will highlight four simple tips from Evans’ book on how to create accountability on your team and start getting results right away.
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What is accountability and why is it important?
Accountability is the act of taking responsibility for one’s own actions and position in life. At its core, it means to refuse to blame other people. You alone are responsible for your current situation, and as such, you are able to make compelling decisions that may lead to a more desirable future.
Accountability also means keeping our commitments to others. In Deuteronomy 23:23, God told the Israelites to be careful to keep their vows to the Lord, because it is foolish to speak in haste and make a vow and not keep it. When one fails to keep a vow, this shows that he lacks integrity, and, perhaps even more sinister, has no regard for the person to whom he is making the vow. Accountability works the same way. If I tell my boss I am going to complete a project within a certain deadline, then I need to follow through on that commitment, or take the appropriate countermeasures, if I sense early on that the deadline will not be met. Jesus himself taught us to let our yes be yes and our no be no (Matt 5:37). Anything else is foolish.
How to establish accountability
Many managers struggle to establish accountability, because they incorrectly assume that people already know what is expected of them. This is why one of the issues that employees complain about the most is lack of sufficient training on the job. Managers spend thousands of dollars recruiting a new hire, but then don’t do the necessary work of establishing accountability by providing clear expectations of the job and the training needed to accomplish the job well. If you want to be an effective leader, here are four steps you must follow in order to establish accountability on your team.
1. Provide crystal clear expectations
People are not mind readers. Therefore, when assigning a task, you must create a clear visual of the requirements that must be met. What does success look like for that task? Avoid vague and ambiguous language. For example, say you want your teenage son or daughter to go wash your car. How would they interpret the request to, “Go and wash the car”? Do you want them to use soap? Would you like the tires to be waxed? Do you want them to wash the outside and the inside of the car, or just the outside of the car? Imagine how many different ways this simple request can be interpreted by a teenager.
What if you changed your request as follow: “Go and wash the car, and when you’re done I want to see my reflection on the hood of the car and I don’t want to see a speck of dust inside the car.” Do you see how much clearer the expectations are here? You have created a visual that cannot be misinterpreted.
We make vague requests of people all the time, only to be left frustrated when they return with a finished product that does not meet our expectations. To avoid this mishap in the future, be specific about the expectations and explain exactly what success looks like.
2. Be specific about due dates
If there is no agreement on when something is due, there is a high probability that it will not get done. Evans provides, what he calls, a Glossary of Failure, phrases that we should avoid when we are talking about due dates on assignments:
- ASAP (As Soon As Possible)
- Right Away
- The end of the day/week/month/year
- By the “next time” we meet
These phrases are ambiguous and vague and destroy accountability. How soon is soon? For some the end of the week is Friday, for others it’s Sunday. My ASAP can be sometime today, while someone else’s ASAP can mean next week. With such lack of specificity in our language, it is no wonder that 70% of projects fail.
To provide clear expectations around due dates, use the following wording instead:
– What date and time can you complete this?
– I need the proposal on my desk by 4 P.M. on Friday, Sept 7th
3. Have a clearly defined owner for each task
An entire team cannot “own” a project – that is a recipe for failure. Regardless how many people is working on the project, one person must be responsible for driving the results. That is why we employ project managers. The project manager assigns tasks to individual members of the team, in order to achieve success as a whole. Commit to never end a project meeting without everyone in the meeting understanding the expectations, the due dates, and the owner of each task.
4. Have an accountability partner
“Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their labor. For if they fall, one will lift up his companion” (Eccl 4: 9, 10).
Accountability begins when two or more people know about a commitment (Winning, pg 96). An accountability partner, therefore, helps you to stay focused on that commitment. For example, when I used to go to the gym by myself, it was very easy (and tempting) to short-circuit my workout. Now that I have a workout partner, I get more done at the gym, because I have someone who will push me beyond what I think is possible.
It takes an average of 60 days to form a new habit. Whatever you decide to do, whether it is starting an exercising plan or new diet or writing a book, forming a discipline or habit around that commitment will be difficult. Find someone who will hold you accountable and motivate you every step of the way. Your chances of success will be significantly greater that way.
Accountability is not a punitive process; it is a productive way to get work done. However, you cannot expect your team to be accountable, if you are not willing to model the behavior first. The definition of accountability provided in the opening of this article places the emphasis on individual conduct and character. Keeping your commitments (regardless how small) is the first step in modeling accountability and showing your team that you are serious about incorporating it in your daily workflow. It might feel unnatural in the beginning, but that’s okay. Share your commitment to develop personal accountability with someone whom you trust, and admit when you fail.
It’s been 3 months since I introduced this concept to my team, and I have come short many times. Each time, however, I’m able to learn from it and improve on my commitments. I find, for example, that saying, “No”, to frivolous requests help me to stay focused on those commitments that are more impactful to myself and others. Once it becomes a habit, you too will find that accountability is the best way to lead a team effectively.
– Led by the Book