If you are a boss, you know that holding people accountable can be a bear. You probably recall many occasions where you have delegated a task to someone, who promised to do it, but something came up and they ended up not delivering. When you followed up you got a reasonable excuse that was hard to dismiss and you found yourself shot. No accountability.
Accountability is a Necessity
Nowhere is this more prevalent than in family companies, where family members enjoy almost unlimited leeway to not perform. After all, how can one fire his sister and not be ostracized at the Thanksgiving dinner table. There are valid excuses and a very limited arsenal for the employer to use in response. Its hard enough to demote a family member, let alone cut their compensation or fire them.
Often the same is true with key executive team members. The boss has a choice of reprimanding that person at the risk of damaging their relationship, or to let them go, which will create a whole set of new challenges, such as finding and training a replacement. Team members are often aware of their own stickiness and take full advantage of it, such as paying lip service to the boss but keep on doing what they like or are comfortable. How can these people be held accountable.
In Comes Peer Accountability
For me the light bulb went off when I started coaching my sons in soccer. Beforehand, I found it difficult to get them to follow instructions and had to rely on a limited toolbox of sanctions, such as banishing video games canceling movie night. Neither of these were very effective and both required an investment of substantial energy for holding the line.
The peer group situation on the soccer field however completely changed the dynamic. They hated to look bad in front of their peers and were willing to follow instructions way beyond what was available in private.
The same principle applies to work teams. If team members hold each other accountable, all excuses become meaningless, since anyone could have equally valid excuses to give. What remains is whether people deliver. A tried and tested meeting structure is the Level 10 Meeting, which is part of the Entrepreneurial Operating System, a process used by over 45,000 small and medium sized organizations. During the Level 10 Meeting participants report on hitting (or not) their assigned metrics, including weekly sales, operational and administrative activity targets, called the “Scorecard”. They also report on being on-track or off-track with quarterly initiatives, called “Rocks” and whether they completed their “To Do” Items. There are no explanations, just black and white reporting of facts, each of which ends up on an “Issue List” of which the most important get discussed later in the session.
Peer accountability works, as people will be motivated to look good in front of peers and be seen delivering for the company. On the flip side, excuses fall away and become hollow, so why bother coming up with them. On the other hand, don’t expect accountability for Rocks, Metrics, To Dos that your people have not participated in formulating as there will be little buyout in taking instructions.
70 years ago people spent over 50% of their time at work earning their food, which time has dwindled to less than 7% today, in America. As a society, we have moved up on Maslow’s pyramid and we are no longer satisfied with just a paycheck. We are looking for meaning and purpose and will give passionately for those organizations that allow us to have it.
If you are the boss, use one-on-one time for communicating expectations, coaching and mentoring and leave accountability to groups to do for themselves.