The biggest mistake I have ever made in business was believing that if I hired people and paid them well enough that I would not have to hold them accountable.
With few exceptions, most people don’t produce the result they are capable of without some level of accountability. Goals by themselves don’t provide accountability. Neither do KPIs. Accountability is the requirement that you reach those goals and produce those KPIs. It’s more than knowing what results you are responsible for; it’s also having to answer for those results.
As a young leader, I hired people who had experience, and I paid them appropriately. I thought that they would do their job every day, produce results, and put up numbers. No one ever had to ask me to do my job, so why should I have to ask anyone else to do theirs. I thought well-paid people were self-starters and required no external motivation to do their work. I was sorely mistaken.
The results were abysmal. The people I hired and failed to lead by holding them accountable failed in their roles. Not only did they fail to produce results, but they also failed to lead and hold their people accountable. One of them disappeared during the day, always coming up with some story about where she was and what she was doing.
Leading requires that you hold people accountable. It takes a tremendous amount of time and energy.
I also believed that people are inherently money motivated and that the right compensation plan with the right incentives would be enough to drive people to perform. I was wrong here, too.
A small number of people are truly money motivated. These people always find a way to make more money. They don’t just want more money; they take action to make it their reality.
As important as incentives can be in driving a desired set of behaviors, they are still no substitute for accountability. If I could pull only one lever, incentives or accountability, I’d take the latter every time.