3 Ways Leaders Destroy Their Team’s Accountability

It isn’t easy to create or maintain a culture of accountability, one where people are responsible for their results. Most organizations have too little accountability and struggle to create an environment where it can take hold. Autocratic leaders are often so strong in their unrealistic demands that the people in their charge work to survive, working together to tell a good story. Leaders who are too democratic and seek consensus for everything, including accountability, seem to provide “suggestions,” lessening responsibility from those who believe their opposition provides them with options. Here are three ways leaders destroy their team’s accountability.

Lack of Goals and Targets

If people don’t have a goal, then you are missing the first essential ingredient for creating a culture of accountability. If you don’t have a target, then any performance is acceptable. There has to be something to measure your performance against, some standard, for there to be accountability.

Where accountability is missing, there is often a lack of clear goals. People may be working hard, and they may want to succeed, but without a target, they can end up doing too little or working too hard on things that don’t matter. With clear goals, you define what is most important, and you provide people with strong direction and a sense of purpose.

Because a leader is the one responsible for delivering the future, they are responsible for establishing goals and targets. Accountability depends on clarity on the goals, targets, and initiatives. Without goals and targets, not only will people find themselves caught up in “The Drift,” but the organization will find itself going in a direction at odds with what you want.

Lack of Clarity on How to Achieve Goals

Because people have a specific title or occupy a particular role, you can believe they know how to achieve their goals. Maybe some of the people in your charge know how to reach their goals without you providing any guidance. However, as many or more will have no clarity as to how they are supposed to reach their goals. Building a culture of accountability requires that you ensure people know how they are supposed to achieve their goals.

Here is a terrible and oft-repeated sales-related example. The leader decides that fast growth is necessary and doubles everyone’s quota. The team has never reached its existing quota but are now required to double it. While it is good to have a clear goal, even a monstrous stretch goal, if you can’t tell people how they are supposed to achieve their goal, you cannot expect them to be able to tell you how they’re going to do it.

The single biggest mistake I made as a young leader was believing I could hire people with experience and not have to manage or hold them accountable. You have to lead, coach, and develop your leaders, too. Cultures of accountability tend to have more discipline around coaching. They value initiative and resourcefulness in their people, but they also coach their people on how they are pursuing their goals, making adjustments, identifying additional resources, and removing obstacles (all necessary tasks required of leaders).

Without a plan to reach your goals, you are not likely to reach them. If you do reach your goals without a plan, your goal probably wasn’t what you were capable of delivering.

No Inspection of Outcomes

As a leader, you may want to believe that your people are working hard and achieving their goals. You may believe that you shouldn’t have to impose frequent meetings for people to report their progress. In the worst cases, you might allow the complaining to cause you to remove meetings or make them less frequent. When this is true, you are lessening—or eliminating—accountability.

There is a fundamental problem with looking at metrics and reports at the end of the quarter; these reports are an autopsy. When the body is already dead, there is nothing you can do for it. You are too late. The meetings and milestones along the way provide you with something more like a visit to a medical professional, someone who can give you information about what ails you and what you should do about it—before you suffer some more significant consequence.

The most common sales-related version of this accountability killer is sales leaders and sales managers who refuse to look at the number of new opportunities their team creates each week, not wanting to impose a prospecting discipline. Because there is no accountability for the creation of new opportunities, they discover too late that their pipeline wasn’t capable of delivering their goal.

If the goal isn’t important enough for you to inspect it as frequently as is necessary, you destroy accountability by allowing people to believe it is a suggestion, not a goal.

On Suggestions

When people don’t have clear goals, a clear understanding of how they are to reach them, and frequent inspections of their progress, you don’t have accountability; you have suggestions. A suggestion implies that something is optional, and if it is optional, people are being given permission to opt-out. Recommendations don’t provide for accountability. Neither does neglect.

Like anything else, the establishment and maintenance of a culture of accountability are made up of a few simple—but challenging—disciplines religiously adhered to over time. Without these disciplines, accountability will be absent, and so will the results that only responsibility provides.

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