Recently, I was at a conference in which Keith Fezzari was speaking on some of the elements of corporate culture and leadership. I found his speech very engaging and thought-provoking. One of the things he spoke about was the importance of candor, accountability and agility in high performing cultures. As an expert in changing culture, I’ve couldn’t agree more with this simple three-legged stool which can create a strong base to support any high performing team culture.

When it comes to accountability, driving accountability seems to continue to be a challenge for even the best leaders. One of the things that stands out is that leaders often have been taught to set expectations without taking into account the human element that is required for people to commit to getting things done on time with attention to detail. Some of the best leaders drive accountability by empowering team members to raise the issue and only take accountability for what they can personally accomplish.

What many leaders do wrong: Most executives will say they work to lead a culture of accountability but often times, leaders are not specific enough about what “accountability” means. So many leaders think of accountability as the act of assigning the task, but they often don’t bring attention to important aspect of follow up and they have no strategy around they need to do next as leaders if the assigned tasks are not getting done. I’ve also seen some leaders stress accountability so strictly that they encourage their team to make short-sighted decision or poor quality deliverables out of fear of not delivering a task on time.

What is the end goal: At the end of the day, driving accountability is a multiple step process:

  • The first step is clarity of the task and the request: The leader has become extremely clear on what he/she needs completed and is clear when making the request.
  • The second step is allowingthe team member to either agree to the task, ask questions to gain better clarity or re-negotiate the assignment in a way in which the team member can deliver 100% of what’s been requested. When a team member raises the red flag on taking on a specific task, it’s mission critical the leader listens to understand the objection. If the team feels safe to raise these concerns, this process will stick.
  • Once the team member is clear on the assignment and has also given his/her word to complete the task it in the given timeline, it’s now up to both parties to commit to the update. When are they going to check in on either the status or outcome of the task?
  • Finally, it’s critical to understand if there is a problem along the way or the task doesn’t get done up to standard, ensure there is proper coaching conducted to help uncover what went wrong and how to raise the level of skills and communication for better performance in the future.

What best of the best leaders do right: Some of the best leaders are mindful of these steps. In addition, they eliminate the need to micro-manage through the use of regular and predictable team meetings or one-on-one management calls. They begin each management call with a run through of commitments people took from the last management meeting. An even better practice is to have a team e-mail thread, #slack discussion, or keep track of deliverables on a good old-fashioned whiteboard so team members always know what they have agreed to in the week ahead. The easier it is for everyone to remember what they agreed to, the faster it will get done.

Question: How you do hold your team accountable? In your experience, what works and what doesn’t work?