Accountability: a key for enhancing performance

At the heart of any high performing group is the principle of personal responsibility, of members holding themselves (and being held) accountable for getting things done. No matter how innovative your group€s ideas, or how good their intentions, nothing actually changes for the group until someone puts those ideas or those intentions into action.

In his influential book, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap...And Others Don't (NY: HarperCollins.2001), author Jim Collins argues that most change and improvement programs fail because they lack accountability and the quiet discipline that moves people from intention to action.
A fundamental difference, Collins says, between good companies and those that became great, was that the great companies built a culture of discipline, a way of working and organizing the business so that things got done...and kept getting done.

Accomplishing this is not complicated, but that doesn't mean it's easy.

On both an individual and corporate level, it's tempting to think we are at the mercy of the urgent and shifting priorities that confront us. It's tempting to blame circumstances on our failure to deliver: Others let me down; The goalposts keep changing; Management doesn't know what they are doing! Comments like these are typical of a blaming culture, a way of thinking and doing that shifts responsibility away from us to someone or something else out there.

So how do we move towards a culture of accountability?
  • Set clear goals. If there is little clarity about what needs to be achieved, by when and by whom, then holding people accountable is clearly harder to do.

  • Ensure absolute clarity around roles and responsibilities. If roles and responsibilities are fuzzy then, "I thought it was his job", is a likely, and not entirely unreasonable, response to an uncompleted task.

  • Be systematic about follow up. It is likely that people will find a way to keep commitments if they make them publicly and will be on the spot to their peers when progress is checked.

  • Find a way to measure and plot progress. The game changes when we keep score and a visual record of commitments made and met becomes another incentive to team progress.

  • Don€t avoid or delay the 'hard' conversation. Ensure that substandard performance is not ignored. Regular feedback communicates that performance is noticed when it is both strong and not so strong. Having the hard conversation when necessary really helps to keep things on track and builds that culture of accountability.

Most people want to be on a team that is making a real difference. Providing support, along with some pressure, that moves them in the direction of taking greater responsibility for what they intend to do will unleash great energy, leading to next level results in the groups and individuals you lead.

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