It is not unusual for business owners to tell me they want more accountability in their organizations.  My first question for them is usually something like “what’s keeping you from holding people accountable?”

 

I know it is easier said than done.  Driving accountability can be more difficult for some people than others.  People are afraid that holding the line on performance and values may be uncomfortable or even make them unlikable.

 

Actually, I think the opposite is true.  A culture where expected results and behaviors are known and followed is freeing.  It removes ambiguity and doubt.  It makes conversations easier.

 

If your company struggles with accountability, ask yourself these questions:

  • Do I tend to avoid difficult conversations about performance and behaviors?
  • Have I set clear goals for the company?
  • Does each team or individual have specific KPIs?
  • Do the metrics we track move us toward our goals?
  • Is there dissonance between our words and our actions?

 

Once you’ve addressed any of the challenges above, you still have work to do.  Driving accountability is part of building culture.  It is not a “one and done” activity.  It takes commitment, dedication, and follow-through from leaders to make accountability a part of a company’s DNA.

According to a Gallup report, only 34% of US employees are actively engaged in their jobs.  Gallup defines “engaged” as “involved in, enthusiastic about and committed to their work and workplace.”

What about the other 66%?  13% are “actively disengaged,” and a whopping 53% are “not engaged” which means they show up and do their work but they aren’t connected to their work or their workplace.

Disengaged employees cost you money.  It is estimated that absenteeism, churn, and lack of motivation – signs of a lack of engagement – cost companies around $500 billion per year.

Writing for Small Business Trends, Victor Snyder, a business coach, says that business leaders should avoid these three things that cause employee disengagement:

  • Poor communication with employees
  • Ignoring your personal brand
  • Failing to develop leaders

If you make an honest assessment of your business, are you creating an environment that fosters engagement?

It’s true – inquiring minds do want to know, if you are talking about the people who make your business run every day.

I was reminded of this working with a client recently on some operational challenges. The client, who uses EOS, said during our discussion that it was surprising how putting a name in a box in an accountability chart gave his employees clarity.

He’s right. We forget that organizational charts, job descriptions, or a position matrix give people clarity in their roles and the roles of others.

Communicating strategy to everyone builds trust that the company has a plan for success. Scorecards inform people how they as groups or individuals contribute to that success.

Leaders can’t forget that they have access to more information about the business than other employees. Team members may feel less secure or certain about their roles and the company’s future in the absence of good communication from their leaders.

People thrive when allowed to do their best knowing what is expected and how they will be evaluated. Having the structure in place to support and guide them in decision making gives them freedom to be creative and exceed what was thought possible.

Are you searching for a software solution that will transform your business?

Or maybe your company is just one great hire from kicking it into another gear.

Perhaps you are on the verge of implementing a new program rally your team.

You are hoping for a silver bullet.

The harsh reality is that no program, software solution, or employee is the silver bullet you seek.  It could be a component for creating success or moving to the next level but it is only one component. 

Success – no matter how you define it – will be a product of your hard work.  As the leader, no one is going to understand your business or work as hard on it as you do. 

You must channel your energy and vision into building success.  To do so requires a plan, determination, and accountability.  Ask yourself hard questions, be willing to make agonizing decisions, and recruit people you trust to walk the journey with you and hold you accountable. 

Start with a vision.  Create a plan.  Measure your progress.  Be held accountable.  Be ruthless in making tough decisions for the right reasons.  Treat those who have joined your journey well. 

You can’t do it alone.  Make sure to ask for help in the areas where you are not strong. 

Today I read an article that called HR the department responsible “for policing personnel actions and culture.” That struck me as odd.

Culture shouldn’t be policed. Leaders model and nurture it; employees create it.

Culture is the environment and personality of a company. It is the result of thousands of interactions a day between employees in every group at every level.

If the actual culture doesn’t match the stated company culture or values, there is a disconnect that causes confusion – or worse – mistrust.  It is fine to aspire to a desired culture as long as you realize 1) the difference, and 2) that you aren’t there yet.  Mismatch between the stated and actual culture fools no one.

If no one takes ownership for building and managing culture, culture still happens by default.

HR may do things to encourage culture, but a single department can’t force a culture.  HR’s roles are to advise the leadership on issues of culture and to ensure rules and laws relating to personnel are applied correctly.

Some may argue there isn’t much difference between policing and building a culture.  I believe there is huge gulf between the two in terms of approach and attitude.  Do you want to work for a company where culture is policed or one where culture is intentionally created?

It’s a safe bet that if you do a quick internet search on business priorities that increasing topline revenue, improving sales performance, and increasing company value will show up in the top results.  Growth matters.

To misquote Gordon Gekko:  growth is good.

Growth tells us you are meeting a need in the market and customers see value in what you do. Growth gives your team more opportunities and expands your horizons. Investors are happy. If you ever watch ABC’s Shark Tank, you know that history and forecasts of growth are major areas of concern.

But it’s not all rosy. You must be prepared for growth and have realistic expectations.

Growing your company may require capital or decreased profitability while you invest in the future.

Your team may need to find newer, better ways to accomplish their tasks to be more efficient and maintain profitability. What got you here may not support you at the next level.

The company may outgrow the capacity and capabilities of its employees. This is especially true of leaders as the company moves from an idea to a company to a professionally-managed firm.

Strong leaders can navigate these obstacles by taking a long-term approach and making tough decisions at the right time.  You must be prepared to protect the business.

However, there are two challenges of growth that can be devastating if you aren’t intentional about protecting them:  maintaining culture and customer satisfaction.

Customer satisfaction is obvious. You won’t stay in business if your level of service drops. Customers have other choices.  Can you maintain your current level of satisfaction while adding more customers?

Culture, however, is easy to ignore if you aren’t intentional. Rapid growth may mean rapid expansion of your team. Hiring strategies must include finding new team members who embrace your values.  Leaders must work harder to model, foster, and communicate values as the team gets larger.  “Culture eats strategy.”

Growth is vital, but exceeding your ability to absorb growth is dangerous.

I’ll admit I’m a fan of survival reality shows like Survivorman and Naked and Afraid.  These shows are entertaining to watch and you can learn lessons from them too.  I find The History Channel’s Alone to be one of the more engaging ones.  The contestants aren’t just fighting the elements for their survival – they do it by themselves.

If you aren’t familiar with this show, individuals are put in remote locations where they will have no contact with any other humans.  They are allowed a limited number of survival items including a satellite phone so they can tap out.  They must find food and build shelter.  The last one remaining wins.

Having watched several seasons, there are lessons that the survivalists learn that apply in our businesses too:

Priorities matter.  Survival means finding food sources, having fire, and building a shelter.  Most contestants begin with either building a fire or creating a rudimentary shelter.  They know that when the evening comes these will be the two most important items they need.  Catching food, exploring the area, and other things are important but they must do what’s most important first.  Otherwise, their ability to remain in the contest is quickly diminished.  They can’t do it all at once, which leads to the closely-relates lesson of…

Pace yourself.  One of the first lessons that the contestant learn is to pace yourself.  Survival isn’t a sprint; it’s a marathon.  One Day 1, everyone is full of energy and excitement, but reality kicks in as soon as they are dropped off.  These men and women are in it for the long haul.  Sustainable food supplies and a warm, dry, secure shelter are paramount.  With limited tools and possibly small amounts of food, they can’t operate at 100% every day to secure those needs.  They pace themselves so they have the energy and resources to reach their long-term goal.

Adapt.  The contestants, like many of us, may catch a lot of fish one day and none in the same spot for days after.  Long rainy days may limit what they can do outside their shelter so they do what they can inside.  As the weather changes, a warmer shelter may be needed.  The survivalists change their tactics when the environment or the situation changes.  They stop doing what doesn’t work.  Doing the same thing when it no longer serves their purpose or meets their needs is a poor survival strategy.

Going it alone is difficult.  The emotional toll of being alone wears on the contestants.  Their video diaries show the emotional and mental battles they wage in addition to fighting the elements and nature.  Many of the contestant drop out for emotional reasons rather than physical ones.

Entrepreneurs and business executives face the same challenges.  We must prioritize what’s important and ensure it gets done above all other things.  We can’t run ourselves or our teams hard too long without time to recreate and regenerate.  We have to change our tactics, services, and markets to stay relevant.  And we need others – both internally and externally –  to help us shoulder the burden of leadership.

“I’m too busy.”

“I don’t have time.”

“I have too many priorities fighting for my attention.”

Sound familiar?

In times where we are expected to do more with less and where immediate isn’t fast enough, we’ve all felt that way.

It’s worse when we think we must do it all ourselves.

That kind of thinking will make you less effective.  We all have the same amount of time in a given day.  There is only so much you can do, and while you can always do a little more, studies show diminishing returns for each extra hour worked; less time sleeping leads to increased mistakes and negative affects on health.

What is the solution?  Delegation.

The Oxford Dictionary defines delegate as entrusting a responsibility to another person.

There are several benefits to learning the art of delegation.  First of all, it allows you to have more time to do those things that only you can do.

Secondly, it helps you develop employees.  To effectively delegate, you have to clearly define the task, communicate the objectives, and explain its importance.  This gives the employee insight on the business they may not otherwise have.

Delegation also allows an employee to demonstrate skills you weren’t aware they had or to develop skills necessary for them to advance in their career.  Delegation is a key component of investing in your high-potential employees.

Delegation allows you to focus on what is most important for your business.  Effective leaders don’t allow their time and effort to be consumed by things than can be handled by others.  The more senior your role, the less time you spend “doing” and more time thinking and communicating.

By delegating, you maximize your efforts on those things that only you can and must do.  At the same time, you are building a stronger team, demonstrating trust, and teaching skills by allowing them to try new things.  Your company benefits because you are creating an environment where everyone is challenged and to put their skills to their highest and best use.

Stop trying to do it all yourself.  You’ll get more done by giving tasks away.

If you are a business owner or leader of a team, repeat after me: “It’s all my fault.”

Wait, what? Yes, the buck stops with you. You are ultimately responsible for your team’s success.

Let’s assume that you have hired a great team. Bright “go-getters” who want nothing more than to be part of a winning team. To succeed in their chosen career. To make a difference. But…

Maybe it seems all you do is put out fires. Maybe the smiles are gone from your employees’ faces. Maybe they are checking out internet job boards for new challenges. Maybe your customers are looking for greener pastures. These are just some of the signs that you haven’t set your team up for success.

Sure, they receive a fair salary in exchange for their efforts, they have good benefits, and they like the casual dress code and the free snacks in the break room, but you haven’t given them the tools they need for success. So what is missing?

Clear goals and consistent feedback.

They need a clear challenge. What are your goals for the year? If your team can’t immediately tell you what they are trying to accomplish for the year, then your chances of success are almost nil. Tell them! Be specific.

Let your team know if they are winning. Once you’ve spelled out the goals, make sure your team knows the score. They really want to win, and the only way to know if they are is to see the results compared to the goal. So tell them! If they are winning, take time to celebrate the success or milestones along the way. Making your goals should be fun.

Hold people accountable. Few things will frustrate team members than someone else who isn’t pulling their weight. That individual will drag an entire team down. When people make mistakes or simply aren’t doing what is expected of them, it is your job as the leader to hold them accountable. Your team expects nothing less – after all, that’s your job as a leader.

The three factors above can do wonders for a group. Consistently ensuring those three activities are performed is the foundation of leadership and will move your team toward hitting your goals.

But that’s not all. There are a couple of other responsibilities your team expects from you. And they aren’t always easy.

Remove people who aren’t working out. As hard as you might try, not every hire is a home run. Some just don’t work out despite all your efforts. Your team knows it, too. If someone isn’t a good fit for the team, whether is it a mismatch of values and culture, missing skills, or anything else, keeping that individual does not help the team and in fact hurts them. It’s your job to make the tough call for the good of the team.

Be open to feedback. Your team has ideas that need to be heard. They do the work day in and day out and have insight on what’s working and what isn’t. Let them tell you so you can benefit from their experience. At the same time, you both must understand that not all good ideas can be implemented. Tim Cook, Apple CEO, once said that “We say no to good ideas every day. We say no to great ideas in order to keep the amount of things we focus on very small in number, so that we can put enormous energy behind the ones we do choose, so that we can deliver the best products in the world.”

Your team’s success or lack thereof is ultimately your responsibility. They need clear direction, focus, and feedback, and you have to remove the roadblocks. Doing your job by equipping your team makes your team’s job much easier.

Your business is growing. You’ve got a great product or service, you know your customers, and you’ve assembled a stellar team. But something has changed. Profitability has slipped, tasks take longer to complete than they should, or your team is frustrated. What’s going on?

You are a victim of your own success. Every business owner goes through it. It is part of the maturation process for any business.

What are some of the reasons you’ve gotten here?

You need to quantify your sales pipeline. Are you investing time in customers or entire market segments that aren’t profitable? Are the wrong types of opportunities taking away resources from more valuable opportunities?

Your systems haven’t kept up with your growth. Systems can be tools, processes, and software. As your business grows – in volume, the number and type of offerings, or complexity – you need to re-evaluate how your team executes the critical business tasks required to meet your customers’ needs and make changes as necessary.

Your team is confused or out of alignment. You’ve added people and maybe even entire departments. Valuable, productive employees who once had their hands in all aspects of the business aren’t sure who does what any more. Efforts are duplicated or worse, missed completely. Everyone is working toward different goals. The company culture you’ve built begins to change.

The bottom line is you are fighting fires. The cost of fighting fires manifests itself when you don’t have time to cast your vision for the company or nurture the company culture. You and your team are busy, but your aren’t effective or productive.

Growing companies will go through challenging periods or even seem to stall. It’s a natural part of the process. The key is to make sure you evaluate the root cause and understand the reason(s) why and take decisive corrective action.