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Its generally agreed that accountability is a game-changer for business organisations around the world. Introducing accountability frameworks is seen as critical in improving organisation performance and culture. The disappointing reality, however, is that the vast majority of organisations don't successfully create the culture of accountability they are looking for, and many don't even try, because the culture shift required makes people nervous. The very mention of the word conjures images of punishment or micromanagement, so some mangers play the safe game of politics and turn a blind eye to poor results that undermine business performance.

Hamish Knox suggests four steps that any manager can follow to implement accountability into heir teams if they believe that organisational success is the critical remit of their role.

Step 1. Introducing an accountability framework starts with you, the manager.

A lack of management accountability may be a fundamental flaw in many accountability attempts. Accountability is not something you do to someone or can force on someone, no matter how much you think you can, or would like to. (HV Macfarlane, Forbes) Accountability starts and ends with the individual, and if, as a manager, you can't hold yourself accountable, then you have little or no chance of creating a culture that embraces accountability as a must-have trait for personal success.
Managers must lead the way by identifying what they need to be accountable for and holding themselves to the standard that will expect from their people. Ideally, they should begin this process in advance of "going live" with their whole team, so that they have a sense of both the challenges their people will face and the victories they will enjoy as a result of the introduction of the programme.
Managers also need to create there own set of consequences, a set of outcomes that come in to play when they meet or fail their accountability goals. Publicly sharing when those goals are met or otherwise is the foundation of creating a culture of openness in which accountability can thrive. As a leader, you m just be willing to be the first to demonstrate transparency and potential vulnerability - a willingness to lead by example.

Step 2. Start the programme with an upfront contract to which the whole team agrees.

Ambiguity, mystification and vagueness are accountability "Kryptonite". They will ruin any chance of a successful accountability programme taking root in your organisation.
Everyone involved must understand and agree with the proposed changes that are coming to the business.
You should agree;
What individuals are accountable for personally at weekly and monthly timeframes.
How their behaviours will be tracked and measured.
Consequences of failing to meet their accountability behaviour plan.
The purpose of the programme.
The benefits that accountability brings to the organisation and the individual.
Now in Sandler, we believe that an upfront contract is mutually agreed, not imposed, so this is as much a dialogue as it is a monologue. There may be some issues and challenges early on, but these should not be permitted to derail the implementation of the programme. Still, they will need an open and sensitive approach to deliver success.

Step 3. Create individual "consequence ladders" and stick to them, even when you don't feel like it.

Although our accountability programme should be agreed on by all involved, we cannot implement a one size fits all approach.
We are managing the team, but we want to hold the individual accountable. Individual accountability means they must own the behaviours that they agree and believe will deliver the results expected. To do this step effectively, the individual has to agree to the outcomes and decide on the behaviours that will lead to them. Goal setting is a tricky step because the targets must be achievable in the mind of the individual, not just the senior management team. However, with achievable goals, individuals can map their own "cookbook" of behaviours that they believe will deliver success as the individual has developed this behavioural mix; it's likely to be accepted.

Although behaviours are the bedrock of performance, alone, they are not enough to deliver success. The individual must also decide what are appropriate consequences if they fail to deliver on the agreed behavioural plan.

The word "consequences" carries negative connotations. Consequences mean the outcomes or results of an action. With accountability in mind, they are the agreed results if the individual fails to deliver their behavioural plan. Consequences should probably come in two flavours – time or money. Increasingly, time is the more highly valued "currency", but whichever they choose, it is the individual who must pick their consequences. A "ladder" of consequences is the best way to proceed, as underperformance is a continuum. Booking one less appointment a month is very different from failing to perform week-in and week-out. The ladder should escalate the impact of each consequence – up to and including the individuals' exit from the organisation. Dismissal may sound harsh, but would not come as a surprise, because this outcome agreed at the start of the programme.
Weekly performance monitoring is the focus to achieve monthly goals. Consequences must be enforced at agreed "gateways".

Step 4. Accountability should be a new hires first experience on organisational entry.

Accountability should be part of your organisations' culture. It should be "the way things are done around here" (Edgar Schein), so ideally it should be part of the onboarding process for new staff. An accountability framework that reflects the specific demands of the onboarding process can be used for a period of 10-12 weeks before new employees enter the main accountability framework that is being used by the rest of the organisation.
The benefits of taking this approach include;
New staff can have a clear understanding of specific behaviours required in their role, and managers can be confident that the individual has demonstrated these before it is too late to adjust a low behaviour trajectory.
New staff are not surprised by an unexpected programme following onboarding.
Onboarding is not a random sequence of ride alongs and examples of poor practice that introduce a new hire to the dark side of your business, rather than the company you're trying to create.

In summary, the introduction of an accountability programme is no easy feat. If it were, it would be in play in every organisation. Focussing on leading from the front, and managing individuals, not teams performance with a focus on behaviours are the keys to successful implementation.


Hamish Knox - Accountability the Sandler Way - Click Here

H.V. MacArthur - Why Managers Holding People Accountable Is A Waste Of Time, And What To Do Instead - Click Here

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