The business market is flooded with books on leadership and each one will tell you the key to making great organizations. We have heard and read about them all.
Charisma, communication, trust, loyalty, the list goes on. They are all true, however hard they are to practice, but there is one key that a healthy department, organization, and family for that matter, cannot survive without, and that is accountability.
They are countless ways to define it, but in the end it's simple. Accountability means there are clear and consistent consequences for doing and more importantly, not doing, what is required of you.
Of course this means that what is required of you was made clear in the first place, and that it is fair and reasonable. Assuming that criteria is met, the follow-through to hold people accountable is the difference between success and failure.
The idea of accountability isn't built on the premise that people are inherently lazy and will always choose the path of least resistance, although in some cases, that may be true. The point of accountability is to create systems and ultimately a culture in which there is a high bar of productivity and a sense of pride in and energy for what is achieved. Accountability fosters greatness instead of settling for mediocrity. And no matter who you are reading this, you want greatness.
If accountability seems as vague to you as loyalty or trustworthiness and other big words that are hard to define, and even harder to implement, let's get clear. Take organization A and B. Organization A has a loose, laid back culture. They do a good job generally, and while there are some rules that can't be broken, they typically get to choose how they conduct themselves. At times their manager tells them that they need to adhere to the organization's dress code, or not smoke on the job, or give a certain greeting to guests, but there are really no consequences for not doing that. Likewise, the managers in this organization can do or say what they please, and the leader doesn't know about it, and when she does, she fails to address it proactively.
How is organization A doing? They are making money, but their social media ratings are low; they are a lawsuit waiting to happen from employees who believe they are being treated unfairly, and they aren't even close to reaching their financial potential. In sum, they are lax.
Now look at Organization B. When the leader wants something done, he tells his managers, and he then follows up systematically to make sure the task gets done. They have to report to him on a weekly basis according to their task lists. When changes are made on the front lines, employees receive the information clearly, and they are made aware of the consequences of not adhering to the policy or procedure. When that happens (and it will always happen), managers follow through and enforce the consequences consistently - whether it is a verbal warning, a write up or termination.
The flip side is also true. Managers and staff are thanked and acknowledged for what they give and do, and for taking their job seriously. They are noticed, and when appropriate, rewarded for their efforts. What you get is an organization in which people feel inspired to do well; they feel a part of something positive and good, and they care.
Accountability is not about micro-managing or exercising control. On the contrary, it's about establishing systems and expectations that make people rise to an occasion. We all want that, even when we complain that we don't.
The next three articles in this series will describe more in depth the systems and tools you can use to create accountability, but begin by thinking about your own organization/department and ask yourself if there is follow-through, dependability, clear expectations and consequences in place.
Elisa Levy conducts seminars on conflict resolution and anger management. For more information, contact her at 305-296-5437 or visit http://www.elisalevy.com.