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Sticky Wisdom: Why Accountability is vital to Success

Is accountability a dirty word in your organisation?

Accountability is about showing up and taking personal responsibility for your work. It's also trusting in your teammates and knowing you can count on each other to get things done.

Is this a 10/10 in your organisation, or is it more of a 'hope' that things will get done with leaders magically expecting results without following up? (Like the wonders of the tooth fairy sneaking coins beneath children's pillows whilst they snuggle and dream, the breakfast fairy cleaning up the table instead of you, and the washing fairy miraculously spinning on economy whilst you sleep?)

In work, people are feeling the pressure and increasingly 'heads-down' focused on the process of doing, and in the thick of it, the 'follow-up fairy' is missing. As a result, accountability for getting the right things done is simply not happening. Things are in danger of falling through the cracks, mistakes are being made, and in some organisations, confusion rises.

Are we just assuming too much? Assuming that the instruction has been issued and it will get done?

It's time to close the loop.

  • Do people in your organisation consistently do what they say they will do?

  • Do leaders always follow up and close the loop?

This is about creating a culture of accountability.

  • Do people check in with each other, not just about the job at hand but also about how they are feeling too?

This is about creating a culture of accountability wrapped in support.

Why does accountability have a bad reputation?

Accountability and empathy go hand in hand.

Accountability without empathy drives micro-management and is more than often used to 'tell people off'

Empathy without accountability is soft and fluffy and doesn't drive performance.

Combining both creates the right culture for accountability and action.

As Henry Evans says, "Accountability is what makes a good organisation great and a great organisation unstoppable."

Getting on with tasks is essential, but you must close the loop to avoid losing the impact and value.

Here are some examples we have seen in organisations recently:

  • A middle management team responsible for a critical change project didn't know how to work together as a team. The impact: They don't plan successfully, and there is no ownership of the project. They miss the deadline. The senior team are deeply frustrated, but do they have a right to be?

  • A tag team delivered a workshop without being clear about who was preparing which bits, so there was a gap in their resources for the session. The impact: Unnecessary expense for printing on-site and stress at the very time they needed to be focused on their group.

  • A leader who hates his Monday meetings with his team. They share information (which takes an age and adds little value). Communication is one way - they are there to prove they have done the job only. The impact: Follow-up is there, but it's just going through the motions—a waste of time/resources and a significant missed opportunity.

Sure, these are rather big things with big consequences, but closing the loop matters on the little things too.

  • As leaders, how often do you follow up 'in the moment', giving people the opportunity to learn, stretch and develop OR, just as important, celebrate success?

  • As individuals, how often do you communicate what you have achieved and how you feel?

It doesn't seem to be the done thing. More often, details are issued, and the expectation is that people will get on with it. You are all busy doing your own thing.

Some do, some don't.

When people do an excellent job, leaders miss out on the opportunity to build relationships, reinforce trust and create empathy. There can be a tendency to bypass them (because they are ‘flying’) and focus attention on the poor performers. When you don't follow up, your expectations and theirs become mismatched.

When people aren't doing what is expected (and you don't know why), they aren't learning. You are likely to be getting increasingly frustrated with them. This will lead to you becoming a micro-manager and stop them from having the confidence to make future decisions.

Follow-up moves their relationship with you (and the organisation) from 'just a job' to something they are proud of and gets them excited each day.

Follow-up can be scary.

What if they've not done what you asked, what if they've done something different, what it…. what if…. Those 'what 'ifs' stop leaders in their tracks… sometimes it's best not to know! Fear holds people back.

Is it follow-up or success check-ins?

Follow-up does have a bad reputation. It is more often linked to mistrust. But that's only because it is done inconsistently. It is often used after things have gone wrong rather than using it as success check-ins. When closing the loop is a vital part of how you do something, people start doing it for themselves.

Follow-up shows:

  • The outcome is as important as the process,

  • You care enough to be interested in how they are getting on and

  • They are not on their own.

Follow-up allows you to help them by:

  • Exploring challenges and removing obstacles.

  • Nipping things in the bud before they become contentious and

  • Giving feedback along the way to sharpen focus or find more innovative ways of doing things.

Follow-up creates a safe environment to stretch boundaries and explore opportunities. It drives performance and helps people learn to do it for themselves.

So to create a thriving environment of accountability in work, do these two things:

  1. Follow up regularly as you go. This can be done one to one with a simple 'How's it going?' or 'How you doing?' and listen to their answer, really show you are interested (not just going through the motions) or in team meetings to create an environment of team support. (Regularity is the key - not just when things go wrong!)

  2. Create an environment of support - not just with leaders checking in but with peer support, accountability partners, and mentors. This compassionate network is essential for success - don't leave it to chance, hoping that people will do it for themselves - ensure everyone has at least one person they can lean on and learn from. (And, of course, follow up to make sure these support networks are actually working for individuals)

At Inspire Your Genius, we write, vlog and help people learn about learning and leadership. You can sign up for our newsletter of weekly ideas at www.inspireyourgenius.com


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