Start by making sure you are a good role model for your employees to follow.
It’s easy to emphasize accountability with your team, but not so easy to tell them how to be accountable. It’s even harder to make them want to be accountable -- especially since many business leaders forget they are the role model for accountability, and they don’t audit their own actions to make sure they always practice what they preach.
I just finished Subir Chowdhury's The Difference: When Good Enough Isn't Enough, which shines a light on both these issues. Chowdhury is one of the world’s leading management consultants, and he argues that accountability is only one part of a caring culture that must be built and maintained to achieve sustainable, competitive improvement.
The other key parts of a caring culture include nurturing employees and leaders who are straightforward, thoughtful, and resolute in their approach to the business. All my years of experience in business resonate with that assessment, and allow entrepreneurs to explain to team members what accountability means, and what steps are required to get there:
Be willing to proclaim that something needs to be done. We all know of examples where employees and managers see the same problem occur over and over again but never raise a flag about it. You have to care about the business and your workers if you want others to be accountable.
Accept personal responsibility for tackling an issue. Apathetic people are quick to point the finger at someone else, or defer by saying “It’s not my job.” Leaders must send the message -- and show by example -- that delivering quality solutions to customers is everyone’s business. People working on problems must be rewarded.
Make positive choices or decisions to act. Employees who don't think they have enough training or sense of the mission will shy away from making big decisions, which is vital for accountability. Make sure your company empowers its employees through positivity and doesn't allow inertia or negative emotions to creep in.
Think deeply about the consequences of each choice. Are you working to get a problem off your back, or are you only serving your ego? Are you creating the best long-term solution for the customer, or are you merely using an expedient? Think before you act.
Set high expectations for yourself and your team. When you set your own sights high, you cannot help but inspire others. When you know others are taking their lead from you, it's easier to stay accountable. Inspired team members will then set their own target higher, and that momentum will lead to better customer experiences and business success.
To make a real difference in your business, you need to be the role model for accountability and nurture a caring mindset across your whole business. Here are three things you need to look for:
Direct and open communication. Your team’s ability to be straightforward with one another suffers when people don’t trust they will be treated fairly. Too often, leaders hide business realities and personal mistakes, but expect everyone else to understand and do the right thing.
Individual empathy and thoughtful listening. Real listening involves not just hearing what others say, but trying to put yourself in their shoes and fully understand the message. For managers, this requires getting out from behind your desk, going to the factory floor, meeting with customers and being accessible at any time to your team.
Passion and perseverance. Every problem can be resolved with a mindset of passion, determination and perseverance, and every situation can be improved. It requires humility and a willingness to change and adapt -- even an acceptance that continuous improvement is the norm -- but it's worth it. Passionate people don’t ever settle for less than their personal best, even if it's hard.
Accountability isn’t easy. It can’t be accomplished by edict, but it can be taught through example by leaders who practice the principles they want their team to follow -- leaders who build a mindset of caring throughout the organization. How long has it been since you took a look in the mirror at yourself and your organization in this respect?