Last month, I asked readers to send me thoughts about future topics for my column. While my last article focused on delivering quality customer service, many respondents wondered why more companies were not delivering on the promise of "great customer service." As I pondered the different perspectives provided by readers, I believe the answer lies in the definition of leadership and truly holding people accountable for their actions.
For me, the best definition of a leader is "someone others willingly follow." The best practical definition of accountability is "delivering on a commitment with responsibility for an outcome." Successful business and pro sports organizations embrace honourable leaders and hold a firm belief that everyone must be accountable for the results of their actions.
During my time in the CFL I have seen first hand that top coaches are action-oriented, decisive and able to lead their teams to achieve their goals. Subsequently, working with numerous organizations as a management consultant, I have seen that effective business leaders share these characteristics as they lead their companies.
While this is simply stated, the challenge is in consistent delivery on what you are supposed to do as a leader and an employee. Winning game plans will identify the elements of accountability that coaches and players are individually responsible for. Coaches are responsible for preparing the players to perform to the best of their abilities, and to create the strategy to defeat their opponent. They ensure players have prepared physically and mentally to execute on their assignments. It is then up to the player to transfer this preparation into the game. Successful business leaders ensure their organizations are similarly prepared with the right strategy and their employees are properly trained to be accountable.
Cory McArthur, CEO of Careica Health, has seen several major events, including acquiring a major competitor in 2018, that tested his leadership and the accountability he has created throughout his company. His efforts were put to the test leading into 2020 as the COVID-19 virus dramatically impacted his company’s ability to deliver the in-person services that are a major component of Careica’s business.
McArthur explains, "In times of uncertainty and significant business risk, clear accountability and having a plan to deviate from are critical. One of the first things we did after the acquisition was to align the organizational structure and accountabilities. Once that was implemented, developing the business plan, and ultimately creating multiple iterations of that plan in the face of COVID-19 was relatively straightforward. Everybody knew what their role was and what decisions they had the authority to make. This gave us the agility that we needed."
Leaders must communicate and gain buy-in on the accepted expectations and behaviour of their employees. A sound three-step process to help create accountability in your organization begins with establishing a clear strategy of performance expectations. These expectations are necessary for every member of the organization. You cannot have an expectation of the front-line staff that is not also demonstrated by company leadership. These expectations translate into describing real accountability that every employee understands. All employees will know that it is not good enough to just say "I’m sorry."
Next, your winning game plan must be distributed to everyone, so they understand how their role drives towards the objective. A health-care facility I studied takes this motto to a brilliant conclusion. They published a booklet that describes their standards of behaviour as "acts of excellence." The staff assembled these expectations and descriptions in words, phrases, and actions that everyone can understand. Each element of the staff responsibilities begins with "I will…" and personalizes the accountability expectations for everyone. What would this approach and level of accountability do for your organization’s performance?
Finally, leaders must be consistent in their application of expectations and in how they manage unacceptable performance. The type of consequence must be proportionate to the level of accountability expected. Players will not get cut from a team for one small assignment mistake. Employees should not be fired for a small mistake that is not illegal or immoral. Leaders need to determine what is acceptable corrective action and then reinforce these elements on a consistent basis, so employees know, understand, and can deliver on the expectations of accountability. When you have high commitment, you will most likely have corresponding high performance.
Tim’s bits: Effective leadership that creates a culture of accountability is mandatory in every winning game plan. Without strong leadership and a company-wide principle of accountability you will not achieve your highest level of performance. One important football motto is "do your job and trust your teammate to do theirs." Football players know if a teammate is not executing on their assignment and if the coach is letting them get away with it. Similarly, employees know full well if leaders are letting co-workers "get away with something." This situation will erode the trust in your organization and cause performance problems in the future if not addressed immediately and consistently.
Tim Kist, CMC, a certified management consultant by law, works with organizations to improve their overall performance by being truly customer-focused.
Tim is a certified management consultant with more than two decades of experience in various marketing and sales leadership positions.