How Accountability Actually Happens Part I

Steve August
October 5, 2020
Real-Life Leadership
5 Rules for Rocket Ships

“I don’t feel like the team is really owning things and being accountable. If we don’t hit a milestone and hit our numbers, people just seem to shrug their shoulders.”

It’s one of the most common topics I am asked about as a coach. How do you create a culture of accountability?

It’s one of the most fundamental qualities of a successful company. But nobody teaches Founders how accountability actually works.

It’s one of the key components of the 4th Rule for Rocket Ships: Real-Life Leadership.

People think accountability is either all about cracking the whip or just hiring really smart people and giving them lots of space.

But here’s the actual secret to creating accountability: it starts with aligning expectations.

There is no accountability if people aren’t working from the same set of expectations. When everyone looks back at the end of the day, and they are trying to figure out what went wrong, it usually comes out that they were working from different sets of expectations.

According to Roger Connors and Tom Smith, authors, of “How Did That Happen?,” there are 4 key steps to getting aligned on expectations:

  1. Form
    The first step is to form the expectations for the task or initiative, why it’s important, and how success will be measured.
  2. Communicate
    This step is key and is often rushed through. It’s important to make expectations repeatable and “the why" compelling.
  3. Align
    This step is often skipped altogether, but it’s the single most important for accountability. Often a Founder lays out a goal and people just agree to it. If there isn’t a robust discussion to determine if everyone understands the expectations the same way, you probably haven’t gotten there. A great question to ask is, “What are we missing?”
  4. Inspect
    One of the more challenging (and sometimes uncomfortable) aspects of managing and leading people is knowing how much to check in. You don’t want to be totally hands off and you don’t want to be micromanaging. The answer is to agree on when to check in as part of setting expectations.

With these four steps, you can change an entire culture.

Next time, I’ll talk about what happens when expectations aren’t met, and how to turn that conversation into positive progress for everyone.

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