Everyone knows what it’s like to be promised, “I’ll get back to you on that,” only to never hear another word. Likewise, who hasn’t dealt with colleagues who draft off of others’ achievements, salespeople who don’t stand behind their products when the crap hits the fan, and bosses who pass the buck far more often than they stop it? Chances are, when leaders come across these situations in daily life, they chalk them up to customer service slip-ups, leadership breakdowns, or poor communication.
But these problems can be traced back to something much more serious: a lack of accountability.
When employees behave with a lack of accountability, their actions hurt the bottom line, whether that’s through low personal productivity, alienating coworkers and customers, or something else. It’s the leader’s job to hold people responsible for what they do and don’t do. That means rewarding behaviors that help the company grow and promptly addressing those actions and habits that have a more negative impact. Here, are four types of accountability-sabotaging employees to watch out for.
The Cavalier Promise Maker
“I’ll make sure I get back to you tomorrow.” “The product will be delivered by Thursday.” “Of course we can handle that order volume.” For the cavalier promise maker, it’s easy to promise someone the moon (especially if that promise makes them look good!), but follow-through is a different story entirely. If someone in the organization fails to meet his commitments more than once or twice, he lacks accountability. Customers who didn’t receive what was promised will take their business elsewhere, or even worse, take to the Internet to spread the word about their bad experience.
The Feel-Good Tagline Spouter
“We put the customer first.” “Your best interests are our best interests.” “We’ll go the extra mile for you.” Sure, these assurances sound good, but only if they are supported by the employees’ actions. Watch out for individuals who spout platitudes while leaving customers unsatisfied.
Employees – and by extension, companies – who put their own convenience before that of the customer, will see a rapid migration of their customers to other suppliers. The organization is accountable to its customers, and it’s crucial for employees to take that obligation personally. That means standing behind the product and taking ownership of any problems that crop up, regardless of inconvenience.
The Thunder Stealer
Chances are, everyone knows exactly who this person is in the organization. Odds are also good that she isn’t popular. After all, nobody is fond of a coworker or leader who steals others’ ideas and presents them as her own!
It’s a clear accountability breach because the person in question is breaking the trust of her colleagues and representing herself dishonestly. If these behaviors aren’t nipped in the bud, a lot of great employees who are sick and tired of working with their thunder-stealing colleagues will take a walk and damage the bottom line in the process. Employee turnover is a huge hidden cost of doing business.
The “Indispensable” Tyrant
Ever had this boss? He (or she) is the person on whom the leader relies to get the sales the company needs to meet its goals each quarter. Trouble is, everyone is treated like dirt in the process with screams, yells, insults, even threats. The leader may know or suspect this person is overly harsh, but lets his bad behavior slide because of the mistaken belief that he is indispensable.
Leaders should develop, challenge, and motivate their teams in a way that doesn’t tank their morale. When tyrannical behaviors are allowed to continue, disillusioned employees eventually take their talents elsewhere, costing their former employers a fortune to attract and train a successor.
What’s The Fix? Here are four steps to fix the lack of accountability in a company’s culture.
1. Share the Accountability Vision. The leader knows why accountability is important. Now he or she must get everyone else to share the vision, and have the same level of commitment to it that the leader does. To get everyone on board, a short, strong convincing and easily repeatable statement is needed, stating the value that an accountability-based culture creates – in short, an elevator speech. That speech should answer the following questions: What problem does the company need to fix? Why is accountability important? What needs to be done differently? What benefits will the organization reap if it has an accountability-based culture.
2. Bring Accountability to Life. All employees need to share a clear understanding of what accountability means in the organization, so that everyone, no matter who they are or what they do, understands clearly how they are expected to behave. One way to ensure that is developing behavior statements that help clarify the vision. The statements will answer the fundamental question of what exactly is the company trying to fix, implement, or eliminate. This is especially helpful in international companies, because accountability might mean different things in different countries. Some examples of Accountability Behavior Statements:
3. Weave Accountability into the Fabric of the Organization. To make sure accountability sticks across the organization it must be woven into the fabric of the organization. The idea is to link accountability to all the systems and processes already in place. Recruiting and Selection, Performance Management, Rewards and Succession Planning, Communication, Training and Development, New Employee Orientation, and Business Metrics should all consistently reinforce the importance of accountability. For example, in the Performance Management System, employees need to know they will be responsible not only for the results of their work, but also for how they go about their work, and their rewards will depend on both. The Accountability Behavior Statements created could be added to the performance review and help drive discussions with employees on how they are performing.
4. Model the Way. Too often, leaders don’t demonstrate the behaviors they have declared to be essential to the organization. There can be no double standard. There is a saying – As above, so below – which means employees look up to those in charge and replicate the behaviors they see. Besides demonstrating the behaviors, leaders must hold others accountable to them. Believe it or not, many organizations aren’t giving employees the feedback necessary to be successful. However, leaders can’t hold people accountable without providing feedback.
Best of luck in changing the culture and weeding out bottom-line busters.
Julie Miller and Brian Bedford help businesses improve strategy, culture, and leadership. Small Business Book Awards has just judged their book “Culture Without Accountability—WTF? What’s the Fix?” as the Best Management book of 2014. firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com
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