Three Keys to Fostering Accountability Across Diverse People Groups

You don’t want to fall short of expectations. And you probably have to rely on other people to help you deliver on your expectations. If those people are different from you, they likely interpret standards and expectations differently.

The bottom line: excellence requires consistent accountability for results, and fostering consistent accountability is challenging.

A friend of mine, who works for a Fortune 100 financial institution that sells products involving multiple people from across her organization, told me: “The chain of delivery excellence is where we either soar or fall short.  If other areas of the business do not have similar standards of excellence, then we will fall short most times.”

She explained her frustration that standards and accountability often vary based on who is managing the other areas. The short-term consequence is missed customer expectations. The longer term, more insidious result is the lack of trust that develops between the areas. Most people conclude that that area of the business or those types of people can’t be trusted because of who they are.

This dynamic appears in organizations and communities. My friend Peter Greer is CEO of HOPE International, an organization that provides small loans and savings programs to the world’s poorest people. While you might view poverty from a distance as a tragedy, many view poverty next door as appalling, the result of laziness or some other inherent character flaw. So the poor are often treated in their communities with apathy and distrust, which causes them to lose dignity and hope.

Here’s how Peter describes this self-perpetuating cycle:

“We define people by what they lack—and miss the incredible gifts, talents and capacity they possess. Low accountability isn’t love; it’s a damaging way of partnering with people. It perpetuates a harmful attitude that ultimately conveys, ‘We just don’t believe you can make it.’ It erodes partnership, wears away hope, and undermines the God-given capacity they possess.”

By leading a system of accountability for loan repayment and community participation, HOPE International changes how people see themselves, and that changes how others see them.

To Change What They Do, Change What They Think

In his New York Times bestselling book Change the Culture, Change the Game, Tom Smith explains that, while most leaders focus their accountability on what people need to do differently, the most successful leaders help people think differently. And to change what people think—about themselves and others—leaders need to provide new experiences.

Here are three experiences that may be new, or may need to be implemented more consistently, by you as a leader:

  1. Skill and will to hold others accountable. Clearly describing the “what” and “why” of expectations, along with the implications for not meeting those expectations, takes guts and skill.

    In American Icon: Alan Mulally and the Fight to Save Ford Motor Company, Bryce Hoffman describes how Mulally restored accountability to a very complacent Ford Motor Company. For instance, when the head of the Asia-Pacific division of Ford declined to join regular senior leadership team meetings, Mulally calmly but firmly told him that the expectation was for all senior team members to attend. When he went on to make excuses as to why he couldn’t attend, Mulally clearly explained that it would be fine for this leader not to attend; they would simply find him another role that didn’t require his participation.
  2. Systematic incentives and consequences. Leaders can leverage their skill and will by implementing systems that track performance as part of the ongoing routine of business to produce more predictable results.

    For example, the global consulting firm Accenture has moved from annual performance reviews to a simple, decentralized performance review that is triggered after every project. The review is limited to the most important factors that the company has determined to measure. The feedback is specific, clear and timely. The result is real-time performance measurement and awareness across the organization throughout the year.
  3. Cultural commitment to consistent accountability. Culture is a shared commitment to values and expectations. It’s up to leaders to create a culture that embraces an uncommon level of commitment to personal accountability.

    This year Dale Carnegie Training hired Joe Hart as its new global CEO. He immediately recognized that, due to a strong entrepreneurial culture and a vast global footprint, the organization was not executing with sufficient consistency and collaboration. So he created an internal branding campaign to move the culture forward.

    In nearly every meeting, presentation and conversation, Hart recognizes examples of consistent and collaborative accountability. He continuously asks people to confirm that they are “all in” for this commitment. And he personally demonstrates consistency and collaboration in his decisions.

How are you driving consistent accountability across diverse groups to exceed expectations?



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