The Cycle of Successful Accountability:

by Frank Lunn

If you asked most managers to describe "utopia," you would receive many different answers, but when you distilled it down to the core, you would find the answer to be employees that were accountable. What exactly is accountability and why is it the bane of many managers' existence?

accountable adj 1: liable to be called to account; "you are answerable for this debt" [syn: answerable] 2: being obliged to answer to an authority for your actions; "governments must be accountable to someone beside themselves"; "fully accountable for what they did"; "the court held the parents answerable for their minor child's acts of vandalism"; "he was answerable to no one" [syn: accountable(p), answerable(p)]
Source: WordNet � 1.6, � 1997 Princeton University

A more practical and simplified definition of accountability might be simply: "Getting the job done correctly and without excuses." What we really want as managers is to have confidence that the tasks, projects and responsibility level issues that are important to us are done as though we had done them ourselves. Of course, this is a management trap that keeps many managers from growing and stagnates and stifles the growth of many organizations.

Managers who try to do everything themselves slowly burn themselves out and more importantly they rob others of the opportunity to grow. Sometimes the early stages of growth and development of others is ugly and less than successful, but with a little practice and confidence with the cycle of accountability, you will soon empower them to hopefully be better than you. Although some managers fear that those under supervision might outshine them and cause them to look bad, the reality is that the ultimate goal should be for productive and accountable employees that are magnified by your leadership, not stymied by it.

To attain a high degree of success with employee accountability, there is a process or cycle of just three steps that will ultimately yield and foster a high degree of accountability. At first blush, this might seem like just common sense or a no-brainer, but upon a deeper look you will find there to be multiple layers and a much richer level of words that we sometimes take for granted (see model below).

Communication would seem like such a natural, yet why is it that there are so many breakdowns and areas where lack of communication cause us to stumble? Unfortunately, most managers operate under some false assumptions. They wrongly assume that people will be strong in areas that they are strong in and they will get frustrated fast when people do not live up to their expectations. Many managers manage and correct from the school of, "I don't know what I want, but I know this ain't it!" We are all blessed with certain skills, talents and abilities, but they are certainly not the same. A manager who is detailed and methodical will be driven nuts if they work with or are responsible for salespeople who may be good at painting word pictures and explaining concepts and assume the details will "work out on the backside."

Good communication and setting of expectations is always the starting point of the cycle. A clear understanding of the issues and what is acceptable allow for a framework of working together and can prevent many errors of assumption. Too often we are vague and leave too much for interpretation when we first begin the communication process.

There is certainly frustration on both sides without communication. There is nothing more frustrating than to be in the dark and have to guess and then later to find out that not only did you waste a lot of time, but that you also came up short in the expectation of your supervisor.

As the cycle continues, training for what is expected is an outgrowth of good communication and needs to cover strategic vision (the big picture "why?") as well as tactical execution (the how).

Strategic vision might not seem important or relevant to be delivered to an employee, but nothing could be further from the truth. Strategic vision gives purpose and is the first building block of competency. When an employee understands the "why" and the big picture, they take on greater ownership, which is a vital component to accountability.

Tactical execution is ensuring that your people know not only what and why but have all the tools to accomplish the how. This may take extra communication and training in the short term but will yield big dividends as your team grows and develops.

Most managers operate under a "fire and forget methodology" assuming that since they explained what they want, it should naturally be done. Unfortunately, what often happens is that a component of the communication or the training gets slightly skewed and the result is different from the expectation. Many times this leads to frustration and the manager either doing the job or being inwardly dissatisfied and sending signals of disappointment and frustration to the person doing the job.

A better approach is the old adage of, "inspect what you expect." This allows for opportunities of correction and feedback that are both positive and constructive to the development of your people. Follow-up as with communication and training is not a one time component, but rather part of a cycle or continuum of growth and development.

The end result of the process as we addressed earlier is account- ability. Employees and team members who are accountable will be a positive factor of organizational success. When a manager shortcuts or leaves out any part of the process, the responsibility stays squarely on the manager. Many people have lost their jobs because of a manager or supervisor who failed in their responsibility within the accountability cycle. If you do not properly communicate what you expect, train and enable for the job or follow-up for performance, how can you hold an employee accountable? Some people will still fail and fall short of expectations regardless of our actions as managers and leaders. If we properly follow and practice the accountability cycle, we can know that we have done all that should be done and the responsibility for success or failure sits squarely on them.

This is not a magic bullet nor is it a one time action, but rather it is a continuous cycle in the development process of those with whom we are entrusted to lead and manage.

A true measure of your success as a manager and as a leader is to bring out and inspire the best in those over which you have influence. Your success is highlighted by the organizational success achieved through the efforts of others. You do not necessarily have to be extremely good or super-talented yourself; you just need to make sure your team shines and succeeds and by default your success is assured.

Frank Lunn is the President of CMS, Inc., a pure ATM Affiliate Cooperative. CMS specializes in ATM equipment processing and ancillary services and works exclusively through an independent network of "affiliate" ISOs, distributors and agents to provide leverage and value to both vendor as well as affiliate partners. Frank can be contacted via e-mail at [email protected].

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