How to Create a Culture of Accountability Without Micromanaging Your People
A few weeks ago, I was sitting at a stop light behind another car right in front of our office. It was 7:39am. Our team meeting starts at 7:40. Suddenly the car waiting in front of me drove across the intersection, even though the traffic light was still red. In astonishment, I looked intently at the driver of the car and recognized her as one of our staff members. A few seconds later the light turned green, and I rushed through and made it to the meeting.
This staff member was scrambling to make it on time. Why? Accountability. Of course, I do not encourage or condone breaking traffic laws. However, this demonstrates to me that people will do whatever it takes to get the job done when they are being measured. I know I do.
In this article I want to reveal how to create a culture of accountability.
Accountability Versus Micromanagement
A culture of accountability can be another name for relentless micromanagement, and that’s not what I am talking about here. No one likes to be micromanaged or babysat. In his book Drive, Daniel Pink argues that people need three things to be motivated: Purpose, Autonomy, and Mastery. Therefore, giving the people you lead autonomy any time possible is beneficial.
A healthy culture of accountability means that measures are in place, and they are shared with people so they can gauge their performance for themselves. Ideally, that’s all that is needed—no threats should have to be made or lines drawn. Allow me to offer you an example of healthy accountability.
An Example of Healthy Accountability—Ford Motor Company
When the well-known business leader and former CEO of Boeing, Alan Mulally, took the helm of Ford Motor Company in 2008 after the financial crisis, he noticed a problem with performance across the board, so he sought to institute accountability. When he looked into the processes of the organization, most teams were missing the mark in terms of getting things done. The problem was resolved when he introduced a color-coded chart for each of his leaders to record their team’s performance on. It was posted in plain view during their meetings. Failing teams marked themselves in red, improving teams in yellow, and succeeding teams in green. In the beginning everyone was afraid to mark themselves red because they thought they might get fired. After it was established that people were safe, the charts were mostly red. With each subsequent meeting however, the charts quickly began changing to green. Making the chart visible to everyone created a natural sense of accountability among the teams.
When I heard Mr. Mulally recount this, I thought to myself, Really? Color-coding saved Ford Motor Company? But really it was not the color-coding, it was the accountability. When we know we are being measured, especially by our peers, we tend to live up to expectations.
Principles to Keep in Mind
- Include yourself. One of our office managers started measuring everyone’s arrival time when she noticed a trend of late arrivals. That did it! People began getting to work on time. What’s interesting is it started working on me, too. Even though I am rarely late, now that I know I am being measured I rush to get there on time (not through red lights though). As a leader or person in authority, if it’s possible for you to be included in the accountability system, that communicates volumes to your team. This system is not designed to make you a harsh, micromanaging boss, rather it is a tool for improvement for everyone.
- Get buy in. Don’t use any system of accountability to force people to fall in line. This is not healthy leadership. Whenever possible, you want your people to agree with you and be on board. Before you start measuring everyone’s performance, have a conversation with people and really listen to them. If you can obtain their agreement that the final outcome is what’s best for everyone, and that this measurement is a tool to get there, then you have practiced effective leadership.
- Start small. The reality is that getting the data is time consuming and costly. I have found it best to start small with one area that is important to you. Over time, you will build momentum and develop systems to grow in other areas you can measure, thus continue to improve performance.
- Know what’s important. Select three areas, only three, that are key to the success of your team and organization. Start with those. Give yourself six months to make a change. At our clinics, the three key areas we identified which determine our survival are: Wait Time (reducing or eliminating patients’ wait time before seeing the doctor), Patient Experience (how the patient feels after leaving the clinic), and Follow Up Appointments (scheduling patients for visits they actually need for good health).
- Mix personal and team accountability. The goal is to have a culture of accountability. I believe this is created when we have a mix of team accountability (where the whole team is measured against a goal or another team), and personal accountability (where each team member’s performance is measured in key areas).
- Organizational accountability. Accountability must extend to the organization as a whole. The culture of accountability must reach vertically to measure the executive team’s performance as well.
- Establish KPI’s. If you have worked in the corporate world, you are familiar with Key Performance Indicators. I want to introduce you to the term if you have not heard it. KPI’s are areas that are deemed important in order to reach the end goal. Within our organization, we have a handful of KPI’s for each department. We also have three levels of importance for our KPI’s.
- Integrate Balance Score Cards (BSC). When my friend and business consultant Michelle Beames introduced me to the BSC system ten years ago, I thought it was beautiful. On one sheet, you can see the health of an organization by feeding KPI’s into a color-coded system. The system is based in Excel spread sheets. One high-level person gathers key data and makes sense of it, then presents it on a monthly basis so we can see trends.
- Make important things measurable. “Be Salt and Light to our people, our patients, and our community,” is the most important principle in our organization. We say it, and we mean it. But, how do we measure it? How do we prevent ourselves from becoming a company that adopts beautiful slogans, but puts none of those slogans into action? We ask ourselves a key question: “How can we measure this?” Here are a few ways we measure our effectiveness as salt and light: we measure volunteer hours, how many patients were prayed for, and how many patients our chaplain contacted.
It takes creativity to measure the right things at the right time. Creating a culture of accountability without creating an authoritarian culture of micromanagement is not easy. It is challenging even to prioritize creating such systems in our busy schedules. But I think we must.
For Further Reading: