After completing this unit, you’ll be able to:
- Identify ways to hold others accountable.
- Use a process to maintain accountability.
Let's start with the S in Simple.
Can you imagine if traffic lights didn’t exist? If we were expected to know who has the right-of-way and hope for the best? Drivers would be yelling at one another out the window to know who’s next, and we would have more collisions than bumper cars at an amusement park.
In the workplace, the same principle applies. Without clarity on deadlines and expectations, confusion and missteps abound. Check-ins and project milestones are the red lights that prevent us from speeding through hours of work unchecked in the wrong direction. Is there a more depressing feeling than realizing that you’re miles off course, even farther from your destination than when you started? We think not.
When you’re setting expectations for an assignment, make sure that the format and expected results are abundantly clear. You don’t want to encounter unwelcome surprises right before the deadline. That conversation could sound like, “Great! We’ve agreed that you’ll send me a final draft via Google doc next Thursday by 5:00 PM. I’d also like to check in on how we handle problems when they come up.”
Click to hear how Kris and Ansar set daily and career level expectations for their teams to keep them moving forward:
It might seem like a no brainer, but having this type of conversation upfront with your colleagues saves time and prevents misunderstandings. You know exactly what, when, and how you’re receiving the final product.
When you’ve laid out clear, actionable expectations, it’s time to get everyone’s sign-off on the timelines, commitments, and plan for execution. An often forgotten but important step is aligning on escalation timelines. Why? If your colleague’s concept of an SOS-level problem is different from yours, things might be sunk by the time you get flagged down for help.
So here’s what to agree on to prevent a titanic-style disaster.
Getting aligned on these points reduces misunderstandings and enables both of you to stay on top of your deadline and produce high-quality work. But wait! Rather than simply instructing to turn something in on a specific date, ask your team what they think the deadline should be before you settle on the execution plan. Why? This additional step uncovers gaps between your expectation and theirs for how long, how difficult, and how important the task is. It’s a workplace minesweeper, finding potential disasters before your team starts its next mission.
Delightful! The start, course, and finish line are defined, so the next question is how can you show your progress? We’re glad you asked. You can download the Inviting Commitment Exercise in the Accountability & Delegation pack.
“What gets measured, gets managed.” Penned in the 1500s by mathematician Georg Rheticus (a buddy of Copernicus), the principle holds true for why to evaluate your report’s progress. When we report on our results, we not only show progress but also expose pitfalls and opportunities for growth. Entrepreneur and business mogul Bill Gates credits measurement for his multimillion dollar innovations in healthcare, technology, education, and business. Sounds pretty powerful, right?
Each business has its own system for measuring success. Some use key performance indicators (KPIs), others prefer objectives and key results (OKRs) with the aim of holding their teams accountable for their progress. At Salesforce, we’ve taken it to another level.
Our system looks at an employee’s vision, values, methods, obstacles, and measures, summarized as V2MOM, to promote alignment, big picture thinking, progress measurement, and individual accountability. This living, breathing business-planning and goal-setting process shows your peers, your manager, and everyone in the company what you want to accomplish and how you plan to do so. It amps up both accountability and transparency because everyone you encounter is just a few clicks away from knowing your greatest stretch goals and vision for the year.
One-to-one conversations are also great for assessing progress on ongoing projects and career goals. In fact, holding your reports accountable can also be an engagement booster.
Let’s say that at the beginning of the year you ask your reports to write down a stretch goal. When you check in monthly on their progress, they feel supported by your interest and measurement of their career growth. It’s like giving someone a ladder when they’re jumping for something just out of reach. You’re enabling, accelerating, and facilitating their growth. Not only are they getting things done faster, you’re making them happier for doing it.
You may be thinking, how do I measure their progress without seeming like an micromanager? That’s where technology comes in handy. With cloud-based software, spreadsheets, project management software, and an infinite number of dashboard style trackers, you can have complete visibility into their progress without having to tap their shoulder for a progress report. And as Kris notes in this soundbyte, the notion of accountability is inherent in your highest performers.
Let’s take a look at how this could play out. Ankar is a manager on the sales team. He’s assigned John, a mid-level account executive, to work on closing an important deal. This is the first time John has an account on his own. Although he’s nervous, John is determined to get the job done on his own. Ankar also has a lot on his plate, so he’s relieved to have one less stress on his time.
At the end of the week, in his one-on-one with John, Ankar asks for a progress report on the pipeline, and John practically bursts into tears. Unsure of how to make in-roads with this powerful client, John hasn’t reached out to them and didn’t want to ask Ankar for help. The client is now upset by the poor customer service and pulls their account.
So what could Ankar have done better to support John and this important deal? Let’s investigate what led to the demise of the deal.
- Experience level—Because John had never worked on a deal like this by himself, Ankar could have arranged a buddy or advisor to help provide guidance and answer questions.
- Check-in frequency—Rather than going an entire week between assigning the work and getting an update, Ankar could have monitored John’s actions in a dashboard. Ankar could have asked for daily email updates or to be copied on the outgoing emails.
- Reporting—Ankar could have set up a way for John to measure his progress and reflect on actions he might need to take along the way.
Ah ha! There we have it. Without a way of measuring progress, Ankar left John stranded like a dropped sock. Now that we know how important measurement is to moving things forward, let’s see how feedback can make that measurement even more effective.
Feedback gets a bad rap. Feared and avoided like a trip to the dentist, feedback is perceived as a necessary, awkward conversation between colleagues. Realistically, the feedback pain is caused by the delivery rather than the comments. Let’s look at how a piece of fruitful feedback sours when given at the wrong time.
Toni’s employee Keisha missed a deadline and left Toni without a finished report to present to new clients. A week later, Toni walked by Keisha’s desk after learning that the client decided to go in a different direction and said, “Keisha, I have to tell you that your work has been sloppy. I don’t know what’s going on, but you’ve got to step it up.” This feedback attack takes Keisha by total surprise, and she’s immediately anxious about her future with the company.
Toni was justifiably upset by what she considers less-than-stellar work, but her feedback is out of context, fails to address the real problem, and doesn’t address what happened as a result. Yikes.
At Salesforce, we’ve created a culture of feedback by ensuring that it is given constructively and just in time, using the Situation, Behavior, Impact, or SBI, model. We break this down at length in our Culture of Feedback module, but it boils down to giving context, concrete details, and a description of the impact that your feedback recipient can respond to.
If Toni had followed the SBI model, her feedback might have sounded more like: “Keisha, the presentation you sent last Tuesday had several typos and formatting errors. I was concerned that our client was too distracted by the formatting to grasp the key takeaways. Unfortunately, I believe it played a role in why they’ve decided not to work with us.”
Rather than an overwhelming sense of doom about her future, Keisha walks away from the conversation with an objective sense of what happened and clarity on what to improve on.
Okay, so now you have a framework for how to take your thoughts and translate them into feedback that holds your team accountable. But what if you have employees of varying skill levels and experience? Or your team is managing projects of different sizes and significance? Do you hold them accountable in the same way every time?
Let’s turn to the kitchen to think this one through. When head chef Jo tells her sous chefs about service for the evening, her approach changes based on the experience level of the staff, the importance of the dinner, and the expected number of diners.
If working with a bunch of newbies, she’s hands-on, giving feedback actively and frequently. She might even take the knife out of someone’s hand to show exactly how she wants a carrot diced or a zucchini sliced.
On the flip side, her highly experienced teammates do the majority of the work while she oversees the quality assurance for each dish. Jo knows if she is too hands-on with this group, they’ll be offended. She offers words of encouragement and constructive feedback as she watches. But she trusts that their level of mastery means that she can channel her focus elsewhere in the service. Both teams are equally accountable, but the feedback frequency differs greatly.
Of course, if the restaurant is catering a 200-person wedding with dignitaries or heads of state in attendance, do you think the chef will check in with her team more frequently than a typical Tuesday night? Absolutely!
In the same way, when project results have broad-reaching implications for lots of stakeholders, checking in at a higher frequency can be just the level of accountability that is necessary to support your team and be successful.
Just like Jo, when you are giving feedback to foster accountability, take these considerations into account.
Each member of your team has their own personality and style and according to Ansar, figuring out how you work best with them is one of the most challenging and important aspects of being a manager.
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When feedback is both given and received with openness and care, your reports will feel like your input helps whittle first attempts into a polished final product.
Speaking of the final product, let’s talk about consequences. This might sound foreboding, but understanding the impact of your actions is vital at work (and in real life, of course).
Your report Nancy turns in a sub-par presentation the night before your company’s quarterly review. You spend all night revising it, you aren’t at your sharpest for an 8:00 AM meeting. If Nancy never hears about how the quality of her work impacted the presentation, how can she correct it?
Discussing missteps is the best way to learn and improve on them. That being said, berating your team about accountability and consequences isn’t going to motivate improved performance. As adults, we expect our peers and our leaders to communicate respectfully and truthfully with us. Yelling at them is a sure-fire way to fail at inspiring your employees to produce their best work.
Let’s look at a couple of examples of how to speak to consequences.
Emphasizing the employee’s impact on your team and the company instills a greater sense of purpose for the task at hand. We know it can be hard to see how your actions have a macro impact. Just think about how pollution happens. Dropping a single bottle out the window might not seem like a big deal, but many people having the same frame of mind is how ecosystems are destroyed. When we measure the impact of our colleague’s efforts, they can see how each one of their tasks, projects, and objectives contribute to the team’s and the company’s success.
So how did you do? Thinking about how you kept your reports accountable and how they performed when you held them accountable, helps establish a consistent, effective process for getting work done. It might not sound exciting, but it’s a huge step forward in your team’s growth.
In your next one-to-one conversation, ask your reports how they felt when you held them accountable to make sure that the frequency and style worked. Setting a tone of openness and collaboration makes them feel at ease so that they can give you feedback as well.
Questions to ask:
- I checked in with you (daily, weekly, monthly) for our last project. How did that work for you?
- How supported did you feel by my emails, messages, or in-person updates or reminders?
- How would you have felt working with a more experienced team member?
- Describe how you felt as the deadline for our project was approaching. What could we do differently to make it easier to uphold the project timeline?
When your team understands how you approach accountability, they hold themselves and their work to a higher standard because someone truly cares about their efforts. With that in mind, let’s look at how to maintain that accountability after you’ve set up the standards and expectations. You can download SIMPLE in Action in the Accountability & Delegation pack.
Okay! After you’ve set up your accountability expectations, you’re done, right? Not so fast. Now comes the just-as-important part—keeping things running smoothly. You need to know how to uphold the system that you’ve established before you even set it up.
Can you imagine what would happen if the referees decided that you could use your hands instead of just your feet mid-way through a professional football (soccer) game? Not only would they lose the players’ trust in their ability to officiate the game, they’d make the sport seem like a joke.
Similarly, if you change accountability standards, your reports have a hard time taking your word (or you) seriously. Here’s how you can maintain the standard that you worked so hard to establish.
- Set expectations—Let your reports know when you’re having your check-ins and what you’ll be asking for each step of the way.
- Check-in—Whether it’s a daily email or a weekly one-on-one, uphold the style and format that you agreed on when you gave out the assignment.
- Assess—Is everything on schedule or target? If so, proceed as planned until your next scheduled check-in. If not, go to Step 4.
- Swarm—If things aren’t going smoothly, task teammates who have extra bandwidth to close the gap between your expectations and the progress that has been made. As the saying goes, “Many hands make light work.”
- Analyze—Work with your report to understand where a gap in communication or expectations happened.
- Move forward—Link the consequences of your report’s work to the group’s impact and the organization at large. Ask your report how to apply these learnings to the next assignment to ensure that you’re in alignment.
SCASAM! Sounds like shazam, and the results are even more magical, right!? Okay, maybe this acronym for the accountability standards is a bit of a stretch. But keeping this process at the core of your accountability strategy ensures that you can keep your projects on track.
When you establish a culture of accountability, you’ll likely find peers holding one another accountable, too. For example, imagine finance manager Takeda is in a meeting with his six reports who are each presenting on their contribution to this quarter’s results. When one of his reports, Jon, is presenting data, his teammate Jorge points out a few miscalculations.
Under “normal” circumstances, Jon might have felt attacked and not received this feedback well. But because Takeda had fostered an environment of mutual accountability and trust, the team feels comfortable giving and receiving live feedback. Jon appreciated receiving Jorge’s feedback and left the meeting committed to improving for the next presentation. Studies have found that the most impactful teams show rapid accountability behavior. The shorter the time between finding an error and saying something about it, the more successful the team.
The next time Jon and Takeda have a one-to-one meeting, Jon can feel comfortable to discuss his prior error and how he’s already corrected and improved on his previous dataset. The conversation is a two-way dialogue that allows Jon to show he is self-aware and driven to improve. Takeda’s role is to serve as a supportive sounding board. And that, Trailblazer, is accountability magic!
Holding your colleagues accountable means helping them work toward clear, measurable goals and ensuring their investment in the outcome. It isn’t always easy, but it becomes increasingly more critical to your success as your team’s objectives expand and become more complex.
And with that expansion and complexity, there’s no way anyone can get it done alone. That’s where delegating responsibilities to your direct reports and holding them accountable, allows you to expand the reach and impact of your team. Speaking of which, how about we delegate the next unit to you and hold you accountable for completing it before you earn your next badge?