As a business investor, I look for investments where I see founders really holding their people accountable for their actions. More importantly, I look for entrepreneurs and owners like you who are not afraid to hold themselves accountable for the success of the business. If I see or hear evidence of a victim mentality, or someone playing the blame game, it may be time to walk away.
I do believe that lack of accountability is an easy trap to fall into, but one that you can avoid, and even consciously crawl out of. Based on my experience in several businesses, accountability has several levels from none to poor commitment as outlined below. You may recognize these in your own company, and can overcome all of them with a proactive management focus and conviction:
Everyone is proceeding with unreasonable expectations. This almost always starts at the top, based on a founder’s dream and passion, without the proper homework on sizing the market, or assessing product realities. The team accepts no accountability, because they have not been made believers. You have to give them a credible plan and evidence.
Every investor can recite examples of passionate entrepreneurs who seek funding for a worthy cause, like feeding the hungry, without a real business case for who will pay. If you can’t convince investors, you probably won’t get accountability from your team.
Team members oblivious to business success or failure. Too many employees these days, and even executives, are focused only on doing what they have been told, without regard to impact on the business. You can and must fix this by communicating business goals and objectives, and establishing personal metrics which only reward success.
Unclear, misaligned, or overlapping job responsibilities. When I find two or more people who believe they have responsibility for an objective, it is hard for anyone to feel accountable. Your job as the entrepreneur is to make sure that goals and objectives are uniquely assigned, with proper follow-up and measurements, to clarify accountability.
Key people resort a victim mentality when things go wrong. It’s easy for you to blame someone else in the organization, economic conditions outside, or even overly demanding customers, when things are not going well. It’s your job as a leader to be the model for accountability, and build it into your team culture through trust and rewards.
People are focused on workload rather than business results. I often hear about how hard people are working, rather than milestones achieved or business growth. This argument is used to justify the need for more funding, more people, and more time for delivery. Raise accountability by narrowing your focus and tools to improve productivity.
High employee turnover and poor employee morale. When I do due diligence on a potential funding candidate, I always inpect high levels of employee change, and low morale indicators. Accountability is impossible to maintain in an environment of high people change, tension, and uncertainty about the organization or company mission.
The business remains static despite changing realities. Every business today must recognize that change is the only constant for survival. Accountable leaders and teams realize that pivots are often required, and the agility to make changes to the product, business model, and even the customer set, must be part of every accountable culture.
Kodak, as an example, had made so much money on film that they were reluctant to believe in the digital trend, even though they had one of the first digital camera patents. No company leader wanted to be accountable for a change of the magnitude required.
A lack of openness to outside guidance and coaching. I believe that every business, whether public or private, needs to engage an advisory board or outside directors for a regular review. Executives with no external input, even if they think they are accountable, easily mislead themselves into missing alternatives and trends that will hurt them.
Based on my own experience and feedback from other executives, accountability is not only the key to business success, but it is the key to employee happiness, engagement, and retention as well. In all cases, accountability has to start with you. So before you start to challenge the commitment of your team, it may be time to take a hard look at yourself as the role model.
*** First published on Inc.com on 05/27/2020 ***