Accountability: The New Body Odor

Posted: April 26, 2015 by Tom Heuer in Culture, Leadership, Operations, People, Startup

Tom Heuer, Miami University Center for Entrepreneurship

During my college days, I remember that hygiene often became an afterthought. Showering, washing clothes, having clean sheets and towels were not on the priority list. It just wasn’t that important to us. Rolling on the ban deodorant took care of everything. This one daily activity allowed us to attend classes without being repulsive. Working together was not inhibited by a foul, distracting odor. Our interests were not derailed by anything that distracted us or tempered our thoughts about the situation or individual. Ban deodorant always did its work.

In today’s business community, accountability seems to have become the new “body odor.” Whisper the word “accountability” and people run away and hide. Obviously, it isn’t the smell that turns people away – it is the personal commitment that is required. The thought of accountability is a lightning rod for companies and their people. It means that senior leaders need to commit to future revenue/profitability projections and managers must figure out how to make their senior leaders “look good.” These are the most difficult “ego-filled” conversations that I have experienced during my leadership/consulting career. Both “what I want” ends up being a “smell” that drives both parties away from each other. Instead of accountability being a skill, it ends up being a contest between dysfunctional leaders. The organization and the employees are always the losers.

From my role as “teacher” and “corporate strategist,” accountability is absolutely necessary for growth to occur. It is a value that every company must embrace as part of its culture. With a culture of accountability, employees want to engage in growth initiatives and be held to specific goals and returns on investment. They understand that goals are the “rocket booster” for achieving overall success and driving discretionary effort. All leaders view accountability as the catalyst in achieving the goals.   Senior leaders demonstrate their support for accountability by encouraging innovation/growth, by providing the resources and by being patient.

So, how can senior leaders encourage a culture of accountability and convince their managers to want to struggle and commit. Let me suggest the following approaches:

  • Senior Leaders need to model “accountability” daily as an important leadership trait and critical core value influencing each employee’s behavior. They need to send the message that “when ascending to a leadership role in this company, you will be embrace accountability as the engine for growth.”
  • Senior leaders must develop challenging but achievable growth goals for their businesses. By following through in this way, their direct reports will more readily accept accountability and become mobilized to lead their team in achieving the results. This action will tell their teams that goal-setting is an important activity and meant to be taken seriously.
  • Finally, divisional leaders must model accountability and challenge their people to build real growth plans. If their initiatives fall short of the revenue goals, then corporate and division leadership must negotiate and agree to the final goal. It is – of course – what leaders do!

Yes, professionals operate this way when they believe accountability is a “sweet odor.” Let me know what you think. Contact me at heuertm@miamioh.edu.

 

 

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