The Three Golden Rules of Accountability

Many business owners complain about their employees and use words like entitlement and accountability to describe the problem.

The reality is that too few business owners actually go out of their way to hold their people accountable and you can’t really complain when you are the source of the problem.

There’s an old proverb “The Fish Stinks From the Head Down” and driving accountability down through the organization has to start at the top. Accountability is a big topic, but it really boils down to three golden rules – be clear on expectations, enforce deadlines and don’t let people delegate up to you.

Be clear on expectations

When you delegate to somebody it is essential that you give clear instructions and make sure that they are properly understood. The best way to do that is to have the person to whom you are giving the instructions repeat them back to you so that you can make sure that they really have understood what it is that you want them to do.

It is also essential that you negotiate agreeable time frames for the completion of the work. Where a lot of people fall down is that they impose an unrealistic deadline, never get by in from the person it has been imposed upon and then wonder why the task doesn’t get done on time. Once the deadline has been given then it is essential that you don’t micromanage the process and that you give the person doing the job room to work. There’s some risk involved here of course, but without that risk there’s no real reward.

Enforce Deadlines

Having negotiated a deadline it is essential that you make the person who has committed to it stick to the deadline. I have written more about this in the article building a deadline culture, and the key point here is that people won’t take you or your accountability program seriously if you give them deadlines and don’t follow up.

If you do that, it sends a message that the deadline wasn’t a real one and that you aren’t serious about the deadlines that you say you want. This message will be interpreted by the company, and you will develop a reputation for not following through. This means that your deadlines won’t be taken seriously, and your chances of enforcing accountability are significantly diminished.

Don’t Accept Upward Delegation

Because company owners tend to be “can do” people, they are very inclined to take over problems and solve them themselves. If you’re not careful with this, it can lead to your people delegating upwards to you. What this looks like in practice is that people come to you with a problem, don’t offer any solution, and leave it to you to take the problem over.

The best ways to eliminate this are to be less available and to require that people come with at least two alternative solutions to the problem. What I mean by being less available is that you adopt a modified open-door policy. One of the great things about having an open door policy is that when your door is closed it should keep people out. Making of them delay is often a good tactic because they can’t give in to the urge to simply come to you with their issues and may start solving them themselves.

If you follow these basic principles then you will have a good shot at creating real accountability in your company. It isn’t easy and it requires constant attention, but if you are going to be successful in running your company more efficiently these rules are an essential tool.