I had the pleasure to read the following excerpt from Ray Dalio, the founder and CEO of Bridgewater Hedge Fund. This excerpt hits right at the heart of one of the most difficult areas to manage—how to hold people accountable. Mr. Dalio has the following thoughts on accountability…
“Blaming bad outcomes on anyone or anything other than yourself is behaving in a way that is at variance with reality and subversive to your progress.”
How many times have you heard, when execution around a task or goal fails, “it’s not my fault” followed by a list of excuses as to why. The problem is when you start listening to all of these reasons you tend to start believing or accepting them. Once you tolerate these issues they will inevitably cause you to fall short of reaching your goals as well.
Have you ever noticed that the very top performers take 100% accountability for their actions? As a result, they don’t easily give up when situations look difficult. They re-analyze what they are doing, recalibrate to make appropriate changes, and move forward. Their energy isn’t spent and wasted on trying to find blame; their energies are spent on where it counts—creating solutions. Basically, they keep their eye on the prize and don’t let their egos get in the way of achieving the goal. They want to get better and seek out every opportunity to do so.
The question is how do you, as a manager, hold your people accountable?
Start by looking in the mirror. You have to hold yourself accountable. Only then can you start holding others accountable. In the book, Project Management for Dummies (For Dummies (Business & Personal Finance) , Stanley E. Portny shares 10 ways to hold people accountable:
- Involve people who really have authority
- Be specific regarding end results, time frames, and expected levels of effort
- Get a commitment!
- Put it in writing
- Emphasize the urgency and importance of the assignment
- Tell others about the person’s commitment
- Agree on a plan for monitoring the person’s work
- Monitor the person’s work
- Always acknowledge good performance
- Act as if you have the authority
While this is a great list to get you going, there is much more to it. Being accountable means there is a known consequence when one achieves or does not achieve the agreed upon goal. When someone achieves the goal, life is good and they should be recognized for the achievement. However, when someone misses their goal, the appropriate consequence is harder to grasp and act on. This may be because it is based on fear of conflict. In the simplest of terms typical outcomes may be loss of job, demotion, retraining, or sadly nothing (not acceptable, but common.) This is where we need to change our perspective.
Dalio believes everyone should be 100% accountable for whatever falls under their responsibility. If they can affect it—they are accountable. He adds a very interesting twist when managing accountability. He states that if someone is not up to the task, it is their responsibility to inform their boss they are not able to achieve the goal. At this point the manager is responsible to do one of the following; coach their subordinate through it, manage the task differently, have someone else handle it, and so on. However, the manager should avoid job slip (doing the tasks for the subordinate). This management style helps no one and gets you nowhere.
The key is to recognize that mistakes or not achieving goals is part of the learning process. At the same time, the responsible party must feel comfortable communicating that they can either handle a situation, they can’t handle the situation, or they have a concern but would like the opportunity to try. It is the manager’s job to determine their capability; i.e. matching the right people with the right task. If during the manager’s assessment of the situation the employee is found not capable, they should not task that person the responsibility because the risks are too high for everyone involved. You are setting them up for failure.
Successful companies establish a culture of high accountability for everyone in the organization. The results come when we get everyone to take accountability for any outcome and establish a culture where people are free to communicate their belief around what they can actually accomplish. This will allow you to actively manage the situation and the individual to ensure achievement of your goals.