Bruce Tulgan

Accountability is the new watchword in just about every business. But what does it really mean? Accountability means having to answer for one's actions. The idea is compelling: if an employee knows that he will have to explain his actions to another person and that his actions will be rewarded or punished accordingly, typically that person will make an effort to act "better."

First, accountability works only as a management tool if the employee knows in advance that he will have to answer for his actions. Second, employees must trust and believe that there is a fair and accurate process for keeping track of their actions and tying their behavior to real consequences. That means:

• Spell out expectations in advance in vivid terms.

• Track employee performance every step of the way.

• Follow through with real consequences based on whether the employee’s actual performance meets those expectations or not.

You are the key to making accountability real. You are the keeper of the process:

• Make sure that your employees know that they will have to explain their actions to you up close and often.

• Focus on concrete actions within the direct control of the employee.

• Be the boss who is known for holding people accountable.

• Raise your standards.

• Take charge on day one … Today is always day one.

• Separate your role as the boss from your personal relationships.

• If you have no authority, use influence.

• If you don't have the expertise, act like a very shrewd client.

Sometimes all you have is the ability to ask people to explain or give an account of their actions. This type of interpersonal accountability in and of itself can be very powerful. That's one of the reasons it is so important to build relationships of trust and confidence with the people you manage. You need their trust and confidence most when they have to give answers to you. You want them to care about what you think of them. You want them to have a hard time looking you in the face and saying, after you've spelled out clearly what is expected of them, "No. I didn't do it."

Publication date:08/20/2007