A few weeks ago, #bealeader’s weekly chat on Twitter focused on the topic of Accountability. The timing of this was extraordinary, as I had recently taken over a client project that was at that dangerous intersection of being salvaged or going right down the tubes. What I quickly realized after the chat, and in connecting the dots on the project, was that one of the main reasons it was heading south before my involvement was that it suffered from a lack of accountability. My predecessor, as nice as he was, did not hold anyone on the team accountable, nor did he hold himself accountable. Everything seemed to be the client’s fault, and tension was starting to grow stronger between the parties involved.
As the new project manager, I realized that a few things had to change if the project was going to be salvaged and put back on a successful path forward…
If you hold yourself accountable, the rest takes care of itself
In our day to day lives, we are accountable in so many ways. We are accountable to our manager or boss at work. We are accountable to pay our bills, rent or mortgage. We are even accountable when we are behind the wheel, driving safely and legally. But when we drive down the road, are we obeying the rules of the road because we are afraid of getting a ticket from a policeman, or because it is the right thing to do? Do we pay your bills on time because we are afraid of a collection agency chasing after us, or because it is the right thing to do? When we hold ourselves accountable for our actions and decisions, whether it is as simple as driving down the street, or as significant as managing a strategic project at work, we don’t have to worry about meeting the realistic expectations of others. Accountability is much like trust – it takes work and effort, needs to be constantly maintained, and can easily be broken. However, when you make it a habit and second-nature to hold yourself accountable before all others, it becomes much easier over time, and the rest takes care of itself.
Accountability By Example
As I assumed the project manager role at this client, it became clear that one of two things could happen with the project team members. One option was to simply hold them accountable for their contributions and performance on the project. The second option was to start by holding myself accountable to the team, and work with each team member to set meaningful goals and objectives. My objective was to ensure they felt ownership of their contributions to the project, and that they would in turn hold themselves accountable for their work. Throughout my career, it has been my experience that people generally want to do a good job with the tasks assigned to them, especially if they feel a sense of ownership for that work. Similar to “Leadership by Example”, if team members see their manager or director holding themselves accountable for their actions, and for the performance of the team as a whole, they are more likely to hold themselves accountable. In just a few short weeks, my project team members are performing to a higher standard, meeting timeline due dates and delivering higher quality work. A key difference is that they are now part of the process, have ownership of their work, and are respectively holding themselves accountable to meeting client expectations.
Win as a team, Lose as a team
Just as a leader or manager would expect team members to be accountable and take ownership for their actions and decisions, the leader must take ownership of the team’s actions as a whole. In this particular case, as the new project manager on this client initiative, the client looks to me to ensure that the project team as a whole is delivering to their expectations. I have in turn taken ownership of their performance as a group, good or bad. If it is perceived that the team is performing below expectations, then I am accountable to work with all the members of the team to address the issues and improve performance. Individual performance is an internal project team matter to address, and ultimately the client’s primary concern is the success of the project as a whole. That being said, when we lose, we lose as a team, and I am accountable as their manager. And when we’re successful, we win as a team as well.
Being self-accountable is just a natural, interwoven aspect of being a successful leader. It has made a world of difference on my new project, and in less than a month, the turnaround on the project team has been recognized by the client. I can’t imagine how someone could be a strong leader and not have self-accountability as a parallel trait. The two go hand in hand, and seem to complement each other so well, even when you are just driving down the street.