What do you do when your team lacks accountability? In a prior article (Accounting Today, Aug. 18-Sept. 7, 2008), we explored how integrity and ownership affect accountability and how managing your personal integrity and identifying clear ownership for all things in your organization will enable you to develop a more productive, highly functioning team.

In this article, let's discuss specific ideas to drive change and build a genuine culture of accountability in your firm.

ACCOUNTABILITY BY MEETING

Or is it death by meeting? Unfortunately, meetings have their share of negative stigma, because we don't hold people accountable for the commitments they make and very little (sometimes nothing) gets done. We believe that meetings can be facilitated to provide the foundation for accountability by employing the following "meeting magic" techniques:

1. Always establish an agenda and agree on what's "in scope" and "out of scope" for the meeting.

2. Identify a facilitator to keep things on agenda and park those items that should be discussed in a future meeting. Consider rotating facilitation to teach this leadership skill to all parties in your firm. Give everyone in the meeting the right to question whether something should be sent to the parking lot for discussion on another day.

3. Use these critical accountability questions:

* What did we decide just now?

* If we didn't decide, who owns driving to a decision after the meeting?

* If we did decide something, what is the action?

* Who owns the action?

* By when will it be completed?

* When will we meet next?

4. Identify a recap writer at the beginning of each meeting and then always write a recap of the outcomes of the meeting to ensure accountability. Recaps should include key decisions that were made, who owns which actions and when the actions will be complete, the next time you're meeting, and how owners will update the rest of the team on the status of their action items.

The recap is not the old-school minutes with a narrative of who said what. Instead, it is a bullet listing sent in the body of an e-mail to all who attended the meeting. Without a recap, some details may be forgotten (perhaps selectively) and there is nothing to go back to when you need to check ownership or by-when dates. Like facilitation, rotate recap writing to teach the skill to everyone. Go to www.convergencecoaching.com/csc_tools/recap_sample_and directions.doc for a meeting recap template.

5. Hold all meeting participants responsible for reading the recaps and responding to all parties if anything is incorrect or missing. This will ensure that all are on the same page and that owners have "officially" taken on the actions to which they committed.

6. Review the previous meeting recap at the start of each meeting and facilitate a discussion to determine where you are against the committed actions. At first, be prepared for some parties to come without their work done (and perhaps be shocked by this new strategy to hold them accountable). This resistance will fade for most who feel peer pressure to get their work done prior to the meetings so they can "look good."

For your poor performers, they may consistently show up with their work incomplete and many reasons (excuses) for why this is so. This process, employed over time, will provide you with assurance that they are, in fact, poor performers, and then you may have to begin more formal, and private, performance management (but at least you'll know for sure, instead of wondering!).

7. Work together to get through any roadblocks that are hindering progress, and uncover any "commitment cracks" that may exist. Look ahead to anticipate potential issues with your timeline or other plans, and collaborate on ways to shift activities if things aren't working. Be sure to document meeting outcomes so you can review them in the next one.

8. Celebrate the results and breakthroughs you'll achieve - because you will - and they will spur your team on to further success!

CHECK YOURSELF

It's often easier to note a lack of accountability in those around us, especially when it directly affects our own work and commitments. But it's important to take a look at your own behavior to ensure that you are exhibiting the qualities you want to see in others. First, check yourself to be sure you're not "over-doing" and owning too much yourself. When the workload is too heavy, the tendency is to play a game called, "I don't have to be accountable because I have so much on my plate." Instead, delegate whenever possible and keep your to-do list as manageable as you can to keep the commitments you make to others.

Also, you may actually be encouraging others to lack accountability if you assign work and then fail to set clear due dates or expectations for the work to be performed - or if you simply take the work back when it is not completed to your satisfaction or within the (unspoken) time frame you desire. Your people won't learn accountability behavior without clear expectations or by you taking them "off the hook!"

Be sure to ask for by-when dates, too, when you take assignments so you can model accountable behavior (and meet your commitments, too!). Begin to ask yourself both how you can be more accountable and how you can hold others more accountable - and what you need to do or change to do so.

We have developed an assessment to help you measure your accountability. Take it at www.convergencecoaching.com/csc_tools/accountability_assessment.doc - and keep checking your progress regularly!

Use the ideas in this article to improve your own level of accountability and also enhance firmwide accountability. You will be amazed by the improved credibility and trust you will establish, the leadership skills you can build throughout the firm, and what you'll be able to accomplish going forward!

Jennifer Wilson is co-founder and partner of ConvergenceCoaching LLC (www.convergencecoaching.com), a leadership and marketing consulting and coaching firm.

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