Motorola, the company that launched the cell phone industry and stood among the world’s most admired companies for decades, is now struggling to survive. How did that happen? Apparently the company missed, underestimated, or ignored a fundamental shift in the industry away from feature-rich cell phones like the Razr, Motorola’s last new product hit in 2004, toward more sophisticated smart phones like the iPhone. A lack of effective leadership and clear vision in Motorola’s handset business over the past few years has obviously dealt the company a devastating blow that will not be easily or quickly overcome. Now the company is preparing to spin-out its handset business to better focus on businesses in the home networking, mobility, and enterprise markets.
This question “How did that happen?” is asked all too often in today’s organizations, and whenever or wherever it is asked, you can count on uncovering accountability problems. In our work addressing accountability issues over the past two decades, we have come to believe that no other attribute of individual or organizational life can contribute more to the success (or failure) of individuals, teams, and organizations than true accountability. To be clear, the sort of accountability we’re talking about is positive, principled accountability; accountability that simultaneously produces better results and better morale. True accountability is never about punishment or confession or taking revenge against someone who has failed to meet your expectations. Acknowledging the role we all play in getting things done and achieving results is what accountability is really about. Creating such a mindset in yourself and others is the topic of our newly released book, How Did That Happen: Holding People Accountable for Results the Positive, Principled Way (Portfolio: August 2009).
Assuming accountability for yourself is one thing, but holding other people accountable in a way that delivers beneficial results for everyone is quite another. Every day we see examples of companies that are profoundly affected because someone failed to hold someone else accountable for meeting specific expectations. Almost without fail, we can explain what happened by looking at the situation through what we call the Accountability Sequence composed of four fundamental activities for establishing expectations. These four steps, taken in sequence – forming, communicating, aligning, and inspecting expectations – lay the foundation for effectively holding other people accountable. Stepping out of sequence can produce a negative accountability connection between you and your people, causing them to feel as if they’ve been dealt with unfairly. For example, when you inspect without properly communicating the expectation, people feel ambushed. When you communicate without taking time to completely form the expectation, people get confused. Or when you attempt to create alignment without communicating the expectation in a way that is complete and clear, people feel coerced. Following the sequence helps you establish and maintain a positive accountability connection – a connection that is key to getting things done through others.
If you effectively use the four steps in the sequence to establish expectations, you can minimize the number of key expectations that go unmet. However, even your best efforts will never eliminate the occasional unmet expectation. That’s when you’ll need to engage in what we refer to as the Accountability Conversation to deal with any surprises and disappoints that may come your way. The first order of business in that conversation is to ensure that the problem is not the result of your failing to form, communicate, align or inspect the expectation; that is, exploring your accountability up front. Expectations that have not been carefully established can be a contributing cause to the failure to deliver. After determining that the problem is not related to how you established expectations in the first place, the conversation can turn to the four main causes of missed delivery: poor motivation, inadequate training, too little personal accountability, and an ineffective culture. Understanding the problem is the first step toward defining the solution, and that should be done in the sequence from the easiest to solve to the hardest. Determining if someone is motivated and addressing what is “in it for them” is much easier than changing the culture of an organization – a culture that may be serving as a barrier to getting things done. Filtering the problem of unmet expectations through the sequence of motivation, training, accountability and then culture brings a level of efficiency to your problem solving that accelerates your ability to fulfill expectations. Once you have determined the right solution, the conversation then concludes by using the four steps of forming, communicating, aligning, and inspecting expectations to implement your plan. The Accountability Conversation is a positive and principled way to help your people meet and exceed expectations, while giving them the tools and understanding to do it again and again in the future.
When you grasp the inseparable connection between expectations and accountability, you begin to discover the secret to holding others accountable. People can only be held accountable for one thing: the expectations you have of them. Whether the expectation is to get needed information from someone so you can complete an analysis, obtain the promotional materials needed to help you close a sale, or secure the needed supplies from a vendor so you can build a product prototype to certain specifications, the very process of managing such expectations becomes the act of holding others accountable. Performing this act in a positive, principled way will not only deliver results, it will simultaneously raise both individual and organizational morale. By using the Accountability Sequence to establish expectations, and the Accountability Conversation to manage unmet expectations, you can reduce the surprises that come wrapped in bad news and missed results. No more shaking your head in frustration, wondering “how did that happen?”
If you’d like to learn more about the Accountability Sequence, please visit www.howdidthathappen.com.
Roger Connors and Tom Smith are the authors of the bestselling books, The Oz Principle and Journey to the Emerald City and their new book, How Did That Happen? and are Co-Presidents of Partners In Leadership, Inc., the worldwide leader in Accountability Training. ©2009 Partners In Leadership. How Did That Happen? ¨, The Accountability Sequence¨, Accountability Connectionª and The Accountability Conversation ¨ are Trademarks of Partners In Leadership.