“Dare to be….and hold people to account”

“Executives owe it to the organisation and to their fellow workers not to tolerate nonperforming individuals in important jobs.” (and all jobs are important) Peter Drucker

One of the most common problems that I regularly discuss with my clients is the perceived lack of accountability in their employees. Business leaders are very often frustrated at their inability to get people to do what needs to be done quickly with a greater level drive and determination.

Business leaders talk about wanting to establish a high performance culture where people accept responsibility for achieving goals but are constantly frustrated at the lack of progress despite spending significant amounts of money on training and people development.

They believe that they have good understanding of what needs to be done to achieve business success yet implementation and execution of agreed actions is often very poor. Employees let them down; don’t meet the goals set; miss deadlines; don’t focus sufficiently on achieving the agreed objectives; pay lip service to improvement plans; continue to do the same things they’ve always done or like doing rather than what is needed.

In simple terms they have a business with a culture that accepts mediocrity as the norm reinforced by a lack of personal accountability.

To improve accountability and improve execution here are my observations and some practical tips on what needs to be done to make the changes that will have significant business benefits:


To improve accountability it is vital to have a clear sense of direction as this becomes the “stake in the ground.” Clarity of purpose becomes the reference point for all important decisions. As John F Kennedy observed: Efforts and courage are not enough without purpose and direction. 

Start with making sure the following are up to date and relevant:

  • Vision, Mission and Values statements
  • A clear Strategic Plan that details how the business will develop. What are the distinctive capabilities or unique competencies that will give the company a competitive advantage now and in the future?
  • A robust Business Plan – preferably a One Page Business Plan (see last month’s newsletter)

Having established these fundamentals, (I’m always surprised by how many SME’s don’t have these documents and continue to wonder why there are misunderstanding regarding key priorities and objectives) it is vital to CONTINUALLY COMMUNICATE, the content of these documents to everyone in the organisation.

Communicate your direction on your website, in newsletters, on notice boards, with posters, at interviews, in press releases, on business cards, letter headings………everywhere possible.

Having got the fundamentals in place you can now start to focus on accountability.


START WITH THE KEY LEADERS IN THE ORGANISATION. Creating a culture of accountability requires that the people at the top agreeing that accountability is important and that everyone will be held responsible for meeting their promises and the agreed goals. Specifically:

  • The key leaders have to be willing to hold each other to account and be willing to “walk the talk”
  • Accountability to be discussed at every meeting.
  • Leaders to be rigorous in following-up and not accept non-performance from any member of their team.


At the start of every meeting read out the company’s Vision. – I know a lot of people think that this is unnecessary but how long would it take you to read out your business vision – probably less than 60 seconds. Your vision is your “stake in the ground” and it is definitely worth taking 60 seconds at the start of every meeting to set the scene and confirm your shared purpose.

  • Make sure that you raise the importance of every meeting to a point where there is no doubt as to the importance of completing any actions agreed e.g. “We are aiming to increase turnover by x% this year and increase profitability by Y%. This meeting directly effects these two goals and it is vital that we meet the agreed productivity improvements by week zz as agreed”

SET SPECIFIC UNAMBIGUOUS GOAL  so that everyone is very clear regarding what is expected of them. This is vitally important because it take personality and relationships out of the problem. If the goals are yes/no; black/white – there is no guessing whether they have been achieved or not. This clarity makes it much easier to have difficult conversations such as: “I like you, it’s not me versus you, you’re a good person but you promised to deliver xxxx and it hasn’t been achieved…..”

  • Every role/person should have at least one tangible measure of performance.
  • Establish Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s) that clearly define and measure the improvements, actions and objectives that have been set. (see next month newsletter on KPI’s)

RELENTLESS FOLLOW UP! This is the key action required from the Managers and Directors. It is “your” fundamental duty to ensure that that the performance standards are being met and that mediocrity will not be accepted.

  • Establish a regular pattern of RELENTLESS FOLLOW UP (Daily, Weekly, Monthly)
  • RELENTLESSLY FOLLOW UP at every meeting by talking about the goals,
  • RELENTLESSLY FOLLOW UP by publishing the goals – make them transparent to all.
  • RELENTLESSLY FOLLOW UP by asking how you can help, what additional support is required, what more can be done …etc.
  • RELENTLESS FOLLOW UP helps to prevent poor execution becoming the accepted norm

If people know what is expected and yet are not meeting the agreed goals it is more often than not a direct result of a lack of follow up by the manager!

CELEBRATE SUCCESS (Deal with failure)

To reinforce a culture of accountability it is vital to celebrate successes and deal with underperformance:

  • “Praise in public” – Good performance must be recognised and praised. Do not be shy about celebrating success however small. A good idea is to make celebrating success part of your management meetings by getting everyone to highlight a success in their team at some point during the meeting
  • Have award ceremonies.
  • Make sure praise is genuine.
  • “Criticise in private” – Poor performance cannot be allowed to be ignored! If no action is taken you are effectively condoning poor performance and that a lack of achievement is acceptable.
  • With poor performers it is necessary to discuss the problem, agree the causes and agree actions to redress the situation. Once these actions have been agreed, document them and RELENTLESSLY FOLLOW THEM UP at the following meetings.
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