Unleash the Power of Accountability on Five Factors
Signs indicate the year ahead will be challenging.
Growth has slowed in some industries. Other industries are encountering headwinds. After navigating through the pandemic of 2020 leaders will be tested again.
I’m privileged to work with 105 CEOs, presidents and key executives in five Vistage groups, and last year spoke to hundreds more leaders in sixty-one talks. I worked directly with the leadership teams of six companies in 2023 helping them chart their paths forward.
This activity provides a front-row seat to the issues facing leaders and their plans for the coming year and beyond.
One thing never changes: Each year, people promise to be more accountable. And every year they break their promises. More accountability equals greater success.
My bestselling book Accountability: the Key to Driving a High-Performance Culture examines the power of organizational accountability and how successful companies unleash its power.
For a quicker read, check out these five fundamental factors and related questions. How you and your team address these questions will determine your success in the year ahead.
- Know what you value. People will only follow leaders they believe in. To be a leader worth following, you must be accountable. The first step toward being accountable is answering these deceptively simple three questions that serve as filters for your toughest decisions:
- What do I stand for? You must know very clearly what you’re willing to tolerate and where you draw the line.
- What are my strengths? You must decide whether to invest your time being good at something you’re average at, or to invest your time being great at something you’re good at.
- What do I want? For many people, getting what they want is less challenging than being honest with themselves about what they really want.
- Put people first. Talent is the best predictor of future performance. “The executives who ignited the transformations from good to great,” says Jim Collins in his seminal book, “did not first figure out where to drive the bus and then get people to take it there. No, they first got the right people on the bus (and the wrong people off the bus) and then figured out where to drive it.
- Who’s a good cultural fit but is in the wrong position?
- Who needs to go?
- Who are we missing?
- Strategy is how we compete. Execution is how we win. We need both. Just as the pandemic forced leaders to reimagine their business, a softening economy will invite leaders to take a fresh look at what’s important and then implement decisions with discipline. Your strategy tells you what you say “no” to. “I’m as proud of what we don’t do as I am of what we do,” said Steve Jobs on making tough choices.
- What’s the most strategic thing I can attend to in the next twelve months?
- What do we do better than anyone else? What empirical proof supports this claim? How can we capitalize on this advantage?
- What decision would my colleagues say I need to make that I’m not making?
- Money matters. When business is flying high, cash flow, A/R and banking relationships can be run on auto pilot. Cash is king so get receivables current now: every receivable over 60 days is now at risk. Bankers will lend you an umbrella when it’s sunny but not when it’s raining so if you plan to borrow money or extend credit lines, get your financial house in order.
- Your budget and your calendar provide evidence of what you believe matters most. In what top three areas of my business will I make the biggest investments during the next twelve months?
- When did I last present and defend my capital strategy to someone other than my banker?
- Do I know how my banker keeps score? When did I last explore a new relationship with a banker who believes in my vision and has money to lend?
- Communicate: Clearly, calmly and often. It’s hard to over-communicate: About the time you’re sick of saying it, everyone else is starting to get it. So be clear about where you are, where you’re going and what is expected from those on your team. Tracking performance is your scoreboard that tells everyone whether we’re ahead, behind or right where we expected to be. Tracking is the most powerful communication tool to drive accountability yet it’s the most underutilized tool. Of more than 500 executives who completed my accountability assessment in 2023, a whopping 81 percent said their company’s approach to tracking performance was less than 79 percent effective.
- If our management team was on a desert island, what key performance indicators (KPIs) would we consider vital in order to run our business on a daily or weekly basis?
- Do our employees connect what they’re doing to what we’re tracking? Operationally? Financially? Emotionally?
- What picture of our performance would be worth 1,000 words to our employees?
“What you have to do and the way you have to do it is incredibly simple,” wrote Peter Drucker, the foremost management thinker of the 20th Century. “Whether you are willing to do it, that’s another matter.”
Accountability is the key to driving a high-performance culture.
Accountability is not something you do to people. Accountability is something you do for people.
Accountability is a support system for winners.
Here’s wishing you more accountability in the New Year.