Magazine Article | October 12, 2011

One Question That Drives Accountability

Source: Life Science Leader

By Dr. Jim Harris

Here is a simple yet powerful way to drive accountability ... even when you are not the boss!

A few years ago, when I asked an executive with a global Fortune 500 firm, “What’s your greatest leadership challenge that keeps your firm from reaching the next level?” my client and friend replied, “accountability — how to hold others accountable across divisions, locations, and positions even when I’m not their boss.”

In today’s decentralized, team-focused, and multilocation work world, one of the greatest challenges facing any leader is how to effectively drive individual and team accountability for results. Over the years, I’ve advised leadership teams on how to launch a culture of greater accountability by beginning, ending, or focusing meetings and even casual conversations around one powerful question: “What two things are you going to accomplish this week?” The impact of this nonthreatening, results-focused question is amazing.

This question helps people focus in three significant ways. First, it focuses the individual contributor on what they are to get done (results) — not just what they are doing (activities). It reinforces to them that productivity is paramount, not how busy or how hard-working they claim to be. Second, it helps the leader focus on how best to align available resources to help accomplish the goals. Additionally, it helps bust through potential silos to focus everyone on how best to collectively reach the goals with no excuses.

Peer Pressure
It is still true — peer pressure is more powerful than position pressure! Any real professional desires to “look good” in front of their bosses and colleagues. They need to be seen as a vital contributor to the overall success of the organization. This question quickly places the employee in control of their output with a proper amount of peer pressure. It’s pointed enough to be direct without being painful (unless they don’t have an answer).

Line Of Sight And Progress
Today’s top talent, realizing low probabilities for significant pay increases or bonuses, are looking for two keys to inspire their continued commitment to excellence. First, they demand what I call “line of sight,” that their work has direct and positive impact on the overall company goals. Second, they demand the company is making real progress toward those goals. Without line of sight or progress, they will likely leave. Through initiating a systematic focus on what the entire team is to accomplish in real time, top talent is more likely to stay and remain highly productive.

Whether you are a boss or a colleague, asking “What are you going to accomplish this week?” is a great way to drive a culture of accountability.

Dr. Jim Harris is an internationally acclaimed leadership expert and author who teaches leaders how to take themselves, their business, and their people to a higher level of success and significance.