Can Accountability Be Cool?

In recent years there have been so many exciting ideas floated about cool new cultures and work structure—on-staff massage therapists and endless vacations come to mind. Maybe it is because it sounds old school that I see the eyes glaze over when I start talking about documentation and accountability. It’s just so boring compared to all the other stuff. Except that when you get it wrong, your company can’t function. I like to think of it this way: If an on-staff chef is the organization’s sense of style, documentation and accountability are its bones. You can run an amazing, successful company without a fashion sense. But not without bones. Basically, you have a puddle on the floor.  Usually this is where I launch into the whys and hows of accountability with stories taken from HR consulting. But this week, we have the whys and stories from two other professionals.  In the past month, I had coffee meetings with friends and business associates in different industries and both of them were talking about the need for dare I say it – old school HR.

We share clients with  Damon Neth, an interim CXO and Entrepreneurial Operating System Implementer. The other is Elijah May, a friend and the managing partner and chief experience officer with the Experience Firm, a marketing consulting firm.

The Marketing Consultant

Elijah shared with me the frustration of doing meaningful discovery and developing a perfect customer experience strategy only to have the execution derailed by leadership or employee apathy.  Regardless of obvious pain points or clearly stated goals, companies are often road blocked at all levels by a lack of motivation and accountability. In other cases, conflict adverse management teams struggle to have the crucial conversations that allow them to settle on strategic priorities in the first place. I know exactly what he’s talking about because that’s the kind of situation we are sometimes faced with in working with clients. But it was nice to hear somebody else say it.

The Interim CXO

In my meeting with Damon, he mentioned essentially the same challenges. He coaches his clients on getting results and knows that everything starts with the basics. For example, on having a manager write a real description for a job not an ad and to spend the time it takes to get it right.  Otherwise, they are likely to make all kinds of incorrect assumptions—like that a task will take 10 minutes when in fact it could take hours or worse, forget tasks that must be done. It’s where you establish what is expected so you can hold people to those tasks and occasionally, and discover which tasks are not being completed by any function in the company.  Eek!  And of course, sometimes those same individuals have trouble seeing that documentation as one of the building blocks of a successful culture. Documentation like workflows, checklists, and audits are important. If you’re a company that does that, you’re a company that can meet its goals. And remember, the employees you want, want to work for a company that’s meeting its goals. The extras are nice, but high-performing people aren’t only there for the massages. They’re there to get something done, to learn, to grow, and to move up. And to help you meet your goals.

It’s been interesting watching so many different approaches to HR, culture, and company building. It’s been interesting seeing how technology tools have changed the workplace. So hopefully its going to be interesting to help more clients when they are ready to implement the processes that actually create a culture for people who like to work.

Documentation and accountability, the new cool thing. I’m crossing my fingers.


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