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How to Build Accountability
It’s all in the process
“A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson
You’ve heard (or read) that Emerson quote before, no?
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It’s typically uttered when someone doesn’t like following a set way of doing things — call it the Disruptor’s Credo. It’s the perfect retort for the inevitable Defense Against the Dark Arts incantation “We’ve always done it that way.”
It’s not the consistency that’s questionable, though; it’s the foolishness. Mindless repetition without meaning or purpose? That’s the stuff of automatons.
Leonardo da Vinci wouldn’t have created a masterpiece had he followed what other artists had done or used a paint-by-numbers canvas. He created a new process and painted on poplar wood.
One of the hallmarks of Alan Mulally’s tenure at Ford was a process he brought with him from his three decades at Boeing: the BPR, or business plan review. As an engineer, he appreciated a process and as a leader, this process helped make people accountable for their divisions.
When he arrived at Ford, the company was falling apart and it needed process discipline. The culture was one of fiefdoms that protected and hoarded information. Information is power.
As you might imagine, such a strong and intractable culture was resistant to the BPR. In fact, one executive told Alan,
“Listen, Alan, one of the most important things I need to spend time on is the business unit, not getting distracted. I really don’t want to do this.”
Alan’s response was simple: “Trust the process.”
“When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.” — Lao Tzu
I had a client who was having a hard time getting his executive team aligned as they were trying to grow the business. Each member of the C-suite was talented, but they needed and received different levels of interaction with my client.
What’s more, each got different information and felt like other executives were held in higher regard by my client. Something had to change.
To create more certainty and consistency, I suggested implementing a standing meeting with a consistent format, with the aim of creating transparency and accountability. Each executive would present their results for the week, with successes or failures out there for everyone to see.
The point wasn’t to celebrate or embarrass them, but to show progress against the plan every week. When colleagues are struggling, it’s an opportunity for the rest of the team to make suggestions or follow up outside the meeting to help get them back on plan.
In the ensuing weeks, when the meeting reconvenes, the team can see how that issue was resolved (or not). The process creates accountability.
When my client was initially hesitant to try it or doubtful that his team would understand or commit to the structure, I had the same response as Alan: “Trust the process.”
Which meant that he had to participate in the process as well. As leaders, it starts with us.
It really comes down to committing to a process for yourself first. In an earlier newsletter, here’s what I shared:
Why Is Consistency Important?
Lack of consistency erodes trust.
And when it comes to your habits, you need to be able to trust yourself first…
Changing behavior takes time. But it’s the first step toward making broader changes that are essential for personal and business growth.
New behaviors — behaviors we’ve committed to with consistent actions — will make teams think about each other differently and commit to working together in different and better ways.
A process is simply a consistent way of doing things.
Consistency creates trust.
When we build trust, we build accountability.
Thanks, and I’ll see you on the internet.
American Icon: Alan Mulally and the Fight to Save Ford Motor Company by Bryce Hoffman, 2012