(This is the second in a series of what I call “The 3 CEO Non-Negotiables” — responsibilities that lie squarely with the leader at the top. If you are not a CEO, but aspire to be, this is for you as well.)
Congratulations to my friends Geoff Ramsey and Terry Chabrowe, co-founders of NYC-based eMarketer, a digital marketing research firm that they sold two weeks ago to German publisher Axel Springer for $250 million. I met Terry and Geoff not long after they started the company — back in 2006 — and have had the opportunity to observe them leading eMarketer through the highs and lows of the past decade.
I remember stepping off the elevator at the company’s 11 Times Square office a few years ago and noticing a digital image of a speedometer projected onto the wall for all to see. The “dial” ranged from 0 to 100%. When I asked Terry, the CEO, about it, he replied, “That’s so everyone knows exactly where we stand, at all times, on our most important metric.”
Accountability doesn’t “trickle up” in a company.
In my observation, the CEO, in the top position, determines the “culture of accountability” within an organization. His or her attitude about accountability — serious or relaxed — will be the company’s attitude.
Having observed the “high accountability” culture at eMarketer, which I knew started at the top, I was interested to get Terry’s personal thoughts on accountability, and share them with you —
On what accountability means. “Accountability is something that one imposes on oneself. The only accountability that is truly worth the name is the belief that you have to keep your commitments. The psychic pain of not doing that, of letting loved ones and teammates down, is the heart of the matter.”
On leading accountability. “As a team leader, while I expect my teams to perform, the person I hold accountable if they don’t is, first and foremost, myself. I start by asking if I set impossible goals, whether I provided the right resources, if the strategy was off base, if I put the wrong people on the job.”
On the challenge of accountability. “What’s difficult about accountability was answered by Matthew centuries ago, ‘And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?’ It’s always easy to find an excuse or, worse, a scapegoat.”
On the benefits of accountability. “If people know that the people they work with hold themselves accountable, it builds trust. They learn that they can depend on one another. Being on a team like that — whether it’s business, non-profit, sports or a club of some kind — is one of the best experiences anyone can have.”
To establish a “culture of accountability,” the CEO must pay attention to these four areas. Starting with direct reports, he or she should make sure everyone clearly understands:
1) Organizational Goals. The CEO must clearly communicate his or her expectations. When goals are not clear, everyone else will decide for themselves what is most important.
2) Individual Responsibilities. When ownership is fuzzy, conflict occurs. Instead of working together to win, team members compete against one another as they build their silos and defend their turf.
3) Expected Results. Use Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) to monitor progress toward goals. They are measurable and have a timeline. See this list for examples. Rob Nelson, CEO of Grow, provides this compelling argument for the positive cultural outcomes in companies that use KPIs to measure performance.
4) Actual Results. The final piece of accountability is feedback. When the results come in — whether they exceeded or missed the target — the CEO must communicate with his direct reports. Having regular conversations about performance guards against the need for “the big sit-down” when results are disappointing.
When you follow this process with your direct reports, be sure they are doing the same with their direct reports — accountability from the top down. (For more on the benefits of organizational alignment, check out my previous blog entry, “How I Owned Four Tanks & Still Slept Well At Night”.)
How would each person describe his or her “accountability” in your organization?
The more senior you are, the more you are accountable for their answers!