The Accountable Entrepreneur

Here’s a term you’ll hear a lot in the entrepreneurial world – accountability. In our organization every team member has written Roles and Accountabilities. There is a lot of talk in the business world about holding people accountable. So, exactly what does all this mean?

There are some leaders who are confused and think that accountability is a binary choice. They boil it down to believing that either someone keeps their job, or they don’t. In other words, if someone doesn’t perform in satisfactory fashion the only option is to fire him/her. Otherwise, there’s no way to hold that person accountable. Fortunately, this is a misconception – there are many different aspects to accountability.

In some cases, performance issues may be the result of a team member not fully understanding what is expected of him or her. The solution is simple. That person obviously needs further clarification of his/her role. This can be accomplished by making certain that the position description is comprehensive enough followed by a meeting to clarify the expectations and gain an acknowledgement by the team member as to his/her understanding.

Perhaps a team member is struggling to perform in a satisfactory manner because he or she isn’t adequately trained or properly equipped. The leader must make this determination fairly and then prescribe the antidote. In this situation it’s important to understand exactly which elements of the position the team member need re-training. After the re-training takes place, it might be wise for the team member to take a test of some sort to make certain that the training has been effective. Part of the analysis needs to be ensuring that the team member has the proper tools and/or resources to do the job. It’s unfair to hold someone accountable if the company hasn’t done its part in this regard.

I remember in my earlier days as a property manager, encountering difficulties getting a certain maintenance person to perform. He should have been able to close out many more job tickets than he was. I made sure that he understood his role, was properly trained and had the right equipment. After doing so, I began to suspect that he didn’t have good organizational skills. Rather than hand him multiple job tickets, I began doling them out one at a time. When he finished one, he would come back to me for another. This worked quite well, and I was gradually able to help him learn how to prioritize. This type of accountability was a combination of additional training and closer supervision.

We’ve all experienced situations where a particular team member continues to miss the mark in terms of meeting expectations. Role clarification, re-training and closer supervision didn’t do the trick. Naturally this can be incredibly frustrating, and our initial instinct may be to terminate this team member. But there are other steps in the accountability process to consider. One is more frequent performance reviews. The team member meets with his/her supervisor at the end of each week and is apprised of the progress (or lack thereof) made for the week. The conversations may become sterner over the course of time if there’s no evidence that the team member is trying to improve.

Suppose this team member isn’t making progress and doesn’t appear to care. Eventually more severe consequences must be taken. This could include a demerit type of action involving a write-up for the team member’s file. A second write-up might result in a probationary status for the team member. At the end of the probationary period – two weeks, 30-days, etc. – the team member could be terminated if the issue hasn’t been resolved.

Other techniques for holding team members accountable might include re-assignment, suspension, demotion, or a reduction in compensation. In the case where a person just isn’t cutting it, a re-assignment to a different role might be a relief and save a valuable member of the team. I’ve seen cases where the individual is really trying but just isn’t meant for the job. A re-assignment needs to be mutually agreeable – if not, a termination would be a better avenue.

We had a situation where a senior member of our firm was abusive to the administrative staff. She was repeatedly counseled and advised that this behavior was unacceptable. We then threatened to suspend her for two weeks for the next infraction. After another incident of abuse, we followed through on the suspension. I was sure she would quit but she didn’t. When she returned there was never another instance of her abusing the staff.

Accountability takes many forms. The most important thing for an organization is to identify the different methods for accountability and have a process for their use.   

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all the other major eBook formats.

The Frozen Hostage Entrepreneur

Damon has a problem. His staffing company is four years old and growing like crazy. Bottom line profits have doubled year-over-year since he launched the firm and several members of his team have been with him from the very beginning. Sounds like a dream story so far, right? But as I said, Damon has a problem. A key member of his organization, Mason, has become increasingly disruptive. Mason is in a position of leadership and works tirelessly – the business would not be where it is today without him. Unfortunately, the way he treats others is unacceptable. His approach is command and control. He bullies. He yells. And he threatens. Other members of the team go out of their way to avoid dealing with this individual and everyone walks on eggshells when they are forced to interact with him.

Damon isn’t blind to the problem. He has counseled Mason on many occasions. The result is always the same – an apology and a promise to change. But change is either short-lived or never happens at all. Within days he’s back to his old ways. Damon has offered to pay for therapy but is met with a benign sort of resistance. Mason agrees that he will consider professional help but never follows through to begin receiving it.

Recently Damon began thinking about making a change and terminating Mason. He considered all the chaos and hurt feelings caused by this person. But he also recognized that Mason has some unique skills not to mention important client relationships. On the one hand Damon knows that Mason has already caused the departure of several team members over the past 18 months. Yet, he worries that letting Mason go might cause the loss of certain clients. And who would be able to step in and have the domain expertise to function as effectively as does Mason? Damon doesn’t know what to do and as the days and weeks go by, the problems with Mason persist. This is a classic case of The Frozen Hostage.

In effect, Damon is allowing himself to be held hostage by Mason. And he’s frozen into a do-nothing position. Does any of this sound familiar? Many of us undoubtedly have similar situations that exist in our own organizations. We want to try and make things work to everyone’s satisfaction. We all want our “Masons” to turn over a new leaf and start treating others with the respect they deserve – then everyone will be happy. Not one of us wants to take that deep breath and plunge into the icy waters of our “Mason’s” exit. We are convinced it will be messy and painful. So, we procrastinate. And our inaction causes more suffering within our organizations.

I will be the first to concede that dealing with an issue like this is not pleasant. We develop loyalties, especially where we know someone has busted their rear to help us build our business. But eventually we cannot tolerate the behavior any longer and realize that we need to put an end to the madness – especially if our “Mason” isn’t interested in truly modifying his behavior.

The path toward “thawing out” the Frozen Hostage is straightforward. We need a plan. It starts with determining whether we can abide our “Mason” until we find a replacement for him. In either case, we must identify the process for finding the replacement. The plan includes developing a clear understanding of Mason’s role and accountabilities and looking for vulnerabilities. Then we tackle the vulnerabilities including technical skills and processes, as well as internal and external relationships. What is the timetable for implementing this plan? What is going to be announced and when? Who is going to cover the different roles and accountabilities on an interim basis after Mason departs? If we are lucky enough to surreptitiously hire his replacement, how are we going to ensure that our new team member hits the ground running without stumbling?

When we are the Frozen Hostage, we aren’t inclined to create this plan of attack. We just keep hoping that things get better, and we don’t have to take drastic action . . . except it never seems to work out that way. By forcing ourselves into the planning mode we begin the thawing process.

As leaders, becoming a Frozen Hostage causes serious morale problems within our organizations. Knowing that we eventually must take an unpleasant action, a logical planning process for replacing a key team member can make the path a bit smoother.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.