How to Increase Accountability Without Breathing Down People's Necks
This article is included in Entrepreneur Voices on Strategic Management, a new book containing insights from more than 20 contributors, entrepreneurs, and thought leaders.
One of the toughest balances to achieve within an organization is between building a culture that gives people space while maintaining an environment of accountability. The line between managing and micromanaging is very fine and in some cases blurry. At Practice Makes Perfect, we’ve operated with an unlimited vacation policy for almost a year now. We close our offices for every federal holiday and have a compulsory two days off that everyone has to take per quarter to recharge. In order to operate with this level of flexibility, we have to ensure that controls are in place so that work gets done. More importantly, we don’t want to stifle creativity.
Here is how we ensure accountability without breathing down everyone's neck:
Create annual goals
Every year, we set three to five goals that everyone in the entire company rallies behind. At the end of the year, those are the only goals that matter. We know we are done with our planning when we can respond “yes” to the following question: If we looked back at the end of the year and this is all that we accomplished would we be satisfied? A resounding yes is required before we settle. It is also important to limit yourself to five. If you have too many priorities, then nothing becomes a priority.
Develop quarterly objectives
Every department leader sets objectives that stem from the annual goals we set for the company. Each department will also set department-wide objectives. The objectives are then assigned to managers within the department who are responsible for delegating and project managing throughout the course of the quarter. The managers are accountable for the objectives and their teams are responsible for delivering on them.
As a company, we also have a quarterly critical number (one key priority that can be measured and tracked that will move the company forward). The critical number is the most important priority for everyone within the company. We tie incentives during our quarterly celebration to our level of success at achieving our critical number. At the end of the quarter, we reflect on the critical number from the previous quarter and then share the critical number for the following quarter.
In an effort to document our journey and increase transparency, I also write a quarterly letter where I reflect the things that went well and the things that didn't go as planned throughout the quarter. It also allows me to solicit help and anticipate what we have ahead of us for the following quarter.
Focus on monthly targets
Every month, we update a Key Performance Indicator (KPI) dashboard that is managed by the executive team. Once it is populated, we reflect on it with the company leadership team and then I put together an email to the entire company that includes the dashboard and comments on how we are doing towards our annual goals. This creates an incredible amount of accountability and transparency within the organization. Everyone can has access to this document and they easily see how we are managing our expenses, how much revenue we’re bringing in and what our company’s burn rate is in that given moment. The executive team then holds a monthly town hall for people to bring up any questions or concerns they may have.
Have weekly emails
Toward the end of every week, we ask everyone in the organization to send a brief email to his or her manager. The email has three sections: challenges, successes, and a third section for anything the manager or company should start/stop/continue. If the person manages a budget, they also update any revenue or expense numbers. This should take no longer than 15 minutes. They are meant to be short and sweet with the purpose of really shedding light on key items.
Once a week, every manager will also have a 10 – 20 minutes check-in with his or her direct reports. Though they are fairly unstructured, they are opportunities to talk through the challenges in a weekly report, check-in on any needs a team member may have in order to carry out their job and discuss professional development opportunities. When we check in, I like to speak with my direct reports about the items I keep on a running list occurring throughout the week.
Do daily check-ins
Every morning at 9:05am we have a group huddle. Everyone present in the office (we’re 15 people now. If we were 20, we’d split in half) forms a circle and they come prepared to share the most significant thing that happened the day before, the most important thing (just one) that they will accomplish that day, and whether or not they foresee anything slowing them down. This usually takes us between 7 – 10 minutes. It also provides us an opportunity to share any important company-wide announcements as they come up instead of trying to create a meeting with a long agenda or sending a handful of emails. For people who have a 9 am meeting or are working from home, we have an organization huddle channel on Slack. The daily huddles allow us to collaborate and troubleshoot potential bottlenecks before they arise.