I’ve been exploring, in recent blogs, practices to build good leadership into the infrastructure of your organization. It’s one thing to understand, theoretically, good leadership. It’s another to put that understanding into practice on a daily basis.
Today I want to introduce the practice of an “Accountability Letter.” The purpose of this letter is to ensure clarity and agreement between an individual and his/her manager about performance expectations on the job. Here are the basic ingredients of such a letter:
- Person’s understanding of his/her leader’s role and responsibilities.
- Individual’s role and responsibilities.
- Individual performance goals, including standards to measure success. (These measures need to be aligned to leader, team and organization goals and are often organized around a handful of themes, such as: customer service, productivity, personal growth, and so on.)
- Major obstacles to fulfilling one’s responsibilities.
- List of what the leader and/or company may do that help and what they do that hinder the individual from carrying out their responsibilities.
- List of what the individual feels they need (resources, training, support, information) to successfully carry out their responsibilities.
The individual writes the letter, following the outline above, and then gives it to his or her leader for review. The two of them then sit down together to discuss the contents and make sure they are in agreement.
The value of the process is that it establishes clarity around expectations. It becomes a “contract” that ensures the two of them are working towards the same goals. It also provides specific means for measuring individual performance and progress. And, it opens up dialogue so that they can get important work related issues on the table and talk them through.
Personal Accountability Interviews.
A next step in this process if for the leader and individual to meet, at a mutually agreed frequency, to talk about how things are going. The meeting has three primary objectives. First it focuses on the performance of the individual, how they are doing against their performance requirements, goals, and metrics. This represents an opportunity for the individual to be accountable and for the leader to provide the resources and support he/she needs in order to succeed. It is a time to make sure that people are using their time wisely and making good business decisions.
The second objective of an accountability interview is to promote the development of the individual. The leader plays the role of mentor by providing information or training in such areas as the strategy and direction of the business, the role of leaders in a high performance organization, behavioral expectations, etc. It is a time to create and monitor the personal development plan to be sure the individual is making continual improvements in their performance and moving ahead in his/her career. Most importantly, it represents an opportunity to listen, understand, and learn about the individual, how they are doing and what they need in their on-going development.
And a third objective is to maintain a positive relationship between an individual and his/her leader. Research, as well as experience, indicates that a positive relationship with one’s manager is one of the most important factors in employee happiness. A negative relationship with one’s boss is the most frequent reason given for employee attrition. Writing the initial letter and then meeting on a regular basis keeps the individual and leader more tightly connected and gives them opportunity to discuss mismatched expectations and potential performance obstacles.