As a leader, you are responsible for creating the future: every outcome belongs to you, so the buck can’t stop anywhere else. That means both promoting the right actions and correcting the wrong ones, starting with your own performance. You can’t create a positive culture of accountability if you won’t hold yourself accountable, the price required of a Growth Hierarchy.

When results are not what they need to be, what is often missing is the managerial will to set high goals, insist on high standards, demand the right work be done on the right timeline, and hold individuals and teams accountable for their results. When you remove that will, a team will miss their goals, lower their standards, fail to do the right work, and nearly always fail to secure results.

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Leadership Drives Your Team’s Results

Some leaders complain that they have an activity problem, believing that their sales force isn't doing enough to gain good results. The diagnosis may be correct, but low activity is a symptom, not the root cause. Without goals, standards, and accountability around the outcomes for which they are responsible, your team will not produce the results they need. Unless and until you exercise your managerial will, that won’t change.

Leadership is the primary variable when it comes to results. There is an old saying that "you need to inspect what you expect," meaning the starting point to success is setting expectations. Any individual can have a bad day, and a whole team might have a bad day at something like prospecting, but when those days become the norm, the underlying problem is a lack of managerial will. The only way to work to high standards is to start with high expectations. 

Building a Positive Culture of Accountability

It is not necessary to be Attila the Hun or Genghis Khan to be a strong leader. You cannot use the tools of the autocrat to build a positive culture of accountability: establishing consequences never requires force, threats, or fear. Instead, you can use humane consequences like receiving additional coaching, developing an individual improvement plan, and more frequent inspections to keep individuals from straying from the path.

If there are no consequences for not doing the required work, then there is no accountability, and when there is no accountability, leaders are merely figureheads.

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Maintaining a Culture of Accountability

You might have had managerial will at one point, enough to establish good standards, but then left your team on autopilot in hopes that things would continue in the right direction. Easing up on accountability is more likely to send things careening off in the wrong direction, which is why it’s approximately 322% harder to regain a lost culture of accountability than to maintain one in the first place.

The workgroup that isn't doing what they need to do has been given something like a waiver. In legal contexts, a waiver means that someone didn't comply with their agreement, but you have accepted it so long that you now have no recourse. Fortunately, you are not legally required to accept poor performance, but without accountability, a low-performing team will still believe that they can just wait you out.

You must maintain your own accountability, too. You may think that it's no big deal to miss one pipeline meeting, especially when you’re already time-starved and under-caffeinated. But missing the second meeting in two weeks will tell your team not to take these meetings seriously. When you give up on meetings and depend on the CRM to report, not only is your information incomplete, but your engagement with your team is lacking.

Recapturing a Culture of Accountability

While it is possible to achieve good results with compliance, the best results always come from commitment. You can never expect your team to be more committed to your cause than you are. As the leader, you set the standard—and if that standard has slipped, you have to recapture it.

Swallow your pride and start with a reset: speak to your team and confess that you have lost focus and that it has harmed you and your team. You will also have to apologize for not being engaged enough to produce the results the team is capable of. To turn the corner, tell them that you all will make a new start together by committing to a new set of goals and initiatives. Chances are good that your team will be incredulous, and some will struggle to transition back to a culture of accountability.

Once you put the structure of accountability back in place, you have to be conscientious, keeping your commitments and demonstrating the high standards you want for your team. Even though it takes an enormous amount of effort to recreate a culture of accountability, there is no substitute for generating better results.

Exercising Managerial Will

The leaders who produce the best results and positive cultures exercise their managerial will, trusting that their sales force will apply that will. Say a leader wants to acquire a certain set of new clients, ones that will allow the team to transform their results and their clients’ results. That leader will use their managerial will to assign those clients to individuals on their team, explain why they need acquire the clients, share a plan to pursue them, and offer help and support to make sure their team members succeed.

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Anthony Iannarino
Post by Anthony Iannarino
October 3, 2021
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