The four levels of accountability

Guest editorial
By Dave Anderson
Author, Speaker, President

This article was published in the June 2019 edition of NTEA News.

Dave Anderson — a highly rated presenter at The Work Truck Show® 2019 — is a leading international speaker and author on personal and corporate performance improvement. After an extensive career in the automotive retail business, Dave began LearnToLead with the goal of helping individuals and organizations reach their personal and corporate potential. We’re pleased to continue the conversation with Dave, beyond the Show, and hope you find this article helpful in your employee training efforts.

There are four levels of accountability in any organization and its departments. While there’s normally a blend of all, depending on time of month, leadership and other factors, one often dominates. As I share the four levels, consider which one describes the area you spend most of your time. This will tell a lot about the leader, culture and team members in each department; and if you want to improve performance, you’ll need to improve accountability there.

First, keep in mind, in high-performing cultures, accountability is everyone’s job. Lack of accountability from one person may affect performance and the experience for customers and employees throughout the organization. Accountability isn’t about punishment; it’s about improving performance. Holding others accountable means you care enough about people and the team overall to swiftly and firmly address issues that affect team performance and the individual’s future.

Dave Anderson speaks at Generation Next’s Leadership Workshop during The Work Truck Show 2019.

Level four: No accountability
There is no meaningful consequence for poor behavior or performance at this level. For example, someone comes to work late or violates a core value, and nothing happens. Without question, higher presence of level four accountability translates into a weaker culture and brand — morale will suffer, results will be more erratic and the leader’s credibility will become more seriously impaired.  

Level three: Top-down accountability
At this level, a supervisor addresses poor performance or behavior. It’s necessary, it’s a positive thing and it’s the leader’s job; however, two levels are more ideal. While it’s a significant improvement from level four, it’s not what dominates highest-performing cultures. At level three, for instance, if a technician comes in late, his/her manager will address it. Though necessary, by itself, it’s not optimal as the boss can’t be everywhere and see everything (meaning, many instances of poor performance may be left unchecked). 

Level two: Peer-to-peer accountability
Equals on the same team hold one another accountable at this level. For example, when a technician comes in late, the boss doesn’t have to address it as the other technicians will handle it in their own way (i.e., “You have to get here on time. We have a goal to hit, and all need to step up to do it.”). A simple, good-natured, respectful conversation from a peer will be much more effective in influencing performance than level three accountability. While no one wants to disappoint the boss, there’s a lot more positive peer pressure in not letting teammates down.

Level one: Self-accountability
Self-accountability means no one has to hold an individual accountable as the person does his/her job, follows the process, lives the values and does so consistently. They aren’t bribed, begged or threatened; rather, they do so as that’s who they are as human beings. They have a higher standard for themselves than anyone else could ever have for them. Some team members are at level one simply because that’s how they’re wired; it reflects their high standards. Other teammates are at level one because the positive pressure created at levels two and three incentivizes them to up their performance.

As odd as it may seem, the level currently dominating your department or organization has a ton to do with how you’re hiring. If you’re hiring people without high personal standards who are content to do only enough to get by, you’re going to spend a lot of time at the lower levels. Even after you hire well, it’s no guarantee you’ll have optimal levels of accountability. The department leader must still create clear expectations, train others to meet them, give consistent feedback, regularly hold people accountable, and model personal excellence that frees him or her to hold others accountable without being seen as a hypocrite. As always, the culture rests heavily on the leader, and ensuing results become his or her report card.

With a better understanding of the four levels, which best describes where you stand in your organization from day to day — not just at the end of the month or when your back is against the wall? Do you have people on your team who care enough to confront peers concerning their performance? If not, why; and, how can you change the dynamic?

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