A Twist on Accountability


In my last post, I introduced the concepts of the accountability letter and interview. ¬†Their purpose is to create clarity and alignment between an individual and his or her manager. I have found the process to be extremely powerful in companies in which I’ve recommended and implemented it, especially when leaders view them not as tools to control people but rather practices to create mutual understanding and open up constructive conversation.

Today I want to put a twist on the practice. ¬†Enlightened leaders are coming to realize that ultimate accountability is not to leaders but customers. The purpose of your work, whatever it might be, is to bring value to your customers, be they internal or external. The whole concept of “management” was put into place to control the means and way in which people accomplish their work. Although a topic for another day, traditional management practices bring lots of unintended consequences which may actually impede organizational objectives and efficiency. (I’ll talk more about that in an upcoming post.)

My purpose today is to encourage you to establish accountability to customers as a hallmark for how you do business. The sharper the understanding between you (or your employees) and customers, the less you need traditional “supervision.” Once again, these customers may be internal or external. They may be the end purchasers of your products or services and they may also be fellow workers who depend on your work to accomplish their work. In either case, putting accountability processes and reviews in place (like service level agreements) open dialogue, improve your understanding of what is really important to your customers, and will do as much as anything to ensure you’re achieving the most important measures of business success.

Although the specifics depend on the nature of the business, here is a generic outline to get started:

  1. Your value proposition to each customer or customer segment (end-result benefits they receive from you, which impact their quality of life).
  2. Scope of services and specific deliverables you provide your customer (from their point of view).
  3. Performance requirements and goals.
  4. Information and support you need from your customer in order to fulfill your commitment to them.
  5. Roles and responsibilities of all parties.
  6. Obstacles to fulfilling your responsibilities. (Not as an excuse but to make you proactive in anticipating and resolving potential problems.)
  7. List of what you need (resources, training, support, information) to successfully carry out your responsibilities.

This is not a document that can be created unilaterally. That would defeat the purpose. It must be done after seeking the thoughts and input of your customers. You go to your customers (sometimes just a sampling of customers) and talk to them about your relationship. What do you provide them? How would they describe your relationship? What is working or not working? Ask for their specific and measurable requirements that they expect you to meet (most of these need to be quantifiable). Invite them to tell you how you’re currently doing and what they need you to do differently. Clarify roles and responsibilities related to the delivery of your product or services.

Use your notes to create a first draft of your “contract.” Either involve your customer (or someone who represents a segment of customers) in writing the draft or take it back to him/her to get input. Make modifications until you have a document that satisfies all parties. Now it’s up to you to execute, which will be much easier because you have much better idea of what you are delivering and how.

You will need to adjust this process to work for you. But now you have a mechanism that to improve your line of sight to your customers and give you the specific knowledge you need to serve your customers as never before. And after all, there is no more important accountability in an organization than to your customers.

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