"People do their best work, when they know they’re going to be given credit for their contribution. So there has to be certain amount of autonomy in people's work so they can contribute without reservation."

- Accountability, page 23

Accountability is a word that brings to mind all kinds of negative words: punishment, character assassination, micromanagement, and frustration, just to name a few. It can be all of these things, but it doesn’t have to be. Greg Bustin, in his excellent book Accountability: The Key to Driving a High Performance Culture, believes accountability has both a negative and positive side. The positive is a clever switch of mentality to “see what happens if you do your best” as opposed to “what happens if something is not achieved”. It is a leader’s responsibility to make accountability a support structure rather than one of blame.

As leaders we must come to terms with holding people accountable, which Bustin describes as getting from point A to point B. Unfortunately, accountability is easy to understand but exceedingly difficult to implement and sustain. We allow emotions to dictate our behaviour and we delay difficult conversations with poor performers which in reality is self-avoidance rather than accountability.

Greg Bustin explains how companies and leader can develop and sustain a high performing workplace culture. Very briefly consider these four factors:

  • Set clear expectations around vision, objectives, strategies, rewards and penalties.
  • Do not delay discussing performance issues; bad news does not improve with age.
  • Don’t make it personal. Leave emotions and opinions behind.
  • Find your sweet spot of accountability. “…do what you love with people you care about in a place you care about”. The sweet spot is where your personal core values coincide with experience and interest.

Before embarking on this accountability journey, you must first hold yourself accountable. The good news is that a high level accountability within organisations virtually ensures success as opposed to relying on purely financial, intellectual or technical ability.

The Big Idea

The Big Idea: The biggest takeaway from the book

The seven words you should never say

"If you are serious about improvement you must be committed to consider new ways of running your business. Do not change your principles. You must however, be willing to look critically at changing your practices—your business proposition, your programs, your people—to evolve and propel your organisation to the next level of success."
- Accountability, page 242

Customers’ needs are rapidly changing, particularly in today’s climate and as a leader you must be always evolving. Change is probably one of the most difficult procedures to implement and it takes courage, conviction and clarity in communication. Business tends to ignore the human elements that accompany change including emotional complexities, behavioural resistance and diversity of perspective.

Planning is paramount to change, either to make improvements or to continue things that are working or alternatively to eliminate things that are not working.

The seven words you should not use if you want to evolve are: “We have always done it this way.”

On the flip side of these seven words is the negative statement “We’ve never done that before,” which will also kill efforts to adapt and renew performance. Words matter, so use them wisely.

To evolve, remember the following:

  • Dig for gold versus spotting mistakes.
  • Look outside your industry for inspiration.
  • Eliminate the seven words, always/never done that.
  • Constantly ask questions.

You have a clear choice, to continue as you have done or to invest in learning to address change.

Insight #1

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life


"Are you really, truly committed to your people? I don't think you can hold yourself out as having that commitment unless you sustain training over time, especially in challenging times."
- Accountability, page 128

Top performers want to improve. Continually ask: What’s working, what’s not, and how can I help?

Bustin discusses a program designed to implement training within organisations designed around the following principles:

  • The principle of influence. Encourage the mantra that not everyone can be the leader but everyone can be a leader. Robin Sharma’s The Leader Who Had No Title comes to mind.
  • The principle of others. Get to know your employees by name, trust everyone to be worthy of your best.
  • The principle of vision. Become the chief encouragement officer.
  • The principle of positivity. Remain positive despite circumstances.
  • The principle of mission. Live a life with integrity and with an emphasis on relationships.

To grow your business you must grow your people. The gap that you and they are facing often is not a skill gap, it’s a leadership gap. Skilled and talented leaders often lack vision, confidence, interpersonal dexterity and judgement and your most important asset, your people.

Re-examine your assets, time, energy, and invest in your people’s training; not being proactive with training can cost a fortune. Let employees own their careers.

Insight #2

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

SWAT Analysis

"The beauty of the process is that value is received by the CEO being SWATed as well as members of the SWAT team who are making the visit."
- Accountability, page 270

To minimize surprises within companies, Bustin suggests incorporating a SWAT analysis. The term is borrowed from the military term, “special weapons and tactics unit” as opposed to a SWOT analysis.

Have CEO’s from non-competing companies visit your organisation and meet privately with your employees without the boss being present. Based on their responses to questions they receive, the SWAT team report back to the CEO with their recommendations.

The benefits of the SWAT team are:

  • Increased knowledge and group bonding
  • Team learning
  • Uncovering hidden issues
  • Sharper focus on hidden issues
  • Higher levels of accountability

The process is mutually beneficial. CEO’s pick up new ideas and new approaches, as well as gaining a better understanding of where their employee’s engagement lies.

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Peter Taylor

ABOUT Peter Taylor

I have owned and managed a veterinary based business on the west coast of Australia for 18 years. No one at Veterinary school gives us any clues about running a business and it is only in the last few years that I have started to study business and management...
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