What Can a Guinea Pig Teach Us About Accountability? | Clear Horizon LeadershipWhen my children were young, they had a guinea pig; those lovable, little round fur balls a lot of kids had as their first pets. To be sure, guinea pigs are cute and cuddly, but they have a few downsides. One downside is the rascals like to hide in dark corners where you can’t find them for hours at a time.

Have you ever had employees who exhibit this same behavior? In my experience, every company has employees who “hide out.” These often insecure people protect themselves by controlling information and positioning themselves as subject matter experts in a narrow discipline or arcane area of the company. These are also the employees who often provoke comments from coworkers like “What does he do all day?”

Some employees transform themselves into subject matter experts just to hold on to their jobs. “We can’t let go of Sarah, she’s the only one in the company who knows______ (fill in the blank).” The business becomes more or less dependent on these individuals.

The top reason employees with little accountability can hide out in companies: a breakdown in leadership. When accountability is unclear people who are fearful can “hide” under a veil of obscurity. They are safe for a while, or at least until a new leader or peer asks:

  • What do you do?
  • For what are you accountable?
  • How do you measure success?

The answers to these questions help both the leader and employee. Leaders are no longer frustrated with the employee’s persistent underperformance and lack of clarity in the position. Employees finally know how to measure success and demonstrate their real worth to colleagues and the business.

Now imagine if you had answers to the above three questions for all your company’s employees?

  • You would have more clarity in the organization.
  • You would prioritize better
  • You would solve issues better  

With 20/20 clarity into what all of your employees do, what  they are accountable for and how to measure their success, your company can address any issue that comes along. An issue pops up, you identify the people who can solve it, and you’re on to the next issue. It’s that easy.

Your employees will love this transformation. They’ll no longer be hiding or in the dark about their roles. But to make it work, make sure you establish measures of success for every function and role within your firm. Everyone’s contribution to the company can be measured—from your receptionist in the lobby to the person in the corner office.

How are you at measuring success?

Recently, I was working with a company to establish this role clarification framework for every position in the firm. An incredulous executive assistant—I’ll call Terri—asked me how her job could have any measures of success when most of what she did all day was answer the phone for the executive team.

“How many calls a week do you receive?” I asked. “About 30–50,” Terri replied. “And of those calls how many do you answer with a smile on your face?” I queried.

She shot me a knowing smile and exclaimed, “Okay… I get it!” When Terri answered the phone with a smile, she was more energetic, confident and professional. Her success measure, or “number,” as I like to refer to it, became number of calls answered with a smile.

Every one of your employees should have at least one to three numbers that serve as success measures. These numbers are your standards of accountability. For an instructive video on how some companies establish employee accountability and measures of success view this short piece by Entrepreneurial Operating System founder Gino Wickman. You can also find a free template you can use to document and create your team’s “Accountability Chart.”

From the book The Three Signs of a Miserable Job, best-selling author Patrick Lencioni tells us what most employees dread in a job:

  1. Anonymity: Because people cannot be fulfilled in their work if they are not known.
  2. Irrelevance: Because all employees need to know that their job matters, to someone. Anyone.
  3. Immeasurement: Because employees need to be able to gauge their progress and level of contribution for themselves.

According to Lencioni, “Employees cannot be fulfilled in their work if their success depends on the opinions and whims of another person, no matter how benevolent that person may be.”

Our job as leaders is to make sure our employees don’t have miserable jobs. Keep them out of the “dark.” Make sure your employees clearly understand their roles and how you are going to go about measuring success. When this occurs, it’s a win-win for employee and company.

Want more tips on how you can lead your employees to new heights?


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