I was talking with a friend of mine, who is also a business owner. He was kvetching about some challenges he was having getting the people in his business to make the changes he wanted. My friend's company is highly entrepreneurial, on pace to do about $3 million in revenue and he's looking to position the company to do $10 million. He was asking me how Imagine Business Development might be able to help him develop a go-to-market strategy to accelerate his growth and his profit.
We got into a conversation about some of the barriers he faced to achieving such growth and the conversation turned to some of his internal barriers. While I'm paraphrasing to some degree, my friend said, "I realize that we're not the easiest company to work with. We've had quite an entrepreneurial culture and most the people here aren't really used to having accountability, but we'd be looking to you to help us get things done."
Now, I'd like to say I've never heard those words before - I can't. Actually, I hear them too often. I understand how difficult and challenging running a small or mid-sized business enterprise (SMEs) is. SMEs have to be better than the "big boys" and we're given fewer resources to do it. We rarely have access to largest pool of top talent (they're often busy slaving away for Fortune 500 companies). As the leader or member of the senior management team, there is so much you are responsible for that the most important question you find yourself asking is, "What am I not going to get done today." With all of the challenges of running an SME (and the odds against you), the one thing you can not tolerate is a lack of accountability.
My friend needed to correct some critical misconceptions before working on developing or implementing a strategy. Chief among the misconceptions is that accountability is optional. I define accountability as, "doing what you say you are going to do, when you say you are going to do it." Further, "if for some reason you are unable to, you alert any impacted parties before it's an issue." Additionally, accountability is a two way street - executives need to be as accountable to those below them on the org chart as they expect their reports to be - if not more so! In my experience, the number one reason that companies fail to build a culture of accountability is that the CEO expects people to be accountable, but fails or refuses to be transparent and accountable to the rest of the organization.
The thing about accountability is that it can't be delegated, outsourced, or rationalized. You're either accountable or you're not. Here's the other thing about accountability - it's not something that should or needs to be managed. If you have a top performer, accountability is wired in. The leader's challenge is to be clear on expectations because once you tell a top performer you expect something, they go to it. When John F. Kennedy said, "We will put a man on the moon and return him safely by the end of the decade," the engineers got to work. Kennedy's job was to provide the goods (the funding, the leadership, and the talent). Had Kennedy failed to provide the resources he would have looked stupid, rather than brilliant.
Let me put this as simply as I possibly can - developing a good strategy is useless if it's not built upon accountability. Forgiving accountability for any reason is a death knell today. And that's the part of my friend's statement that really steamed me, "we're an entrepreneurial company - we're not used to accountability." That's ridiculous, and I'm sick of hearing it (I hear from lots of people). True entrepreneurs are the most accountable people in the world. We have to be - if we're not, we go bankrupt. Here are some "entrepreneurial companies," you tell me if they have a tradition of accountability:
Lack of accountability is not entreprenuerial - it's lazy! And lazy won't work.