Building strong relationships – Accountability matters

If you want to build strong relationships with your partners, you need to build trust. Trust comes from being open and honest. It also comes from saying what you’re going to do and then following through on your promise. Every time!

If you have strong relationships and trust, the sky is the limit to what you can achieve. If you don’t have that basis, you will forever be the lone warrior and limited by what you as an individual can do.

Strong relationships require trust. Trust requires accountability.

Value your partner

Value your partner the same way you would like to be valued. If you need them to do something for you, explain why it’s important. Give real deadlines when you need something back, not sandbagged ones that will make life more comfortable on your end but put the other person under unnecessary pressure.

Assume maturity in their planning and hold them accountable against their promises.

Own your promises

On the flip side, your partners need to be able to trust the promises you have made. Don’t let things slip, don’t have them check back in and remind you of something you said you would do.

Close the loop on any actions you have. Do what you said you would do. Deliver in time and with the expected high quality.

Earning trust is one of my three favorite Amazon leadership principles. Here is how the official definition goes – however, in my opinion, it misses the accountability piece:

Earn Trust

Leaders listen attentively, speak candidly, and treat others respectfully. They are vocally self-critical, even when doing so is awkward or embarrassing. Leaders do not believe their or their team’s body odor smells of perfume. They benchmark themselves and their teams against the best.

Here’s a simple framework to ensure accountability

Establishing ownership

  1. If you need something – If you need something, establish explicit ownership. Get an explicit commitment. There is no half-commitment. Ownership is digital – either you own it, or you don’t.
  2. If you are asked to do something – If you are asked to do something, usually commitment is assumed. If that assumption is wrong, you must explicitly say NO. It can be ok to deprioritize or postpone something, but you have to SAY it explicitly to the requestor.
  3. Pretending ignorance doesn’t give you a free pass – Haven’t seen a task or request is not a good excuse if you did get the information. Pretending not to see something is not ok.

Following through on ownership

  1. Owning means owning – You own it, you do it, you fix it. Don’t just drop a task last minute because you have overcommitted yourself. Once you own something and realize that you cannot deliver it, YOU are responsible for finding a way to get it delivered, not the person who has asked you in the first place.
  2. Accountability is a part of the performance – Work is not a place where you make promises and then fail to meet them. When you miss something once for good reasons, people will work around it. When you miss your promises repeatedly, then you will lose trust and support. You will run into performance problems.
  3. If you don’t get support, escalate effectively – If a deliverable from someone else holds you back, you need to escalate quickly. Waiting for someone else but not letting anyone know is not a good reason for not delivering. If you need something, say it right away!

The flip side of the accountability expectation

Some organizations drive themselves into a culture of non-accountability. They do that by frequently changing priorities and not following through on things that previously have been the most critical thing to do.

If priorities change all the time, employees cannot be accountable. Period. Employees learn this quickly and resort to ignoring tasks and promises unless they serve their own needs. After an employee has missed their promises often enough and without consequence (because the leader’s mindset has moved to the next shiny object), they will have learned that accountability doesn’t matter and that they can’t control their ability to deliver what the leader wants anyway.

If requests become too much, too unpredictable, or too random, people will disengage and stop owning things. They will lose their sense of connection and accountability

If you ask for something, you need to follow through, and you must value the deliverables you get back and take action on them. If priorities do change, tell the people who are working on tasks for you about the change early enough so that they don’t waste their time and energy.

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Thriving in High-Pressure Environments
Lessons from Amazon, a global pandemic, and other crazy times
By Alfons and Ulrike Staerk
ISBN 9798718017663

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