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Hard Truths: Ambiguity is the Enemy of Accountability

[Originally posted 9/7/18]

On this week’s episode of Hard Truths with host Dave Anderson, Dave talks about eliminating ambiguity as a step to full accountability in your leadership.


Hi. Welcome to Hard Truths with Dave Anderson, the show where we talk about the things that need to be talked about, but the people don’t want to talk about because of the politically correct times we live in, and in our last show, we talked about accountability and the four levels of accountability, and I asked you to evaluate which best dominates whatever it is you’re working.

I also said this, and I want to build on this, that holding people accountable is not an option. It’s a duty, but it’s something you have to learn how to do. It doesn’t come to you in a dream one night. All right? It requires the right skill set and the right mindset. You have to know what to do and you have to want to do it and, even if you don’t want to do it, you have to do it anyway because it’s the right thing to do, and you prevent the cost of not holding people accountable, and my closing thought to wrap up the last show is where I really want to start this show, and it was simply this. Ambiguity is the enemy of accountability.

Let’s talk about the first step to creating accountability, and, actually, it’s eliminating ambiguity. It’s eliminating ambiguity. You’ve got to become more clear about what you expect. Otherwise, the question is accountable for what? I mean, how could you sit down with me if you were my supervisor and say, “You know what, Anderson, you’re just not cutting it,” if you’ve never clearly defined what cutting it is? You wouldn’t do that, or you’d certainly be reluctant to do that.

I believe subconsciously you have a lot of spineless, wimpy leaders today who are afraid to get too clear about what they want because then, if someone isn’t doing it, they’re going to have to subject themselves and the person to the discomfort of actually holding them accountable, so, even without realizing, they’re doing it sometimes. I believe they leave it vague, they leave it general so they don’t have to confront that type of situation, but, actually, that’s a pathetic strategy of surrender and it puts your entire enterprise up for risks. It puts it up for grabs. It’s just too much of a risk, you can’t take it, so you’ve got to get more clear.

Now, there’s four key aspects of clarity in any organization, and I talked about this in my How to Master The Art of Accountability Seminar. I hold it twice a year in our Elite Center near Los Angeles, and you say, “Can you really spend two days on accountability?” Oh, yeah, I could spend more than two, but people won’t come if it’s more than two, so we spend two days, and I always start with clarity.

The reason I start with clarity is because people forget about how important it is to accountability. They come up to you and me and they say, “You know what, Dave, we really need help with accountability. I’ve got to go give more honest feedback. I’ve got to go put in tougher consequences.” They get all hyped up, and I almost have to slow them down a little bit and say, “Now, hold on a minute. That’s important. You’ve got to give great feedback and you have to apply consequences, but that’s not where you start. You’ve got to start with clarity because, until you’re clear about what you want behavior-wise, performance-wise and so forth, there’s no way you have a good benchmark to hold people accountable.”

As I go over these four in this show, think about how clear you are or your organization is in this regard. First of all, you’ve got to have a clear vision, All right, here’s the vision. This is the vision. This is where we’re going this year. This is what’s in it for us if we get there. A solid vision is specific. It’s numeric. People have to behave in a way that will lead them to the vision. You’re vision’s going to change from year to year as your goals change.
Secondly, you’ve got to have a clear mission. A lot of you have mission statements. Nobody knows what it is and, usually, it’s not a statement. It’s two paragraphs, three paragraphs of stuff, and if people are confused, they certainly can’t execute it very well, but a mission in its most concise intent defines why you exist. This is our purpose. This is why we exist as a team. You ought to be able to get that across in one or two sentences. People cannot be aggressive if they’re confused.

A clear mission unites people. It puts them on the same page, and so, when the mission is clear, all right, now you can hold people accountable for behaving in accordance with the mission, then you’ve got performance standards, a big part of clarity, and they will change from time to time. They’ve got to be clear enough, high enough. You should have them for outcomes. You should also have them for key daily activities that are most predictive of creating the desired outcomes. They should be in writing. They should be signed off on by the team member understanding that what is expected and by when. All right, now you’re tightening it up a little bit. You’ve got to have consequences when they’re not hit, and then you’ve got to have core values.

Again, I find a lot of organizations have them and nobody knows what they are. They’re posted on a wall. They’re nothing more than décor, and people don’t even … can’t even recite them, so how can we hold them accountable for them?
These are the four key pillars of clarity, vision, mission, performance standards, and core values. Evaluate yours after this show. See if there are some work you need to do to fine tune them, to redefine them, to reintroduce them, then you have a far stronger benchmark to hold people accountable. Keep that in mind, and let me give you this closing thought.
You’ve got to eliminate gray area in your organization. Performance decreases in direct proportion to the increase of gray within your culture. If it’s gray, people hide there. Poor performers hide there. Get rid of the gray, and that starts with clarity, and we’ll visit again on another show real soon. Thanks for joining us.

Watch more episodes of Hard Truths with Dave Anderson


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