Operations and Accountability: How to Trigger Results

Heard this story before?

That’s Not My Job
“This is a story about four people named Everybody, Somebody, Anybody and Nobody.  There was an important job to be done and Everybody was sure that Somebody would do it.  Anybody could have done it, but Nobody did it.  Somebody got angry about that, because it was Everybody’s job.  Everybody thought Anybody could do it, but Nobody realized that Everybody wouldn’t do it.  It ended up that Everybody blamed Somebody when Nobody did what Anybody could have.”

In nonprofits and associations, or really any complex organization that works with people and stuff, how you design your operations plays a vital role in how successful you are. When there aren’t clear lines of responsibility and accountability, systems fail. When you do have a clear plan, the saying goes that “accountability triggers results“.

What does accountability mean though?

I always like to think of the definition of accountability as “who answers for it?”. It’s further reaching than even being responsible…as you can delegate responsibility but not accountability. Understanding the difference in these definitions is incredibly vital as you design organizational charts, volunteer and board positions, as well as training to help people understand their place and roles they play.

Back in July, I spoke on a PSAV panel with other nonprofit management professionals around how to best help organizations achieve business success and operations with their partners. I got four great takeaways for my own business practices:

1) It Takes a Village for the Big Picture
Just like the saying above, many times “anybody” could do the very important thing. But it’s tough to identify who those people are without an understanding of the Big Picture as well as the blessing of the membership, board, leadership, etc, that wants overall organizational success. Help the process by having a clear cut strategic plan that allows for clear cut role assignment. Having your board or advisory committee provide the CEO/ED/President with their vision and then empowering them to take action ensures that the membership’s (village) investment is forefront, while not getting down into or in the way of internal, tactical operations.

2) Remember, Like Highlander, There Can Be Only One

via frabz.com

via frabz.com

Even though it feels like sometimes, when a project, program, or initiative goes well, it’s everyone’s success, there is still someone in the background who has been carefully (one hopes) shepherding the execution of said “thing” along. And usually, you don’t always know that person’s name, until the opposite happens, and that person gets to answer for the outcomes. Accountability is a tough thing to give to multiple people. Assigning one person who is accountable for the results, good or bad, you allow that person to have skin in the game.

It shouldn’t always be your CEO/ED/President either. You’ve likely spent a lot of time and money recruiting, hiring, training, and polishing your staff leadership team, whether C-Suite or director level. Use, engage, and help them get better at being accountable by being the “one” who is accountable for your next big initiative.

3) Accountability Means Letting People Do Their Jobs, Which Sometimes Means Failure
Most people hate failure.failure meme

In order to truly be accountable for something, though, people have to feel that the “thing” they’re executing is truly theirs. And that means not getting in the way when failure comes. And if/when failure happens, helping that person understand what being accountable means. Before you give the reins to the person, take the time to talk through any and all (as much as you can) expectations that come with the accountability. Clearly state the outcomes of what happens if it goes well, average, or poorly. We’re human, which means we can’t provide absolute perfect information to help guide results, but if you’ve taken the time, you can come incredibly close.

Many leaders are ingrained with what a CEO friend of mine calls “the responsibility gene”. They hate to see others fail because most of us are incredibly high achievers. But without failure, you don’t learn. And if you stop learning, how will you get better?

4) Communicate, Over-Communicate, and Then Maybe Use Smoke Signals
“Nobody realized that Everybody wouldn’t/couldn’t/didn’t do it”
Once you figure out who’s doing what, tell everyone about it, in as many mediums as you can. Redundancy is okay here. This goes far past transparency, this is an operational imperative that helps everyone know who’s doing what. It helps alleviate issues big and small: who’s in charge onsite at an event, who straightens out a mixup with who needs to pull the reports for the membership numbers, who talks to the press, how the IT privacy controls should work with a “bring your own device” policy, the list could go on. You should never hear the words “I didn’t know that was my job”. if you do, you’ve failed as an accountable leader in helping your staff, volunteer, or board member realize their potential.

Leadership doesn’t happen in a vacuum, neither does good operations execution and management. What are some ways that your organization is triggering results?

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