American businessman Stephen R Covey said, “Accountability breeds response-ability.” And entrepreneurship demands accountability.
Accountability can be termed as the secret sauce for building a successful venture. It helps set clear expectations, creating a culture of following through one’s commitments, and ultimately, achieving success. It is really the tool that keeps an entrepreneur and his team focused on the end goal.
To be accountable means to claim responsibility for one’s actions and consequences.
While one may argue that an entrepreneur is responsible for the success or failure of their company, accountability, if established at all levels, has the power to decentralise responsibility, create more autonomy, and lead to a comparatively smoother path to success.
Setting tailored, achievable goals for each individual working in a startup helps the organisation move a step closer to success.
While building a new product or starting a new venture, one must focus on accountability and quality. Similarly, accountability towards one’s clients, customers, and even investors are crucial to establishing a sense of trust and confidence.
Manish Rathi, Co-founder and CEO of smart bus booking platform IntrCity, says, “It all starts with hiring…One must hire the right people who appreciate the value of performance and the importance of their role in the organisation.”
For this article on Entrepreneurship 101, we focus on how founders can instil accountability within their startups.
How to ensure accountability?
YS asked entrepreneurs about their experiences and suggestions on how to instil accountability in a startup. Here’s what they had to say:
Leading by example
The most simple yet crucial way to improve workplace accountability is by holding oneself accountable first. Entrepreneurs should set the standards for the rest of the team.
Subodh Parulekar, Co-founder and CEO of AFour Technologies, says, “Apathetic people are quick to point the finger at someone else or defer by saying, ‘It’s not my job.’ Leaders must send the message and show by example that delivering quality solutions are important across all levels.”
Achievable goals over lofty dreams
While expecting team members to give their 100 percent at work, it is essential to set boundaries as well. As a founder and leader, you must set clear and achievable goals for your team. When everyone understands their respective responsibilities, it becomes easier to hold them accountable.
Each member in every team must be aware of what is expected from them. This, however, doesn’t end with just assigning work. Leaders should always instil in their team the cruciality of these responsibilities, and the repercussions of not meeting them. “This will automatically juggle the psychology of the employee, making them realise their significance, and further making them feel accountable for their actions and responsibilities,” says Mandeep Manocha, Co-founder and CEO of Cashify.
Naman Shah, Founder and CEO of NowPurchase, adds that when working with different tasks and projects, he asks the project owner to scope out the deliverable themselves instead of their manager or team lead. “There is a significant increase in accountability when the project timeline is driven by the project owner rather than someone who is delegating that project,” he says.
According to Alan Mulally, former President and CEO of Ford Motor Company, “When people feel accountable and included, it is more fun.”
Mandeep agrees and adds, “Defining specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART) goals for every employee will give them a purpose. And, this purpose will encourage them to be accountable and responsible towards fulfilling these goals.”
It is essential to be genuine and transparent with one’s team. Founders should share their stories of failures and how they can do better with their team. This will not only create a culture of openness but also influence other team members to be accountable. This, entrepreneurs must ensure, should be followed at all levels and across teams. That is, each layer of the hierarchy must be aware of the objectives of their higher and lower levels.
Sometimes people who work in smaller projects do not understand how their work is related to the larger goal of the company. Therefore, it is essential to be transparent about the roles and responsibilities at all levels.
Measure the impact
Once the goals are set, it is equally essential to measure the impact of each employees’ contribution. Measuring the impact allows employees to figure out where they went wrong, how they can improve and go forward, and how they can streamline their work to reach the set goals.
Furthermore, the measurement will ensure that employees meet their assigned targets and remain accountable in the long run.
Frequent constructive feedback
“To err is human. You fall only to get up and start again. Failures and mistakes teach you lessons that no other teacher can,” says Mandeep.
Criticism, when constructive, is important for the betterment of individuals and the team. Whether they are words of encouragement or constructive criticism, entrepreneurs should deliver feedback consistently, and in clear, unambiguous sentences. This will not only ensure that the team members are not taken aback by sudden disappointing feedback, but will also help in the improvement of processes.
Similarly, people need to be encouraged when they are doing a good job. Entrepreneurs must recognise and celebrate the progress of individuals. Words of motivation help create a sense of responsibility within individuals, and motivates others to follow the same. Celebrating milestones help teams remain motivated to do better, and as a result, makes them more accountable.
How are startups instilling accountability?
We asked startups about the different mechanisms they have in place in their respective startups to ensure accountability at all levels. Here’s what they said worked for their companies:
Open work environment
At Celcius, the team follows an open-work environment. This provides employees with the freedom to grow, and take ownership and responsibility for their work. The workplace acts as a support system for the employees, giving them the space to learn and thrive while holding themselves accountable and responsible for driving growth.
Despite having software-based checks and balances in place, the founders figured that providing employees with the freedom to work at their pace and divide their time based on their workload, has proven to be the most effective in instilling the value of accountability and thereby, contributed massively to the growth of the company.
When employees view themselves as drivers of development in the company, they become accustomed to performing diligently.
Furthermore, open delegation of tasks also helps facilitate transparency for everyone in the organisation, making sure roles and responsibilities are clear. While measuring the success of a particular task, founders can then easily assess who should be held accountable for what part of the process.
IntrCity has implemented a similar mechanism to ensure smooth functioning.
One function per individual
Too many cooks spoil the broth. Similarly, too many people assigned for one job will only lead to chaos and inefficiency.
Therefore, it is essential to assign one individual accountable for a function or task, instead of having multiple people or teams take accountability for it. At NowPurchase, project owners and stakeholders are given the authority and autonomy to determine their own deliverables and timelines. Having sprint mechanisms, OKRs on a common platform where anyone can see which projects are being worked on and by whom and their timelines instil accountability among the employees.
At Celcius, performance reviews of the top leadership – COO, CFO, and CEO — are also conducted. During this, employees provide their feedback on their experiences with the leaders as well.
At Cashify, the founders are dead against micromanaging. Mandeep says that entrepreneurs should trust their employees and the team that they have built. Additionally, founders should empower the team to take ownership of tasks and make decisions.
“This might feel uncomfortable to them but eventually, you will notice that they’re beaming with accountability towards the responsibilities they have been bestowed with,” he adds.
Communication is the key
At Cashify, Naman formally communicates expectations to the pertinent individuals and has regular touchpoints to provide feedback. Every alternate day, Naman arranges team standups where everyone talks about what they are working on, where they are blocked and how they plan to execute it.
“This creates a first-level of understanding of what is going on, and this mechanism aids in keeping the timeline on track,” he adds.
Similarly, at Celcius, the senior leadership meets twice a month to gauge the performances of their respective departments. They hold each other accountable for their department’s performances and prospects of improvements in the future.
According to Courtney Lynch, author of Spark: How to lead yourself and others to greater success, “Leaders inspire accountability through their ability to accept responsibility before they place blame.”
Many entrepreneurs forget they are the role model for accountability and do not evaluate their activities to ensure they consistently practice what they preach. Therefore, it is essential for entrepreneurs to hold themselves accountable before expecting accountability from their employees.
Leading by example, building transparency, and demonstrating how one’s goals are tied to the success of the company are effective ways in which entrepreneurs can ensure that their employees know they are accountable.
To read the previous articles on Entrepreneurship 101, click here.