Accountability—one of the most valuable, yet often misunderstood and misused, concepts in the car business.
The goal of this article is to shed light on what true accountability is, and what it is not, so you can apply it appropriately to get better results.
What accountability is not:
“Inspect what you expect”. While inspecting what you expect provides follow-up, and is a favorite expression of many automotive managers and dealers, it is not actually accountability. Rather it is a form of micromanagement and/or policing. Often when something does not get done many are quick to blame a breakdown in accountability. More accurately, however, it is a breakdown in policing or inspection efforts. Follow-up is good and important, but it is not as effective if the all-important element of buy-in is skipped.
What accountability is:
Accountability is confirming that others did what they said they would do. It is that simple. Commitment is the necessary pre-requisite for true accountability to take place. When others commit they are in effect buying-in, not just receiving orders, resulting in greater engagement, and better follow-through.
In other words, for true accountability to take place there must be psychological ownership. It is like what happens with a legal agreement, which requires both an offer and an acceptance—both sides must be present—for an enforceable contract to exist. People can only be held accountable for the things they have “accepted”. Hence, following-up on matters that have been unilaterally delegated or imposed will be far less effective because the person undertaking the activity or task did not provide their “acceptance” of the thing expected of them.
This is not merely semantics. The distinction is actually quite significant, fundamental, important, and critical to getting people to do more of the things you want them to do. The distinction is also rooted in biology. Neuroscience, the study of the brain, has proven that our brains are ‘wired’ in such a way that psychological ownership triggers a higher level of [intrinsic] motivation than the proverbial [extrinsic] “carrots and sticks” type motivators managers have traditionally used.
In his book Start with Why Simon Sinek describes the concept of the “Golden Circle” and how the human brain processes internal (intrinsic) and external (extrinsic) information and stimuli.
Neuroscience has revealed that the emotional brain (Limbic) drives 75% of decisions and behaviors, while the rational brain (Neocortex) only accounts for 25%. So, to get better results leaders and managers need to engage people’s emotions—things like trust, respect, relationship, responsibility, autonomy, mastery, and purpose—which are triggered during the process of gaining buy-in. To skip this important step not only bypasses the positive engagement of the emotional brain, but can actually disengage it, like when a manager uses power, position, and negativity as a substitute to force compliance.
Sinek explains how the brain processes, or engages with, the concepts of what, how, and why. What is a rational construct, which connects with the rational brain, while why is an emotional construct, which connects with the emotional brain. Hence, starting with why, rather than what, not only achieves better results, but requires less oversight. The reason is that why has to do with defining purpose and thereby engages the Limbic brain to own or take responsibility for the task. This results in higher levels of motivation and passion. Passionate people will usually figure out how to do what is needed and will be more engaged throughout the process and committed to getting it done. What, without the benefit of knowing why, bypasses the Limbic brain, thereby resulting in lower commitment, motivation, and follow-through—i.e. diminished effectiveness.
The challenge for most managers is to take sufficient time to explain why and obtain buy-in. The car business can be a fast paced environment and most managers will claim they are too busy to always give an explanation. Further, most managers believe people should just follow orders and do what they are paid to do. Hence, for expediency, and quite frankly not knowing better, most managers tell people what to do, impose expectations, and are then surprised and frustrated when their expectations go unmet. So, they reiterate their expectations, but with increased emphasis and volume. Unfortunately, this approach, which is the definition of insanity, takes even more time and produces inferior results than starting with why and getting buy-in the first time around. Another way to think about this is that telling is like giving people fish—feeding them for the day—while explaining why and getting buy-in is like teaching others to fish—feeding them for a lifetime.
The inferior impact of the telling approach is further validated by other research, which found that the average American worker is only 40% to 70% productive. This is because doing less may result in the loss of their job. So, for the sake of a paycheck most people find the threshold of what they “have to” do to keep their job. In neurological terms, money is a rational and extrinsic motivator, which only motivates people so much and for so long.
The remaining 30% to 60% of their productivity is discretionary and must be volunteered. Said another way, while a paycheck can rent a person’s hands and feet, their heart and head must be volunteered.
Here are three simple approaches you can use immediately to increase team productivity and effectiveness:
- Do less telling and more asking. Asking is like making an offer. When the person accepts your offer they take psychological ownership and will be more committed to the task.
- Don’t just tell others what to do, explain why it is important to the overall success of the team and organization. This gives others a greater sense of purpose and shared responsibility.
- After explaining why and getting buy-in follow-up for true accountability purposes. This reinforces that you are serious and that the task was actually important while giving the other person an opportunity to be recognized for doing the task, or coaching if they didn’t. Either way it will help to shape the culture for even greater productivity and engagement in the longer term.
A final thought, Patrick Lencioni, in his book The Advantage, states that most organizations will never achieve greatness because greatness is more about what you accept than what you expect.
Author: Herb K. Mast
Herb Mast is President of COHESION, inc and is devoted to helping Car Dealers engage their ultimate potential and get better results by doing things with greater intentionality in the areas of leadership, teamwork, and organizational health. Additional insights and practical solutions are available on Herb’s blog at www.HealthyDEALER.com.