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I’ve had the pleasure of watching my current employer, RealtyShares grow from a Series A startup with 10 employees to a Series C company of over 100. While RealtyShares’ future is unwritten, I can look back and unequivocally pinpoint the one trait that has gotten us this far: accountability.
Peter Drucker, who has been described as the founder of modern management, once wrote “Management has no power. Management has only responsibility.” Responsibility, not authority, is the role of a manager.
Accountable managers and employees possess the drive to fulfill responsibility. Accountability means achieving goals by the deadline and doing so 100% of the time.
In the absence of established constructs and checks and balances, startups really suffer when accountability breaks down. In the startup world, margin for error is razor thin — that term sheet, revenue target or customer growth metric is always just out of reach — small misses can spell the end for even successful startups. Even more, if accountability breaks down in just a small way with senior leadership, you can guarantee it will continue to erode when junior employees step in to execute on company initiatives.
I’ve now hired 12 direct reports between the ecommerce company company I cofounded and ran for five years, BeGood and my current startup, RealtyShares. I hire and train for accountability in every case. Zappos founder, Tony Hsieh says that hiring bad talent has cost Zappos $100M over the lifetime of the company. With that, it becomes clear that you cannot afford to hire bad talent. Why?
Table of Contents
1. Accountability is Commitment Throughout the Organization
If an employee is not committed fully to the success of a startup, there are obvious implications, not limited to poor productivity and missed deadlines.
Even more importantly, lack of accountability can have a ripple effect throughout startups. If one manager, department or employee “lets things slide,” the rest of the organization will eventually shift toward the unaccountable minority. “If X team is missing goals with no repercussions, why can’t my team?”
Accountability to individual and team results is contagious, in a way that can be either beneficial or destructive, depending on how you hire.
2. Accountability Breeds Creativity
When employees are accountable, they are innately motivated by success and importantly, have a clearly-defined role.
When employees are accountable to specific goals, rather than hours on the clock, they will stop at nothing to achieve — which often involves creative problem-solving. I’ve seen this during quarterly Objective Key Results planning sessions at RealtyShares. If you give your direct reports departmental goals and allow them to decide how their individual goals should meet those objectives, they will always arrive at more optimal solutions than if you simply create goals for them. Sounds obvious, right?
Making direct reports responsible for creating goals also means they are more bought into achieving those same goals.
3. Happiness is a Byproduct of Accountability
Not only has RealtyShares’ bottom line benefited from a culture of accountability, but the company has been excellent at attracting and retaining talent — I’m proud of our 4.5 star rating on Glassdoor.com.
I’ve learned first hand that accountability tends to breed happy employees. I think it’s because accountable employees are empowered at their jobs and know that their teammates are too. Imagine an environment where accountability isn’t valued — your work simply doesn’t matter as much.
Research supports this theory. According to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, accountability “improves competency and commitment to work, increased morale and work satisfaction.”
I also think accountability equates to clear definitions of success, which allows employees to live their lives! While I love work, I love a lot of other things too — if RealtyShares’ CEO knows that he can trust me to hit my goals 100% of the time — there’s no reason I can’t sneak out early to go for a run or to the beach on a nice day. And of course, I give my direct reports the same freedom.
Hiring Accountable Employees
Of course, accountability can be taught and reinforced, but better to hire people who are accountable out of the gate. I haven’t noticed any correlation between accountability and education, work experience, age or industry experience. The only way to hire for it is to tease it out during the interview process and reference checks.
I suggest starting a culture of accountability during the hiring process. During the case study part of our hiring process, I sometimes like to ask, “what would you do in the first 90 days at RealtyShares?” I give candidates a week to complete the case. Accountable employees will go well above and beyond to answer this very difficult question and create proactive goals for themselves in the first 90 days.
To grow accountability on your team, do the tough thing and hold people accountable to every goal, email query, deadline and quality standard you set. No task is too small to neglect or too insignificant to shirk responsibility. Make sure you hold yourself to that same standard. If you do not, you create a confusing construct in which certain items are worth being accountable to and others are not.
This doesn’t mean that employees shouldn’t challenge objectives that management sets. They should just be prepared to find alternate ways to hit goals if they throw the challenge flag. Accountable employees will do this every time.
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