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5 Keys to How CEOs Can Build a Culture of Accountability

5 Keys to How CEOs Can Build a Culture of Accountability

Our Founder and CEO, Mark Moses, likes to say, “Visibility equals accountability.”

Every level of your organization needs to understand where the company’s at, where the company needs to be, and what needs to be done to advance closer to your targets every single day.

Use this five-step process to combine the right tools, clear communication, and strong leadership into a culture of accountability that will Make BIG Happen.

1. Build your boards.

When done right, dashboards and scoreboards provide essential performance snapshots that allow the CEO to track progress toward goals, identify areas of concern, and take corrective action as needed. Broadcasting those numbers to the whole company as BIG as possible sends a powerful message about just how important accountability is to your culture and success.

We typically work with our CEO coaching clients to develop these three dashboards:

Company Dashboard A summary of how well your firm is performing, displaying top company goals, initiatives, and KPIs. By regularly reviewing this dashboard, you can easily see if you are at, above, or below target. You can also use this dashboard to monitor test bullets and hold team leaders accountable for daily action items.

Cash Bridge Dashboard Monitoring cash flow is one of the CEO’s five essential responsibilities. Use a Cash Bridge Dashboard to analyze and interpret the impact of multiple variables on your cash flow. You can also use this dashboard to identify areas in your business where you’re spending more than you’re bringing in — such as brick-and-mortar stores or offices that your digital pivot made redundant — or to shore up a cash runway towards a BIG goal, like an acquisition or new product release. And if your cash flow is out of alignment with key objectives, this dashboard will act as an “early warning system” so that you can adjust quickly.

Personal Dashboard CEOs should have a personal dashboard that tracks executive goals, health goals, learning goals, and relationship goals. This dashboard will help you stay focused on your essential responsibilities in and out of the office. If your dashboard shows too many missed workouts this week, or if your reading list is piling up, take back control of your schedule and get your dashboard back in balance.

2. Set clear expectations.

With dashboards and scoreboards in place, everyone in the organization should have a clear understanding of what they need to do, by when. No two companies are the same, but high-performing firms typically use frameworks like Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) or Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) to set quantifiable and clear objectives at every level. It’s up to your leaders to reinforce that accountability during daily huddles, weekly team meetings, and quarterly reviews.

And it’s up to the CEO to hold those direct reports accountable for team performance at your weekly leadership meeting.  When you’re sitting down with all your leaders, assess whether or not all departmental goals are aligned towards your BIG annual objectives, and whether or not all departments are achieving short-term goals. If anyone is falling short, keep asking questions until you arrive at core problems. Also, explore ways that teams might cross-collaborate on important initiatives to spur innovation or accelerate progress.

3. Reward and recognize.

Your wins and the people achieving them should be every bit as visible, every bit as BIG, as your scoreboards.

Set aside time in your weekly meeting rhythm to recognize high achievers, team members who embody your culture of accountability, folks who went out of their way to help a coworker hit their own target or who went above and beyond for a customer. Cater lunch for the whole office when you pass a major milestone, or give excelling teams an extra vacation day.

And, perhaps most crucially, give your brightest and best compelling reasons to keep achieving, and to stick around. Comp structures that incentivize high performance, benefits like bonuses, phantom stock, and sabbatical time, and paths to ownership and promotion show your teams that accountability isn’t just about holding people to expectations, it’s about rewarding those who exceed them.

4. Address underperformance.

On the flip side, accountability also doesn’t mean that anyone who falls short gets fired. Mistakes happen. Reliable teams lose their footing. Superstars have a bad week. Experiments fail. Correct, learn, and move on.

Chronic underperformance requires a firmer hand. Start by working with the employee’s direct supervisor on support initiatives. Does the employee need additional training, equipment upgrades, or one-on-one mentoring? Is poor performance an individual problem, or symptomatic of structural issues that are dragging down an entire department? Do you need to hire additional staff, reassign key tasks, or scale back targets that are proving too ambitious?

Employees who have everything they need to succeed but are still falling short — even after a leadership intervention — risk damaging your culture of accountability and slowing your progress towards BIG. Consider shifting promising talent into another role where they might excel. Help employees who need to move on exit the company as gracefully as possible. And make sure culture fit is high on your list of qualifications when looking for a replacement.

5. Set an example of accountability.

Your scoreboards are lighting up. Your leaders are keeping their reports focused. Your annual targets are getting a little bit closer every day.

But how are you, the CEO, holding yourself accountable? Who’s opening your eyes to blind spots? Who’s pointing out dips on your personal dashboard? Who’s pushing you to perform better so that your company can grow faster?

CEOs need to hold themselves to the same high standards they’ve established for the rest of the company. When you make a mistake, own up to it and lay out a plan to fix it. When you fall behind the curve, schedule some extra learning time to get yourself up to speed. When mentors, trusted C-suite colleagues, or your CEO coach talk, make sure you’re listening. 

Embody the culture of accountability you want and the rest of your company will follow you all the way to BIG.

About CEO Coaching International

CEO Coaching International works with CEOs and their leadership teams to achieve extraordinary results quarter after quarter, year after year. Known globally for its success in coaching growth-focused entrepreneurs to meaningful exits, CEO Coaching International has coached more than 1,000 CEOs and entrepreneurs in more than 60 countries and 45 industries. The coaches at CEO Coaching International are former CEOs, presidents, or executives who have made BIG happen. The firm’s coaches have led double-digit sales and profit growth in businesses ranging in size from startups to over $10 billion, and many are founders that have led their companies through successful eight, nine, and ten-figure exits. Companies working with CEO Coaching International for two years or more have experienced an average EBITDA CAGR of 53.5% during their time as a client, more than three times the U.S. average, and a revenue CAGR of 26.2%, nearly twice the U.S. average.

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