Accidental Entrepreneur: Accountability
Welcome to my 19th weekly article as this week is called “Accountability.”
Accountability is critical to achieving success in completing projects & building companies.
In my career I have leveraged two philosophies: Trust but Verify & Disagree and Commit to create a healthy culture of accountability which led to a tremendous amount of success.
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“இதனை இதனால் இவன்முடிக்கும் என்றாய்ந்து
அதனை அவன்கண் விடல்”. — திருக்குறள் (517)
“After having considered, ‘this person can accomplish this,
by these means’, let (the king/leader) leave with him the
discharge of that duty” — Thirukkural (517)
Good people make a difference and help you succeed in all kinds of tasks, easy or difficult. Bad people can destroy a good thing that gets in the way of success and happiness. There are many ways to define the good and bad people, which can be very subjective as well as hearsay based. I try my best not to classify people just from others words or my perceived notions of their intentions. Rather I look for Accountability of people with how they interact and react to given situations. Accountability with set expectations for performance would provide measurable characteristics to determine a person’s intentions and capability. Let me explain with a few examples.
Trust but Verify: During the early part of my career I worked with very experienced managers and engineers. Since they came from working in US government projects, they had a very good sense of writing and documenting their work. In addition they taught me how to work on very large projects by breaking them down into smaller chunks and defining clear interfaces between the chunks and telling each team to focus on delivering in each area. This provided each of them with precise deliverables and expectations. Once these tasks are assigned it is expected to be delivered by the team.
Now the “Trust but Verify” part comes into play. It is expected that the team is capable of delivering to their assigned tasks, otherwise they won’t be on the team. Most of the engineers would be very confident, sometimes overconfident, on completing the tasks. As a manager, it is our responsibility to keep an eye on the progress. This is where the “Trust but Verify” concept applies. By trusting the team to execute successfully, a manager enables the team to build confidence and increase the productivity of the team. This helps scale the project as the manager isn’t required to babysit each task. On the other hand, the manager shouldn’t just blindly trust the team is doing the right thing and check on at the end only. Early detection of the issues can help redirect or re-architect the design earlier and avoid project delays. By Verifying regularly and checking on progress, the team collectively achieves the goal with minimal delay and maximum success/happiness. This is the first kind of accountability from both engineers and employees for successful execution.
Disagree and Commit: This is something I have seen that “bad” engineers have problems with. In very complex and large projects, there are many aspects of the project that a single engineer may not be aware of. Managers and team leads who work with product marketing, sales and customers may have a deep understanding of product requirements as well as the intended use cases. An engineer working on a portion of the design may not understand the overall requirements.
It is important for everyone to bring up their concerns and articulate clearly the reason behind the concerns. Since these are complex projects and potentially different customers have different environments, past experiences may not apply in these situations. After healthy discussions and disagreements, it is important to agree to disagree on such concerns. Once the discussions are completed and decisions are made, it is important to commit to the final decision of the team, even if you disagree. The reason is that the manager or lead may know something, you may not be aware of as well as if everyone else follows the overall plan and you do not follow it, there is a higher probability of failure. By following the overall team’s plan would help get either a cohesive solution or solve the issues as the team. This is another important aspect of Accountability and not committing to the team goal reduces the success rate significantly.
Accountability in simple terms is that one delivers what one promises. Nuances of it are very important that both managers and engineers need to understand by respecting each other’s knowledge and boundaries with mutual trust. Once the trust factor is established it is important to verify along the way that any new learnings which would change the plan. On top of that it is important to avoid “disagreeing” people creating trouble by not committing to overall success of the projects. By establishing accountability from both parties, (managers/leads + engineers), it becomes easy to work through major challenges and create great products/ solutions. Have you seen these behaviors in your work environment where lack of Accountability created negative results? Love to hear from you…..