Accountability + Reliability = Trust

You do not trust any of your staff to talk to clients because you do not know how they will respond to client requests for additional work.  As a result you find yourself working less and less on strategic initiatives that can build business.

How do you address this situation and get back to focusing on strategic initiatives?

-e-Factor!® scenario


This is a true story shared with me by a colleague during an ethics presentation I delivered. The colleague was stumped and frustrated, because the business was suffering and he didn’t know how to “turn the boat around.”

What are the issues inherent in the scenario? What advice would you give to this colleague?  What would you do if you were in his or her shoes? Even if you don’t have staff, this dilemma still applies to you, especially if you hire contractors or suppliers to outsource some of your work.

Inherently, we have an issue of trust.  But that’s not the root cause of the problem here.  Something else has caused us to take on all the work ourselves and “protect our territory”, so to speak. How do we learn to let go of control? How do we communicate our goals, expectations and preferences?  How do we set accountability so we are comfortable delegating authority, and how do we determine reliability?

If we don’t figure out a way to focus on strategic initiatives our business will suffer greatly, ultimately to the point of closing the doors. We have to learn to let go and trust. (I have a small about of experience with this one!) But in order to trust we need to establish a framework within which everyone in the organization understands their role and level of authority.  This is really the root cause of the problem.  We haven’t established this framework.  So we’re forced to trust blindly – and that translates to some as giving up control.  We also need to establish definitions of acceptable behavior so we can rely on their work. Once we establish this framework, the next logical step is to hold everyone accountable for their actions.

Easier said than done, right?  Past history, current events, cultural values, or pressures of the day all conspire to get in the way of implementing this framework and communicating effectively.  We’re afraid of miscommunicating, or we are unaware we’ve failed to communicate clearly, and we’re afraid of the potential conflicts that might occur by holding people accountable. So we let things slide. And yet, if we look at the flipside, we might just find someone in our organization that is better than we are at developing client relations and who loves doing the work!

There’s always a positive for every negative. I think it is some sort of universal law.  So what is the positive opportunity in this situation?  This situation cries out for training and development. What are acceptable responses to client requests?  How much or how little should we offer?  What can or should we charge for these services?  If our clients are asking for services, doesn’t that translate into “opportunity”? How much authority should we delegate, and when? These are all great “teachable moments” for our staff, vendors, or contractors.

Let’s bring in the staff viewpoint to round out the discussion.  If the staff sees you taking away more and more responsibility, how do they interpret this?  Do they view this as a loss of trust?  Do they welcome the lower level of responsibility? Something in between?  Our associates always seem to have a gut reaction to the loss of trust.  It’s like laser vision.  They sense it, feel it, know it instinctively.  And they respond in various ways. I’ve actually seen reactions anywhere from gleeful acceptance, relief, resignation, defiance, or even destruction of company property. The ultimate consequence is losing key employees who feel undervalued and disengaged from the business.

We forget, sometimes, that letting go can actually be rewarding; that delegating authority to others can actually provide better results than we could achieve on our own.  It is harder, because it takes time to actually define what we want, communicate that desire clearly and build the relationships to a point where we can rely on the work of others.  

So here is the dilemma:  How do we build accountability and reliability in order to make it comfortable sharing responsibility with others?

What type of framework would you create in this scenario?  Write in your comments and share your perspectives on this situation. 

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