Good afternoon NMC community! I hope you are all enjoying the beauty of northern Michigan in the winter. I have been exploring the region on several hikes and am just awestruck by what I am seeing! I am also thoroughly enjoying meeting with you, learning more about our college and being able to share my thoughts on strengthening our teams in these weekly Intercom posts. Thus far, as I’ve sought to introduce the ‘Five Behaviors of Cohesive Teams’ to afford our College community a framework for building a strong NMC, we have covered: trust, conflict and commitment. Here, I turn our attention to the fourth behavior, accountability; before concluding next week with results. But next week is not an ending, rather, it’s a beginning.

These are behaviors, proven by research, that lead to more effective teams and organizations. They are espoused values. The degree to which such espoused values are lived (e.g., actually practiced within NMC) determines their real impact. I have consciously sought to role model the behaviors with my direct reports – my team – in the President’s Council, and in all of my daily interactions with the college and community. That said, I am conscious that I have a leadership practice – emphasis on practice – and, the challenge (for me, and all of us) is to try on the behaviors, to practice them. In addition to my role modeling, we will dedicate a part of each of the next five Leadership Council agendas, to afford us practice time with the five behaviors. Together, we must begin to hold each other accountable to practicing these behaviors.

Practice, Practice, Practice. Practice is especially important when we consider that in a global study reported in the Harvard Business Review, 46% of managers were found to be poor at holding people accountable. The finding was the same for executives and directors. And, it held up across different cultures. The research clearly shows that accountability is a characteristic of high-performance teams and organizations, yet, we still struggle doing it

Why is it so important? Accountability is important in teams and a hallmark of the most effective organizations. Accountability among team members drives greater trust, productivity and innovation. Accountability frees team leaders from having to constantly micromanage their team members. For a team to get the best results, team members must be willing to hold each other accountable – to call one another on behavior or performance that doesn’t meet the standards the team has agreed on, or that hurts the team. Simply, accountability is how we turn commitment into results.

How can we do it better? In most teams, people rely on the leader alone to make them accountable. But in the most cohesive and effective teams, everyone is accountable to each other. Shared leadership and collective ownership of the desired outcomes is the most effective source of accountability, and the greatest form of team strength. Being able to go to people directly to hold them accountable is the quickest and best way of getting things done. But it can be scary!

  • Accountability is different from conflict – in conflict you are disagreeing about ideas, its objective. But with accountability you are challenging people about their behavior, and while it can feel very personal, it’s about dealing with a specific behavior and not about the individual as a whole.
  • Accountability and responsibility are often conflated, and while both concepts have similarities, there are important differences. Consider a team member who’s been given a task to fulfill. By accepting responsibility, the team member is agreeing to take charge of the task. But by accepting accountability, the team member is agreeing to be answerable for the success or failure of the task. This is why focusing on accountability, and not merely responsibility, is essential for optimizing team performance.

How are we doing at NMC? Are we doing what we say we’re going to do? Do we show up on time for meetings, and end meetings on time (according to the agenda)? Do we follow through with action items? More importantly, is it the team’s leader that ‘enforces’ such behavior? Or, are team members willing to hold each other accountable.

Here are some key things for us to remember, and practice, when it comes to making accountability part of our team culture:

  1. Maintain Trust
    Maintaining trust is so important. Trusting each other that we are all there for the right reasons, committed to the team, and working for the same results – to help support student success.
  2. Think of Feedback as a Gift
    One way to think about it is that feedback done in the right way is like a gift. We do people a favor by letting them know where they can improve, and what’s impacting others by not meeting the standards set by the group. It’s about honesty and caring for each other, respectfully giving people a gift of feedback. What have they done well? What could they do better? And asking for that feedback from your team members for yourself too.

Lastly, let me share this perspective on how NMC is proving itself as accountable. Clearly NMC has a responsibility to our owners – our students, taxpayers and citizens of the region and state – to provide affordable and accessible education to the communities we serve. NMC has accepted this responsibility, but has also accepted accountability. This past week we announced that NMC had set several new records with its scholarship figures for the 2019-2020 school year. $1.28 million in scholarships to 964 students, with $11 million raised for scholarships as part of the “Be What’s Possible” campaign. This is just one of many examples of how all of you – faculty in the classrooms, staff throughout the college, engaged community partners, and, of course, generous donors – demonstrate how we’re all ultimately accountable for helping ensure student success.