Accountability…and the Twin Realities of the Remote Workforce

The great science fiction writer Philip K. Dick once made the following observation:  “Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.” This is a pertinent insight about the importance of “keeping it real” — not just for science fiction fans, but for anyone who aspires to accountable leadership. And this legendary author’s statement is particularly relevant to a special group of leaders, those who now find themselves with direct reports who once worked on-site…but who now work remotely.

There are two potent realities that connect to the remote leadership challenge, and each of them is refusing to go away, despite the best efforts of some to stop believing in them. Each reality is worth understanding, because one of the core commitments of the accountable leader is a commitment to the truth, and this is a commitment that starts at home. Our commitment to the truth starts with our ability to tell ourselves the truth about the important issues that affect our organizations, our teams, and our own ability to lead — even if those truths take a little getting used to.

For many of the leaders I talk to, the following two points still have not yet been accepted as the facts they are.

Reality #1: Remote working is here to stay. If we are honest with ourselves, we will admit that, for many of us, we initiated a “work from home” arrangement for team members as a temporary measure, back when we thought the pandemic would be over in a few months. We told ourselves that things would be going back to normal soon. The health crisis is still very much with us, and a working arrangement that started out as a temporary expedient has become, for many companies, the way work happens. Recently, the Los Angeles Times wrote: “With no clear end (to the pandemic) in sight…employers are offering a perk that would have been unthinkable at the start of the year: Live and work from wherever you want — permanently. It is a monumental shift for corporate America, one that is forcing companies to rethink the ways they conduct business, manage employees, and shape their corporate cultures.” If you are waiting for the familiar routine of cubicle visits, conference rooms, and water cooler talk to return, you may be waiting a long time. Not only are many companies having to rethink their business plan, but individual leaders with remote direct reports are coming to terms with the need to upgrade both their skill sets and their core assumptions about what it really means to lead a team. For many of us, remote work is now a fact of life and is likely to remain so for the foreseeable future. People worked from home before the pandemic. The past year has only intensified that trend. Now that we have proven that we can do it, remote working is going to continue, even after the pandemic is gone. This is the reality, and it is one that makes accountability more important than ever.

Reality #2: Accountability is not up to the remote worker. It is up to you. This is a challenging reality for many leaders to accept, but it remains inescapable. If there is an issue with performance on the part of someone on your team who is now working away from the office, that is a leadership issue. It starts with you. You hired this person. You are responsible for the team’s performance. Lecturing a direct report about accountability, or talking darkly about “holding people accountable,” will not get either of you where you want to go. Accountability is always about the commitments between people, and commitment always begins with the leader. Accountable leaders make ten specific commitments to the people they lead, regardless of whether those people or working on-site or off-site. Those commitments are:

  1. Commit to Help People To Grow and Reach Their Potential
  2. Commit To The Truth
  3. Commit To The Values
  4. Commit To “It’s All Of Us”
  5. Commit To Embrace Faults And Failures As Well As Opportunities And Successes
  6. Commit To Sound Financial Principles
  7. Commit To A Safe Space
  8. Commit To “My Word Is My Bond”
  9. Commit To Stand Strong With You When All Hell Breaks Loose
  10. Commit To A Good Reputation

If you have a team member working off-site who is not performing in the way you want them to perform, here is the uncomfortable reality of your situation: improving the level of accountability starts with you, not with the employee! Think about it. There are really only two possible explanations for the problem you face. Either you made a bad hire or assignment…or you have not inspired the employee, through your own personal example, to live the ten commitments outlined above on a daily basis. Both of those are leadership challenges that you, and you alone, can fix!

Accountability is not about tactics. It is about fulfilling your relational commitments to other people, which means it is about what is in your heart. Tactics can only take you and your company so far. What is in your heart is unique to you, and that is what you connect to people through. It is through your heart that you will build an army of people who will stand by your side on the darkest of days to ensure you are successful — regardless of where they happen to be doing the work!

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