With Remote Work, Accountability Is Everything

Success in work-from-home calls for jujitsu leadership: You get results by inspiring people who want to achieve, helping them tap into their intrinsic motivation, empowering growth and self-determination—and holding them to account.

In parts 1 and 2, we examined the four questions leaders need to ask and answer in order to make work-from-home successful and the five recommendations for replacing traditional, outdated modes of management with leadership approaches designed to work remotely. Below, a look at the critical role accountability culture plays. 

In the interest of staying connected and creating new connections, I got out of my comfort zone in 2020 and started showing up for Zoom meetings five minutes before the scheduled start time so anyone on the calls could hang out, talk about their day, tease each other about their haircuts and bond. I never would have been comfortable with that before Covid-19. But the virtual meetings tend to start on time without social dialogue, and this practice put that personal connection and openness into my comfort zone.

It’s a new world. Leaders must become comfortable with getting more personal. Emotional intelligence, or EQ, can be as important in leading a WFH org as an MBA. As someone who doesn’t have an MBA, I’d argue that EQ has more leadership value. You’ll need to learn to “read the room” and assess what helps people relax and engage in a virtual format. I’ve heard stories of CEOs taking virtual meetings while on exercise bikes and a JumpCrew manager doing important calls on their phone while in the grocery store checkout line. Those examples of disengagement aren’t likely to end well. It’s not just your employees who have to commit to this. You do, too.

There’s a flip side to this, however: accountability.

Accountability is what makes WFH work. It’s is the price of flexibility, of the freedom to work in your sweats and take breaks to walk your dog to your favorite taco place. If people working remotely don’t hit their KPIs and meet their goals, the entire enterprise falls apart. Trust withers, and without that, WFH isn’t possible. No one will give their best effort remotely when they fear that no one else is being held to the same high-performance standard.

Everyone must become comfortable with the expectation of delivering measurable outcomes. It’s your job to come up with ways of measuring performance in your corner of WFH heaven. If you’re inherently a sales org like JumpCrew, that’s easy because your people have sales KPIs. In other parts of the organization, you could be looking at projects finished, deadlines met, client responses, money saved, patient outcomes, NPS scores or any of a hundred other metrics.

Figure out what works for your business and implement it. Accountability goes hand in hand with communication, vulnerability, authenticity and ultimately trust because when people feel that the company cares about them, they’re far more likely to care back—to agree to be held to stringent performance benchmarks. They won’t feel that accountability is punishment; they’ll feel like equal partners in making sure the trains run on time.

Creating culture is like cooking. Add the ingredients and apply your skill, but your methods will differ depending on the outcome you are trying to achieve. Some organizations need a light sauté, while others need to be buried in a pit with hickory logs for 24 hours, Kansas City barbecue style. The outcome will be a blend of your ability, your recipe, the quality of your ingredients (your people) and luck.

The demands of WFH have shown us that not all organizations are built to run hard. Lots of people (maybe most) don’t want to be held accountable and pushed. Building an organization that does want those things means hiring the right people and building an accountability culture where peers and colleagues insist on the best from each other, and everybody complies because they love the work and the tribe. That takes time. You can’t just drop these ideas on people in a materially different culture and expect them to get it and enroll in the new program.

Start slow. Celebrate small wins and give yourself a break. Remember, it’s no longer your job to be the fount of all knowledge or the disciplinarian. Now, your job is to create an accountability structure and be a center of calm, rational decision-making. To provide clear direction and expectations. To facilitate continuous, healthy communication. To create a space of psychological safety where everybody can be themselves and feel seen, listened to, and esteemed.

Leadership in WFH isn’t setting a goal and checking progress; we have software and dashboards for that. Optimal long-term results no longer come from direct application of force. Success in WFH calls for jujitsu leadership. You get results by inspiring people who want to achieve, helping them tap into their intrinsic motivation, empowering growth and self-determination, and holding them to account. Bring that to a group of people who share a common vision, and you’ll create a powerful collaborative community. Your organization’s ability to do this will define its ability to innovate, transform and succeed.


Excerpted with permission from REMOTE LEADERSHIP (Amplify Publishing, Sept. 2021), now available from AmazonBarnes & Noble, and Amplify Publishing. The debut book by David Pachter is an in-depth look at what it means to be a leader at a time when this conventional role is being challenged, and how to transform an organization into a stronger and more impactful community.


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