The word accountability is lame. It even sounds boring.
I was resistant to discussing accountability with Josh, my cofounder at Polar Notion. We were friends long before our business and it wasn’t a comfortable conversation. At first, the informal nature of our relationship seemed fitting. It felt balanced. It was 3 years into the business before we discussed accountable. This was a mistake.
Most of our indecision and inaction was from a lack of accountability. It was no one-person’s responsibility nor was it clear who has ‘in charge’.
Accountability is different than ownership. I suspect my misunderstanding is part of what made it an uncomfortable conversation. In a business, the ultimate authority rests with the owners but someone within the organization must be accountability for the vision and direction.
There is a great business framework called Entrepreneurs Operating System, which calls this role The Visionary. Without it, a business wonders aimlessly.
When you’re able to combine talented people with clear accountability, it greases the wheels of organizational growth, health, and maturity.
Without it, it can feel like herding cats.
The business world likes titles and org charts, but none of that matters if it doesn’t lead to clear accountability. Many people can participate and contribute to an outcome but someone must be ultimately accountable.
“Everything rises and falls on leadership accountability.” (I mutilated a John Maxwell quote)
Founders Three Hats
In the early days, the lines are blurred. Filing government documents, email prospects, attending meetings, defining values, doing the work… there is little consistency. As you bounce between working IN the business and ON the business, identifying the difference between your role as the founder, owner, and employee is a challenge. Over time however, the distinction becomes increasingly valuable.
As founders, we carry the initial passion, vision, and culture. These early days can’t be undone. Founders may choose to distance themselves from the business over time, but their status remains.
Stakeholders benefit from the continued growth of the business. As shares (equity) of the company are bought and sold, stakeholders change without impacting employees or founders. This could be because the needs of the business change, leadership changes, or the goals change.
Founders may sell equity in exchange for cash, advisors, or to reduce their risk.
The employee serves a specific function within the business. They can be fired and hired from daily operations as the business evolved. Founders could completely sell their stake in the business and still be paid as an employee. Conversely, founders may keep their stake in the business but cease to be involved in the day to day as an employee.
I fumbled through this the first time. It took years to articulate what now takes minutes. These resources were especially helpful:
- Traction by Gino Wickman (Book + Entrepreneur Operating System)
- Good to Great by Jim Collins (Book)
- Scaling Up by Verne Harnish (Book)
- The Raci Matrix (Article)
PS. I’m a big fan of this Accountability Chart. The most important rule, you can have the same person in many squares but only one name in each square. Accountability is singular.
Morgan J Lopes