Remember that part in Office Space where they found a glitch in the system and had been paying Milton Adams even though he had been laid off five years prior? They resolved the issue by “flixing the glitch” and stopping the paychecks so the issue “would resolve itself” without confronting the employee. It’s a little outrageous but it’s not too far from the truth in many organizations. Corporate America teaches us to be cowards; encouraging us to avoid the issue rather than confront it – ignore it and it’ll go away. And it might not just be politeness holding us back. It might be competition where we don’t want others to get an upper hand so we allow them to flounder to protect ourselves. And yet, when things blow up, we are very quick to point blame or Monday morning quarterback (“I totally knew that wasn’t going to work”).
In the startup world, these games don’t fly. It’s your ass on the line and you’re all in it together. It doesn’t matter if someone else failed, you’re going down with that ship so you own it just as much as they do. This means that issues need to be addressed quickly and rectified before they blow up even if it means cleaning up someone else’s mess.
This was somewhat of a rude awakening to me when I started working with startups. People tend to be very blunt with one another. They’re friendly and open but they’re also going to hold you to the fire and they have no qualms about doing it – because at the end of the day, what happens reflects poorly on them. This flew in the face of my corporate sensibilities… which I learned weren’t sensible at all. Not saying something because you don’t want to be seen as the bad guy makes you the bad guy in the end when you could’ve prevented something but didn’t. I’m going to channel my college Ethics teacher – an act of omission is still a sin.
And what happens when I hold someone else to the fire? Three things happen. First, most simply, I likely prevent bad things from happening as I bring issues to light and hopefully motivate others to change their behavior. Secondly, I work harder because I know I’m under more scrutiny by exposing someone else. Finally, I gain respect as a leader. Others learn I’m not going to play around, so they can’t either.
So (Wo)Man up! Be accountable and don’t be afraid to make others accountable either. But as I mentioned, also make sure you support those who are accountable and help them course correct.