Consider this: accountability is the next frontier in entrepreneurship and small business. Particularly in small and medium business, accountability starts strong in the beginning, when there are just a few people, then dips, as the company grows, and then rises again as the growth continues.
What is accountability? I’d like to say that it’s common knowledge, we all know it when we see it. That’s probably not good enough though, so perhaps we can say it’s a matter of setting expectations specifically, and tracking responsibility for results.
I wish I had the data to prove it. I don’t. I’ve talked to a lot of people about it. I’ve seen it in a lot of different companies, for several years. But, although the chart here may look as if it’s the result of academic research, it’s not; just purely conceptual.
This is what I think is happening:
- At the beginning a healthy startup works like a bunch of mice finding a place to nibble on a big piece of cheese. There’s much more to be done than can be done. Two or three people working together know who’s doing what, and why. They’re working shoulder to shoulder.
- The dip is a natural function of growth. You have more people as you grow, but normally that comes in a culture of everybody doing what they can, without a lot of supervision. Everybody tries, but it takes structure, and organization, to keep a hold on accountability. It also takes dealing with people more objectively. However, in a small business, these are people, the same ones who were working shoulder to shoulder. It’s hard to introduce metrics, and tracking, and then follow up together with holding people responsible for the results.
- As the company continues to grow, it develops structure. The more people, the less personal the business dealings, the more likely metrics and structure and tracking and responsibility for results are implemented.
As I consider this, it seems like a natural phenomenon, a function of the way people work in groups. It also seems like the loss of accountability becomes worse as time goes by and as change accelerates, modifying our ways of working together. We have tools to make us more productive, so we move data faster; but do we have tools to make us more accountable?
No, probably not … accountability isn’t a matter of tools, it’s a matter of behavior. At the core, it’s people who set expectations, track results, and hold other people responsible. And that’s tough.