If team members don't know what winning looks like, they will get lost on their way to the summit. Without a clear vision of the destination, how could they? To achieve uncommon goals in today's interdependent and complex world, information workers must collaborate more than ever, including removing obstacles and powering through disappointments.

Many hoping for extraordinary outcomes fail to do two obvious things at the outset:

  1. Establish a crystal clear description of the destination ("we are striving to be change how customers buy X"), and
  2. Assign clear metrics to establish accountability, such as "we will grow at 8 percent per year, generate a $X profit, and achieve a net promoter score of 65." 

With a description of the destination and the milestones leading to this peak, the team itself can develop the tactical plan for execution. In other words, they know, who is going to do what, by when, with what deliverables, and at what cost. Who better to answer such questions than those closest to products, services and customers? And if they own the tactics because they designed them, the results will take on meaning denied if imposed from above. If imposed, the best anyone can hope for is compliance.

Not only does the path grow dark without milestones, but trust erodes. The reason for this is that leaders are inclined to intervene when they've not clearly established the destination and defined the milestones. Constant interventions will make leaders appear inconsistent or confused and the team dependent on direction. For any team to own the vision and the metrics for the ascent, they must design the tactics.   

Here are four rules to consider when attempting to create a culture in which accountability increases mutual trust:

1. Rigorously define winning as a destination, not a process.

Wishes are not goals.  Nebulous outcomes don't inspire. And ever-evolving directives demotivate teams of otherwise capable members. Process words such as "striving," "attempting," "working on," "planning to" are all expressions of direction or intention.

Goals, however, come as destinations. It's much better to "Beat Coke!" (Pepsi's once-articulated destination) than to strive for something no one can measure - or worse - even know when it has been achieved it (i.e., Pepsi's new goal: "to provide consumers around the world with delicious, affordable, and convenient and complementary foods and beverages from wholesome breakfasts to health and fund daytime snacks and beverages to evening treats").

2. Assign resources.

To understand how vital is this element of goal-setting, imagine trying to complete a new facility without a budget, a timetable or a program that defines usage. Goal achievement depends on a) resource allocation, b) defined deliverables, c) specific timetables, and d) fully-empowered champions. Without all four elements, the so-called goals become irritating hopes about to be dashed.

Businesses that carve up responsibility, power, and accountability ensure cost overruns, delays, and frustrated team members. When no one is completely empowered or totally accountable, trust shrinks -- and with it, the potential for assigning blame increases.

3. Make team members champions.

Harness the know-how that comes with those closest to the process with the accountability that comes with trust. Give team members projects with big-picture outcomes. Most will rise to the occasion. And if you have measurable milestones in place, you'll have an early-warning system for intervention if off budget, behind schedule or if the anticipated benefits begin to drift.

4. Thank team members.

The best leaders know that they should step aside and let a team members take the applause when helping the organization to win. Expressing gratitude is the last element of achieving goals that many forget.

A final thought: Accountability may, initially at least, feel like mistrust. Skeptics might ask you or your subordinates, "Is it really trust when asked to account for the power you've been granted?" The answer, unambiguously, is yes. Indeed, accountability secures the trust needed to achieve great outcomes.