Elon Musk is at it again, making bold announcements that can't help but draw attention.  This time around, it has to do with his tenure as Tesla's CEO and the unveiling of his astonishing CEO pay package.  

The New York Times reported that Musk ended speculation he might soon hand over the reins as CEO. In fact, Musk announced he's signed up for ten more years. Big enough announcement, but it pales in comparison to what comes next.

Musk also revealed that he will only be paid if he hits a series of "jaw-dropping milestones based on the company's market value and operations". 

Otherwise, he gets nada. 

Hit 80 percent of the goal? Zero. 90 percent? Zip. It's an all or nothing proposition and a corporate pay package the Times called "the boldest in corporate history".

Tesla has set a dozen goals for valuation, revenue, and profit over time--with valuation goals in $50 billion dollar increments. This pace would take the company from its current $59 billion dollar valuation to $650 billion over the next ten years. (Actually, Musk believes the company can hit a trillion dollars in the next decade)

Cosmically (or comically?) bold for a company still losing money.

If Musk delivers on each milestone he can reap a stock award as high as $55 billion dollars.

Oh, or he could get nothing. You pick.

The point is not to get you to worry for him. Musk has other income streams that will keep him from borrowing lunch money anytime soon.

The bigger point is the testament to accountability. I deliver in full, or I get nothing. Musk summed up his drive to put such accountability in place in one sentence (after first stating that it's not the possibility of a gargantuan payout that drives him): "The reason that it's important to me personally is that there are some pretty big things that I want to do."

Big goals put into Tesla over-drive by big consequences. Accountability.

Yes, I get that you can argue Musk isn't exactly the poster child of accountability with a history of big promises and big delays to boot (Tesla 3 anyone?).

And whether or not he needs the $55 billion payout or even a fraction of it given the wealth he already has is not the point. Musk chose to use a public pulpit to role model accountability. Yes, he uses public pulpits all the time for public relations, but this time, it was personal.

It got me thinking, while none of us may ever have all-or-nothing stakes in front of us quite like this, what can we do to encourage more accountability in ourselves (and others)?  Here are five things we can--and should--all do:

1. Insist on crystal clear roles and responsibilities.

Employees can knowingly or subconsciously hide behind murky role definitions to shift blame and accountability. When everyone knows exactly what's expected of themselves (and others), they're more likely to feel accountable.

I ran one team where feelings of accountability dramatically increased when we simply spelled out role descriptions (on paper) and shared each description with the team.

2. Embrace feedback.

It's critical that employees get really practiced at giving and receiving quality feedback (and yes, even get good at giving feedback to the boss). You can often short-circuit the need for anyone to feel a lack of accountability by keeping an employee on track to deliver the expected results in the first place. 

And feedback can include pushback--especially on new work requests or distractions that are preventing an employee from delivering on a commitment they're accountable for.

3. Keep commitments front and center.

Nothing reminds us to be accountable quite like reminders of what we're accountable for. One especially effective leader I worked for would kick off each leadership team meeting with a review of commitments we made at the last meeting, who had the responsibility to deliver it, and by when.

4. Understand that accountability is about improvement, not inspection.

Accountability isn't a bludgeon. It's not just about tracking results. It's also about ensuring each employee gets help to improve results and learns from shortfalls. I've seen many a leader struggle when they hold others accountable to deliver but don't hold themselves accountable to deliver enabling help.

5. Start with goals everyone can buy into.

If you start with meaningless, mandated goals, you'll barely get compliance let alone commitment. Be intentional to set goals that employees will care about and will want to be held accountable for. The most powerful goals I set connected with employees personally and emotionally; they weren't just big, hairy, numerical goals.

While most of us don't have to lay it on the line quite like the founder of the beloved Tesla car has, we all could likely do with an accountability tune-up.

Published on: Jan 24, 2018
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