Author Profile Picture

Matt Somers

Matt Somers - Coaching Skills Training

Founder & Managing Partner

Read more from Matt Somers

googletag.cmd.push(function() { googletag.display(‘div-gpt-ad-1705321608055-0’); });

So, what is your job?

Executive coach, Matt Somers, breaks down the issue of accountability into an explanation we can all understand...
silhouette photography of people gathered together on cliff

There’s an old story, I’m not sure if it’s true but it goes like this:

US President John F Kennedy was visiting NASA in 1961. While he was there, he shook hands with hundreds of members of the NASA team. At one point, he shook hands with a man wearing a janitor’s coverall.

“What do you do?” asked the President.

“Why, I’m helping to put a man on the moon Sir!” said the janitor.

Contrast this with conversations about work and roles we may have at networking events or even social functions.

When we ask people, what do you do at work or what is your job, they tend to respond with their job title or a description of what they do and the activities they carry out. But they likely won’t describe their job in terms of a purpose or the results they are expected to achieve.

Had our janitor thought this way, he might have told the president that he mopped floors or emptied bins. But he was part of one team with one shared vision and set of results, so he knew that keeping the place clean and tidy was an important part of the overall mission.

Accountability begins here

In my work as an executive coach, I often hear senior leaders bemoaning a lack of accountability. They want their people to align with the organisation’s purpose and aims, like the janitor, but are often unable to articulate those things in terms of the results they need people to achieve.

And that’s where accountability begins by clearly defining expected results. Otherwise, what are we holding people accountable for?

Lack of clarity can also lead to focusing on activity instead of results.

I have often found that senior management teams are unable to clearly define the key (ie high-priority) results their organisation needs to achieve. Leaders will talk about results, but it appears they cannot articulate or align around the most important ones.

It means they are effectively asking their people to be held accountable for things they are not clear about, which can feel incredibly demotivating and frustrating.

When we talk about creating greater accountability, we must begin with clearly defining what our people are accountable to achieve.

Lack of clarity can also lead to focusing on activity instead of results.

What is the difference between activity and results?

Activity is ‘things people do’, but does all activity lead to results? 

Yes, all activity produces results, just not necessarily the ones we want.

If someone attends an important health and safety briefing but plays games on their phone the whole time they’re there, their activity has produced the result of keeping them amused but has their employer produced the result they’re looking for?

When it comes to improving a sense of accountability for achieving results, it is critical to make this distinction between activity and results.

A step that leads to an outcome Describes what you do  How you do itThe actual outcome Describes what you get Why you do it

What if you made the following change in your thinking…

Doing the job and achieving the result are one and the same

Or, put another way, the job is not done until the results are delivered. 

Just imagine if everyone in your organisation started thinking their job was to achieve results. What an impact that would have! 

Let’s look at one example, from a client of my firm Culture Partners.

The restaurant story

When asked about their key results, the senior team of a major restaurant chain were aligned in their answer. They said the result was a “profit margin.”

But when asked “Well, What's the number?” their response was less lined up.

One person on the team confidently responded with “3%,” another said it was 5%, and a third person, with equal certainty, said, “No, it is 7%”. 

When the CEO was asked to clarify, she sat back in her chair and explained, “Well, they are all correct. It is somewhere between 3% and 7%. The 3% is what we told Head Office we would deliver, 5% is what we think we can hit, and 7% is our stretch goal.”

All the dots were connected.

Having multiple measures like this for results is not uncommon, but it is also not clear. With this confusion among the senior team, imagine where the rest of the organisation was trying to focus on their priority results.

The senior team eventually got aligned and agreed the number they needed to hit was 5%. They communicated that clearly throughout the entire organisation—all managers, waiters, kitchen staff—everyone.

“That’s what I do”

If you walked into any other restaurant, stopped someone cleaning a table and asked, “What is your job?” you might well hear a response like, “I take the dishes back to the kitchen, sweep floors, and take the rubbish out.” Activities!

But not at this restaurant chain. They were so effective in helping everyone understand the key result and how each job related to it that the response you would hear was: 

“My job is to deliver a 5% profit margin, and here is how I do that: the faster I clean tables, the more people we seat each hour. The more people we seat, the greater our contribution. The greater our restaurant's contribution, the greater the profit margin for the company and the bonus for me. That’s what I do.”

Now there was a clear result and clear accountability for achieving that result. All the dots were connected. As a result, over the next 18 months, they delivered a 200% increase in profit margin—with no new menu items, no new policies, no new procedures—just a new way of looking at their job and the results the organisation needed to achieve.

We can see how this mindset shift helped that organisation, let’s now apply it to yours.

So, what is your job really?

To help answer this question in an accountable way, consider filling in the gaps in this phrase:

“My job is (a key result linked to purpose or vision) and the way that I do that is (two to three specific relevant tasks)

This is where accountability begins. It takes a little time and effort to create the necessary focus and clarity around key results but a lot less effort than it took to put a man on the moon!

Interested in this topic? Read Mastering business alignment: A strategic guide for today’s chief learning officers

Author Profile Picture
Matt Somers

Founder & Managing Partner

Read more from Matt Somers

Get the latest from TrainingZone.

Elevate your L&D expertise by subscribing to TrainingZone’s newsletter! Get curated insights, premium reports, and event updates from industry leaders.

Thank you!