Accountability and the elf, By Angie Krieger

We are on the downhill side of yet another holiday season. Regardless of what you believe or how you choose to celebrate, December has likely been a month of gatherings, gifts, celebrations and food. For many, it also has involved year-end reviews and finalizing budgets for 2023. We have faced challenging weather conditions in moving livestock and meat products to supply the demands of our customers (as they have their own celebrations involving food). It’s enough to drive even the sanest of us crazy.

Why, you might ask, would anyone take on an additional obligation during such a busy season? An exceptionally good question — and one I would love to ask the inventor of Elf on the Shelf, a tradition which has burdened me between Thanksgiving and Christmas for the past 15 years. If you haven’t heard of this phenomenon, here is the history.

Our elf, Barry, has moved with us to four different houses, from Kansas to Iowa, and even made an appearance one year during a holiday trip to Great Wolf Lodge. Early on, it was established that Barry did not dress up or do crazy things like other peoples’ elves, but he would move every night to a new location in the house upon returning from the North Pole. He has been chewed on by our dogs when his perch was too low. He has been forgotten. He has been lost in between seasons. There is no one to blame but me for these malfunctions. I alone am responsible for the elf.

Joint accountability (as in most high stakes situations) just doesn’t work. I can delegate movement of the elf when I am traveling, but I must set clear expectations and then follow up to make sure the task was completed. Because, if the elf doesn’t move and a child is disappointed, that’s on me.

Accountability in the workplace is not much different. One of my favorite leaders often says, “who is feeding the dog on this?” when assigning follow-up actions on a project. Some ONE has to be accountable when the stakes are high. Think about the group projects you did in high school and college. Unless tasks were clearly assigned and team members held accountable, one of two scenarios likely occurred: something fell through the cracks OR one of the team members had to pick up the slack.

I have a few lessons from my experience with Barry that might help us approach holding ourselves and others accountable in the new year. (You may also know these as 3 C’s of Accountability, and this blog from Executive Leadership Group is excellent for a deeper discussion.)

1. Clear definition of the goal. In my case, Barry has to move every night to demonstrate the magic of Christmas. Pretty clear. How can we make our business goals clearer so everyone understands what winning looks like? Communication is key. And follow up with questions to ensure everyone is aligned and on the same page will go a long way.

2. Commitment to one person being accountable. This does not mean they must do everything themselves, but at the end of the day, the buck stops with them. Ensure the person assigned clearly understands their role and, if possible, the importance. This second part was key for the elf. It only took one time seeing the disappointment (and tears!) from some little girls. All of the sudden, the stakes were higher, and I was more highly motivated.

3. Consequences for under performance. My consequences for not moving Barry were clear. And in some business situations — for example, loss of business or missing a compliance deadline — they will be too. But there are a lot of times the consequences are not clear. Be willing to have tough conversations. And provide praise when it is warranted.

My girls are getting older, and Barry will likely retire soon. While he has been the bane of my existence on many occasions over the years, I am thankful for these lessons on accountability. And now, I’m off to put him away in a safe place … I will hopefully be able to remember come next Thanksgiving eve.

Bring on 2023! Happy new year to you all!