Accountability is a cornerstone of any successful organization. When ownership is not clear, projects stall. Blame becomes rampant resulting in conflict and a disengaged workforce. Clear accountability, on the other hand, leads to empowered individuals that collaborate and execute successfully, giving them a high sense of accomplishment.
Although critical to success, organizations either avoid the topic altogether or fail to implement a framework of accountability that works. And the reality is that accountability continues to be one of the biggest issues for many organizations.
In a survey by the American Management Association® of 562 senior leaders:
- 21% put unaccountable employees between 30% to 50%.
- 11% of respondents think more than 50% of employees evade responsibility.
In another survey by OnPoint Consulting of over 400 senior and mid-level leaders:
- 40% reported colleagues are not being held accountable for results.
- Another 20% reported that managers do not deal with poor performers.
For many customers we have worked with over the years, we believe the problem is in the concept of accountability itself. Often referenced in negative contexts, it can be ambiguous, and easily misunderstood.
Consider the story of John. He has just been promoted to President at a large manufacturing company. He went from being a member of a generally high functioning senior leadership team into a role that’s leading them. In his first week on the job, John complained about his new senior team. “Don’t they know they are accountable to me now?” he wondered.
Confusion Around Accountability
“Accountable” and “accountability” are edgy terms. Not everyone agrees on what they mean, particularly within the context of their job. No wonder the term continues to have a negative connotation.
Some prefer the term “responsible”. Yet, when you say, “I am accountable”, and later when your boss confirms, “You are accountable”, they mean – you are taking ownership of the results you need to achieve in your job.It’s up to the individual to make things happen.
In John’s case, the promotion presented an opportunity to revisit the organizational strategy and realign the team. It was important for him as the new President to ensure the team were on the same page on the results they needed to achieve, and to have transparency on how they were going to achieve them.
For him, “accountability” meant “reporting”. He expected each VP to produce an unwieldy number of reports each week to track the status of how they were achieving their objectives.
The effect this had on his senior team is quite telling. It raised trust issues:
“Does John think I am not accountable? Is that why he wants me to produce all these reports?”
Comments about the best use of company resources became frequent as well: “Are all these extra reports I have to prepare an effective use of my time?”
What organizations need is an accountability framework to optimize team performance. It starts with everyone knowing exactly what they are accountable for and to whom they are accountable. It’s also an agreement to deliver on that commitment.
What John had in mind was to ensure that the weekly activities were aligned to the objectives that were set for each VP. This is the second layer of accountability. It’s not enough to know what results you need to achieve. It’s also about how you spend your time and focus your efforts to get there.
John’s new leadership team was used to operating at a high level – they hit most of their targets but there were still issues around long hours, and some finger pointing around who was “accountable” and for what.
A team who thought of themselves as highly effective may struggle here, and John may have gone too far in asking to know every single detail. In his desire to create a disciplined approach of staying on track, he missed the opportunity to involve his team in the discussion.
Accountability Is Empowering
Accountability is born out of commitment and buy-in – an opportunity that was lost with John’s team in this case. After all, accountability is a discipline. And mastering it is empowering.
The good news is that it’s not that hard to do. Setting up an accountability framework takes two things. As mentioned, you first need to introduce the framework in a way that motivates and engages the team to be clear about the benefits it will bring. And second, and just as important, you need a system to practice and bring that discipline to life every day.
Today’s technology offers many options to embed these in team management systems or in team optimization platforms that are web-based. When considering implementation, look for tools that are easy to use and simple to implement. Consider those that can easily integrate with your existing management practices, without overwhelming your team with just yet another tool.
When living in a culture of a high accountability, organizations get better and faster results. And everyone feels empowered and engaged, leaving them with a high sense of productivity and accomplishment.