Building accountability into your organizationWritten by Eric Kurjan | | firstname.lastname@example.org
I recently walked into a local coffee shop and instead of being greeted by the barista in the expected cheerful manner, I was just about ignored.
I am sure I was interrupting the fascinating exploits of a co-worker’s past weekend activities, but excuse me don’t you have a customer to serve? All I could think about was where I was going buy my next cup of coffee. I was observing a perfect case of poor accountability in action.
Why is accountability such a hot topic these days?
First, consider the economic impact: It’s estimated that a lack of accountability costs corporate America tens of billions of dollars each year in terms of employee re-work, missed deadlines, workplace conflicts and misunderstandings. Billions more are lost by companies that lose loyal customers because of a lack of employee accountability, typically resulting from poor customer service or a poor quality product.
These days, it seems that the organizational pendulum has swung from authoritarian to permissive. Accountability is the opposite of permissiveness.
The lack of accountability in today’s organizations protects the worst employees and hurts the best performers. Don’t believe me? Tomorrow, ask five employees who the worst performer is. They know. They’re also likely to add, “Why doesn’t someone do something about it? It’s hurting our customer service and our profitability … He’s getting away with murder, and the rest of us are paying the price.”
How do we go about fixing this situation in our own organizations? First, let’s consider what accountability is, and then define how to build an organizational culture that encourages accountability.
If you walk into a room and ask 10 people what accountability means, you’ll likely get 10 different definitions. To some, it’s something you make people do, as in “holding people accountable.” To others, accountability means accepting responsibility, but only when a project goes off course, or it’s too late to fix.
By definition, accountability means being answerable or responsible for something. Accountability involves taking responsibility for your work and the results of your daily activities. Accountability opens the door to ownership — not necessarily financial ownership — but certainly emotional and intellectual ownership, where someone acknowledges they’re responsible for some aspect of the organization.
Accountability can be understood better when you view your organization as a “system” of individuals, linked by mutuality and trust, taking personal and group responsibility to achieve something meaningful — the mission, vision and strategic position of your organization.
When it’s all said and done, a workable definition of accountability might include the following elements: Taking responsibility for your own behavior; doing what’s right consistently; demonstrating personal integrity; and actively participating in activities and interactions that support the strategy of your organization.
Let’s take a further look at accountability. Accountability is not something you “make” people do. It has to be chosen, accepted or agreed upon by the people within your organization. People must “buy into” being accountable and responsible. For many, this is a new, unfamiliar, and sometimes, uncomfortable way to work. Learning how to become accountable involves an element of discipline. Most importantly, individual purpose and personal meaning comes from accepting responsibility and learning to be accountable.
Holding people accountable is really about the distribution of power and choice. When people have more choice, they learn to be more responsible. When they become more responsible, they can earn more freedom. By being accountable, they earn the trust of managers and co-workers. When they are more accountable, they understand their purpose and role within the organization and are committed to making things happen.
Only organizations that can clearly identify, communicate the plan to their team and then execute their plan are well-positioned to be able to build organizational accountability.
A six-step framework to build organizational accountability:
- Decide what’s important (develop an authentic mission, vision, values, strategic position)
- Set goals that lead (planning that includes measures, targets, projects).
- Align systems (streamline processes and resources so all resources support the goals).
- Work the plan (assure and measure so that each employee’s plans and activities support the goals).
- Innovate purposefully (get to root causes quicker, make quicker and more informed decisions).
- Step back (assess strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats, appraise performance results).
Accountability and positive organizational change come through a new set of conversations. So, what are you waiting for? Start having these conversations in your organization — today.
Eric Kurjan is the president of Six Disciplines Northwest Ohio. Six Disciplines brings “big company” process improvement to organization looking break beyond the status quo. For more information, visit www.SixDisciplines.com/Toledo or call (419) 581-2823.