Common sense tells us that achieving critical goals requires people to coalesce around a sound plan. Sounds simple enough, doesn’t it? Yet, in practice it is easier said than done. On the one hand, in the real world a plan is sometimes not clearly defined and lacks clarity, timelines and even milestones. On the other hand, staff sometimes lacks the accountability to accomplish the individual tasks that are required to achieve the overarching organizational goals.
In real life, accountability really means one thing: the greater company good is always more important than secondary goals of the individual or a business unit. Fast forwarding that, it means employees must have a degree of adaptability that allows them to manage ambiguities, seize opportunities, and work through conflicting priorities with one single focus: what’s best for the customer in long term? What will make the customer stick and stay? What is my role really, to make that happen? Adaptability or the ability to respond to changing conditions and overcome obstacles is an element of self management (emotional Intelligence).
If this argument is correct, the decision is usually very easy; it’s the how to do it and balance the other impacts that is not so easy. “Deciding to do” is the hallmark of leaders; and it starts with actively seeking opportunities. If you liken it to football, it means that if one continues to “run old plays” we will not win many more games going forward. Not with changing customers, changing competition, changing economies. Better to get out of the zone.
But what is accountability really and what are the underpinnings? The following are some of the key elements:
1. Requirements for People
“If people make the world go round”, then true accountability means that you require your people to make it happen, to turn the customers’ world. Often, in the real world, managers shift underperforming staff around, or put backups in place to support the weaknesses or inefficiencies in others. Redundancies! Soon we have back-ups backing up back-ups backing up back-ups…a certain recipe for sub-optimal results arising from making the “easy decisions”, not the best ones.
The organization must be honest enough to celebrate success and hold persons responsible for failures. And managers all the way up to the CEO must reinforce the must-do’s and insist on the delivery of agreed results.
2. Requirements for Real Value
Expertise is often readily available for the company who is willing to pay for it. Expertise is a blend of skills and knowledge, strengthened by relevant experience. But I suggest that attitude is often more valuable. The willingness to play hard, take risks and the courage to deal with disappointments or challenges, and to see the world as it is, and not how we want it to appear, are traits that a company cannot undervalue. This means that expertise is often over-valued, in situations where it is unable to adapt new paradigms, “walk between raindrops” or to grow beyond that “certain level.” Real expertise loves to be challenged, loves to share, and loves to teach….that is how it keeps getting better.
Employee engagement is far more valuable than unengaged, play-it-by-the-rules albeit skilled employees. Just ask those Fortune 500s in the USA who are estimated to lose tens of billions of dollars each year as a result of a disengaged workforce. Better yet, ask the employee who has the correct attitude but is continually held back by those above or around them who do not encourage team work, but instead hoard information and create personal domains or “information garrisons.” These “experts” do little to understand or re-shape a company to meet the challenges that it faces; for them it’s all about their careers, their circle of influence, and their personal power.
The organization that is serious about its future must work hard to defuse this power, or to use this “one-legged” talent on a situational basis or as need dictates. And it must be prepared to let it go if it cannot or is unwilling to adapt.
3. Requirements for Upside and Downside
Often when I speak accountability, I tend to emphasize the positives in order to move the dialogue away from the “big stick.” So, the discussion seeks to incorporate the kind of culture that can come from true accountability. Elements such as empowerment, or giving people room to make mistakes, allow them to “break a fingernail” so they have the courage to take bigger leaps. Or working with people who think beyond goals and job descriptions; they thrive on expectation and convert them into real life goals. And of course they bring a kind of passion that engages others and build team spirit. The organization encourages this with an appropriate compensation plan, recognition, development and the reward structure encourages risk.
But what happens when primary goals are not achieved? Or when short term goals are consistently achieved at the expense of long term goals. Since accountability has an upside, so too must it have negative consequences. In other words, if the company celebrates successes, then it must discourage and if necessary punish poor performance and poor attitude. Any behaviour that impedes the progress of the organization must be challenged and discouraged.
4. Requirements for Milestones
Since accountability is about articulating desired outcomes and not how to get them done, a key element is to agree on milestones, in order to ensure that the goal is properly tracked. Accountability therefore means knowing what is to be done and when, and understanding the critical deliverables to meet or beat the timelines. Successful businesses know that time is often more expensive than money itself; it means you must hold people accountable for doing what they need to do within the agreed timeline. Not achieving a milestone on time is not about why it did not happen. Accountability means taking the steps to realize the agreed targets. It is all personal.
And the point is?Simply put, when the organization achieves its major goals on a consistent basis, it is fair to assume that it has a sound system of accountability in place. Then the hallways bounce back their own energy and the organization buzzes with excitement; fun!
Have you ever worked with someone who wanted more, pushed for more, even when it means that his own target will be stretched? Even when it means he can fail? And when he does not meet the stretch goals that he almost “forced” you to set, he speaks about what he could have done differently, not why he failed? I have had that pleasure, and it makes for a great organization and a culture to die for.
Is there sufficient accountability in your organization?