We expect leaders and employees to be accountable. But in today’s complex environment, companies face two challenges when establishing a culture of accountability. First, employees are held accountable for executing on plans that are no longer relevant. Second, in more complex organizational structures, employees don’t understand how their work connects to company objectives and who is responsible for results. These two issues lead to poor accountability and decreased trust across teams.
The original plan no longer makes sense, so I shouldn’t be held to it
The term “accountability” carries a negative connotation for many employees. To them, it often means holding oneself responsible for something they committed to or “doing what you said you were going to do.” This sounds good in principle, but in today’s complex business environment, the course of action an employee or team originally committed to may quickly become obsolete. Plans need to be adjusted to achieve the desired result, and thus the standard of accountability (i.e. “I did what I said I would”) falls short.
Building a culture of accountability requires re-thinking “accountability” to mean ownership of outcomes. Rather than being held to a specific plan the team committed to at the beginning of the year, teams should continuously adapt to achieve peak performance. Employees should still be accountable for producing results, but they should also have the flexibility to innovate and produce those results in a way that is most appropriate for the conditions they face.
Complex org charts and the blame game
Managers are first in line to take credit for success, but they are often nowhere to be found when things fail, — as the saying goes, “Victory has a hundred fathers and defeat is an orphan.” In modern organizations, work required to achieve results spans teams, business units, and management chains. So, managers tend to point fingers elsewhere when a target is missed. As Ron Askenas notes in HBR, “It’s easier for managers and employees to say that they did their jobs well, and any problems must have been caused somewhere else.”
There are steps you can take to help your organization drive accountability. CrossLead offers a flexible planning tool that enables teams to adjust their plans as needed. Leaders assign ‘owners’ for initiatives, as well as the metrics by which their success will be measured. The real value comes from connecting initiatives across teams together such that dependencies are explicit rather than implied. Teams are made aware of the impact they have on one another. Formally linking dependent work together as a part of the business plan forces “the blame game” to shift to collective accountability — “How can we work together to achieve our shared objective?”
At CrossLead, our mission is to help teams achieve and sustain peak performance. A culture of accountability alone does not guarantee the success of an operation, but its absence guarantees failure. Reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org to find out more.