Empowering Accountability first and foremost occurs in the overt actions of leaders, such as communication. Other equally important actions include quality of strategic thinking, planning, design of strategic initiatives, sustaining execution during hard times, learning from experiences, and sustaining momentum until desired results are achieved. All of these actions are part of what is required to be a leader in a complex world.
Often, I am asked, “How can I see accountability in my organization”? The answer to seeing actual accountability in your organization is watching the action. That is, the manifestation of accountability is action. Actions shine a bright light on executives and managers being accountable, or the lack thereof. The effectiveness of your organization is determined by the degree to which your leaders hold themselves to account for their actions, communications, and results.
Executives must act from being accountable for all the results, not just the ones they like or those that make them look good. Leaders’ actions must include communication about decisions made and intended results from these decisions and actions. Employees pay very close attention to executives’ and managers’ actions and non-actions, what is talked about and what is ignored, what is rewarded and punished, and the support given for those in the organization who step out and try to lead.
Empowering Accountability is created by leaders in order to carry out their roles. These roles include aligning people, communicating goals, developing commitments, motivating, and inspiring. Empowering Accountability creates a new context and collaborative environment for people in the business. This clarity of accountability energizes your people to step out, to be more creative and resourceful in seeking breakthrough opportunities. This energizing is the evidence of leadership. Therefore, accountability and leadership are inseparable, as leadership is seen in the inspired actions of others.
Leaders are responsible for imagining possibilities, then turning possibility thinking into an inspiring shared vision, per Kouzes and Posner in their 2002 book, The Leadership Challenge.
Empowering Accountability allows your people to experience being trusted and enabled to take action and see the consequences. Seeing the consequences is essential to fine tuning and ultimately achieving a result. Yet, much too often there is not an environment of accountability, which limits the effectiveness and satisfaction of people.
Accountability Establishes Clear Expectations
Successful execution of growth strategies requires extensive communications and engagement to assure your people know and understand what is expected of them. People will not be accountable until they fully embrace the expectations. Assumptions that “We told them” means “Our people know and understand our expectations and are on board with them” is one of the prime reasons strategic execution projects fail. That is, executives and managers assume that “We told them, so people know” is dangerous. Also, it simply does not work.
Don’t assume your employees know what is expected. An email, town hall meeting, or video alone does not assure people actually know and understand the expectations. Instead, paint a word picture by clarifying, detailing, and outlining what is expected. Unless the expectations are made explicit, as well as the metrics for how all performance will be assessed, there is no reason to expect people to act differently than they have in the past. Only when your people know and understand will they begin to take on being accountable; and only when they have chosen to be accountable can Empowering Accountability be created.
Accountability Establishes Boundaries of Behavior
Empowering Accountability involves communicating to your employees the boundaries of acceptable behavior, as well as the consequences of desirable and undesirable behavior. When appropriate, it is also important to point out the consequences for violating these boundaries.
Empowering Accountability assures that employees know which boundaries your executives want them to push. For example, in down markets, there is a strong temptation to cut prices in order to capture orders. Yet, it is hard to know when the prices have been cut lower than needed, which has a big impact on profitability.
I have worked with a CEO who would encourage his business leaders to experiment with raising prices as a means of testing where the bottom is. In many companies, raising prices in a down market would be punished. Yet, in this case, the CEO made it safe for the business unit leaders to challenge or push these perceived boundaries.
The same CEO also had a colorful way of challenging the business units to bring forward bold growth opportunities. In many companies, there is an unwritten rule that it is not wise to bring growth opportunities to the CEO that are bolder than his/her preferences. As a consequence, the CEO’s personal style and temperament becomes an invisible constraint on potential growth. This CEO’s statement was, “I want you to bring forward growth opportunities that are so bold it will make my hands turn white while gripping my chair.” That set a very high bar for the businesses to purse bold growth ideas.
Accountabilities also establish boundaries that are “out-of-bounds.” This may include geographies which are simply “off-limits” because of political instability and other factors. In one E&P company, it was simply the point of view of influential directors…
For example, I was working with a UK E&P company who wanted to expand its gas operations in Pakistan. A very influential director held strong beliefs that their company should reduce its exposure, rather than increase it. The CEO was undeterred and finally convinced this director to go on a tour with the executives in charge of operations in the country. A well-orchestrated visit was planned and was proceeding smoothly until an attempted coup broke out. While the director and executives were unharmed, there were some very tense moments. Needless to say, the director’s point of view was not changed.
Empowering Accountability assures that employees know the boundaries. This includes which boundaries the executives want them to push vs. which boundaries are “out-of-bounds.”
Accountability occurs in action. It is a beautiful thing to watch!
Implementing Empowering Accountability in your organization will take leadership, first and foremost. If you’re an executive and want to lead this change, you may want to read our whitepaper entitled ‘Change Management vs. Change Leadership’.
In it you will gain insights into:
- what is the key difference between these two and why is it critical
- a simple exercise framework to look at the level of the problem driving the change effort
- understanding the distinction between a ‘default future’ and an ‘invented future’