Perhaps you have heard the expression: “I can’t hear what you’re saying because who you are being speaks so loudly”. This implies that the ‘being’ of a leader is a stronger force than any words the leader uses. Consider that for leaders, accountability is an essential ingredient in their being.
For many, the previous statement will be hard to understand so let’s unpack it a bit. The role of leaders is to align people, communicate goals, seek commitment, motivate, and inspire. Empowering accountability, as created by leaders, serves that purpose. It is quite distinct from management accountability, which is designed to produce consistency, control and order. Empowering accountability is designed to enable employees to be extraordinary in pursuit of the exceptional. Empowering Accountability by leaders is essential for success in Breakthrough Projects that lead to organizational transformation.
So let’s explore what Breakthrough Projects are and how they lead to transformation.
What are Breakthrough Projects
Breakthrough Projects are a strategic intervention harnessed to transform of an organization. The intent of a Breakthrough Project is to:
- Be a vivid demonstration of leader’s commitments to the business and organization
- Be a source of organizational learning
- Disrupt the status quo
- Demonstrate accomplishment and performance which was previous thought not possible
- Develop organizational and technical capabilities
- Develop leadership capabilities of those involved in the Breakthrough Projects
- Produce exceptional business and financial results
In the beginning of a business transformation, it is important for executives to remember that people in the organization have seen many examples of executives saying one thing and doing another. Even when people have not seen it in your organization, they will infer it from what they have heard from family and friends. The expectation you are walking into is that you will ultimately not hold yourself to account, nor will you require that other executives and managers hold themselves to account.
Role of Accountability
Given the magnitude of these changes, a key design element for Breakthrough Projects and Organizational Transformation is accountability.
Continuation of the existing forms of accountability is probably a mistake. In a business transformation, I recommend that a formal ‘Structure of Accountability’ be created to demonstrate new forms of accountability based on leadership, rather than management. This new Structure of Accountability will assure openness and transparency in how the Breakthrough Projects are conducted. In my firm, we call these new structures Results Leadership Teams. A Results Leadership Team (RLT) assures openness and transparency during key tasks such as making the charters of the teams publicly available, creating scorecard and value capture documents, formal and informal communication, and open town-hall style meetings with employees.
Accountability and transparency are stronger when the executives establish an expectation that the actions and results of the Breakthrough Projects and organizational transformation will be kept open within the company. This is essential, since transformation does not occur in private or behind closed doors. It is a very open and public phenomenon. The leaders want to make sure that their action and communications are directly linked to the business results for which they are accountable. A leader steps forward to assert that she/he is accountable, and invites others to observe and eventually join in.
Modeling Leadership Accountability Regarding Results
Leadership Accountability is demonstrated when the executives and managers hold themselves to account for success of the Breakthrough Projects in a public manner. The RLT provides an excellent forum for this Leadership Accountability to be displayed. This practice of executives and managers displaying their Leadership Accountability is a powerful communication of their commitments to Breakthrough and Transformation in their organizations.
The public display of leaders being accountable and personally committed may not seem like a big deal. Yet for many organizations, it is a pivotal step for leadership when executives promise to publicly hold themselves to account for Breakthroughs in the business. In many organizations, executives have a history of blaming lack of results on circumstances and other peoples.
Executives demonstrating Leadership Accountability and personal accountability for results is a crucial building block for organizational transformation. Embowing the organization happens when leaders “own” their circumstances and business results, regardless of how good the results are. Kouzes and Posner state that the starting point for leader accountability is being willing to accept personal responsibility for personal actions and those of the organization.
“In the final analysis, accountability means embracing your full responsibility for results and remaining answerable for your progress in attaining those results, regardless of how or why you managed to get into your current situation.”
Too often executives think that they cannot show any signs of weakness, must always be right, and appear strong. While this is a common concept, it is simply not useful for executives who desire to provide leadership for their organizations. If you paint yourself into a corner of needing to be right, strong and never vulnerable, you have lost any hope of being perceived as an authentic and genuine leader. Rather, you will appear to your people as fake, overly ambitious, and untrustworthy. You will give the impression that you are petty, small and working your own agenda. Regardless of what you say, most of your people will interpret you as a two-faced liar, and view you as simply another empty suit or ‘hot air’ executives that they have seen before.
And a leader viewed in this manner can never transform an organization.
If you would like to understand better how to introduce a Breakthrough Project in your organization, download our white paper, “7 Elements for Chartering a Breakthrough Project”.
In it you will learn:
- what a ‘Breakthrough Project’ is and why it’s critical to organizational transformation
- why creating a ‘charter’ is a critical step in the process
- the critical roles that key people must play in the project to enhance success