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Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Building Organization-Wide Accountability

Building company-wide accountability is a key element to making a business sustainable over a long period of time. Not surprisingly, all high-performing organizations are moving toward more empowerment, enlightenment -- and building their own organizational accountability.

So what is accountability? To some, it’s something you make people do, as in “making people accountable.” But as long as you think accountability can be purchased, mandated, or motivated, you’re trapped in trying to create accountability -- where it may not be possible.

Let’s consider what accountability is, and how we can build an organizational culture that encourages it.

Be definition, accountability is being answerable or responsible for something. Accountability opens the door to ownership – not necessarily financial ownership -- but certainly emotional ownership, where someone acknowledges they’re responsible for some aspect of the organization.

Accountability is not something you “make” people do. It has to be chosen, accepted or agreed upon by 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. Most importantly: individual purpose and meaning comes from accepting responsibility and learning to be accountable.

To learn to be accountable means coming to grips with an element of discipline. Accountability is the opposite of permissiveness. Holding people accountable is really about the distribution of power and choice. When people have more choice, they are more responsible. When they become more responsible, they can have more freedom. When they are more accountable, they understand their purpose and role within the organization and are committed to making things happen.

So, how do you build company-wide accountability?

Only organizations that can clearly identify, articulate, and execute their strategic goals are well-positioned to be able to build company-wide accountability. To effectively achieve these goals, companies must measure and manage actual business performance against these goals in a highly coordinated manner.

A six-step framework to build company-wide accountability is to:

  1. Decide What’s Important (develop an authentic mission, vision, values, strategic position)
  2. Set Goals That Lead (planning that includes measures, targets, projects)
  3. Align Systems (streamline processes and resources so all resources support the goals)
  4. Work the Plan (assure and measure so that each employee’s plans and activities support the goals)
  5. Innovate Purposefully (get to root causes quicker, make quicker and more informed decisions)
  6. Step Back (assess strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats, appraise performance results)

Building company-wide accountability requires not only a systematic method based on proven best-practices. It also requires technologies that make the framework practical to use and implement on a daily, weekly, monthly quarterly and annual basis. In addition, it takes an external coach or strategic advisor to hold you and your organization accountable and to help these cultural changes to “stick” – to make it last. In the end, it takes an organization that is ready and able to accept accountability, and to benefit from the ownership and the freedom that comes with organizational accountability.

Accountability and positive organizational change come through a new set of conversations. You can start having these conversations in your organization today.

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