Thursday, April 7, 2016

Failing Accountability

Is your organization making the grade on accountability?



I’ve written before about the importance of accountability (here) both for management and employees. But I ran across this article from HBR that presents some really interesting data, and again highlights the importance to business leaders, your management, and your employees of creating a culture of accountability.

From the article:

"…….the single-most shirked responsibility of executives is holding people accountable. No matter how tough a game they may talk about performance, when it comes to holding people’s feet to the fire, leaders step back from the heat. In our database of more than 5,400 upper-level managers from the US, Europe, Latin America, and Asia-Pacific gathered since 2010, 46% are rated "too little" on the item, "Holds people accountable — firm when they don’t deliver." Remarkably, the result holds up no matter how you slice the data — by ratings from bosses, peers, or even subordinates. It holds up for C-level executives compared to directors and middle managers. It is about the same in different cultures too; although accountability is a bit more common in some countries than others, it is still the most neglected behavior within every region we have studied."

Almost half fail to hold people accountable. That’s pretty amazing, really. I believe that we’ve gone way too far down the rabbit hole of being concerned with hurting other’s feelings and being politically correct. I’m not saying that being nice isn’t important. It is! In fact, civility in the workplace has also taken a beating lately (just ask the NLRB) in other respects. But prioritizing "nice" at the expense of competence, and indeed, accountability, is short-sighted at a minimum. It will negatively affect your organization’s productivity, success and possibly its very existence.

Accountability is not about punishment, or taking or laying blame when something goes wrong. It is about delivering on a commitment. It’s responsibility to an outcome, not just a set of tasks or items on a to-do list. It’s taking initiative with thoughtful, strategic follow-through.

Another study by Towers Watson on talent management and rewards shows that 24% of companies (in the study) gave bonuses to people "who fail to meet even the lowest possible performance ranking."  That failure to hold people accountable is damaging to those particular employees (will they ever know they aren’t performing, or know how to improve?), but to their co-workers who have now seen that their hard work means quite a bit less than they thought. That is an effect no business can fail to recognize, or tolerate, without serious consequences.

Creating a culture or environment of accountability is no secret. The key factors are generally:

Clear expectations. Be crystal clear about what you expect. This includes the outcome you want as well as the method of achieving that outcome. But is also means being clear about how you will measure if the effort is successful.

Needed capability/ability. You need to know what skills are needed for the task. Do your people have those skills; do they have the resources they need? If not, is there a plan to help them acquire the skills or for you to provide the resources?

Relevant measurement. You should have clear, measurable, objective targets. If someone is off target, you should have a way to know this, and a way to get them back on track.

Feedback. Honest, open, ongoing feedback is critical. People have to know, and most want to know, where they stand. Feedback should be fact-based and easy to deliver and based on the clear expectations and relevant measurement you’ve already set up. This is where it’s really more important to be helpful and foster competence than to just be nice.

Clear consequences. If you’ve done all the above, you should be reasonably sure you’ve done what’s necessary to support your people and help them, and your company, to succeed. If a team member is still failing in some critical way, you really only have a few choices. Repeat the process to make sure it was indeed clear; or if they have proven to be not accountable for their performance, release them – either from that particular role, or from the job or from your organization. The third option is to do the "easy" thing and ignore it. Is that what you really want for your organization?


Expectation of evaluation. No one should expect to "fly under the radar". Your employees should expect and know their performance will be evaluated. If you fail to regularly give feedback and evaluation, you are fostering a culture lacking in accountability, and lacking in competence.

One of my favorite management/leadership authors is Victor Lipman, a Forbes contributor. In one of his articles, he adds the following expectation:

Make the avoidance of "conflict avoidance" a priority – In short, teach managers how to manage.  Management involves conflict, and holding people accountable involves conflict.  That’s why so many managers prefer to avoid it: It’s easier.  Interpersonal conflict can be nasty and unpleasant.  Unfortunately, dealing with it effectively is part of management.  When managers are trained to face conflict and work to resolve it constructively, rather than looking the other way and avoiding it, that too becomes a key element of accountability.

Couldn’t have said it better…..

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