Innovate To Thrive (Part 6) … Accountability

Action items that don‘t get done. Incentives that don‘t work. New Product Development (NPD) programs that lose traction, despite the best, brightest, most passionate Innovation owners. It‘s a frustrating thing, when the process becomes akin to herding cats…And that is why one of the most important of Robert‘s Rules of Innovation is Accountability.

Accountability is a critical component of the trust equation. From the outset, every member of the team has to swear, in blood if that‘s what it takes, to hold to deadlines, to be accountable to each other, to other departments, to outside forces.

With the NPD (Innovate to Thrive Part 3) process, the Innovation team is like a group of mountaineers, led by you, the steadfast Sherpa guide, all of you tethered by the same length of rope. No one should feel comfortable slipping up.

So let‘s go back to the regular NPD meetings we‘re scheduling. Clear action items should come from each monthly meeting. Team members must follow-through on agreed-upon assignments. Should a day-job responsibility make deadlines a problem, it is that teammate‘s responsibility to alert others well ahead of time, so that coverage on that assignment is possible and that progress continues. Team members need to feel responsibility for delivery. If laying on guilt is what it takes, so be it. Slippage is the sure way to jeopardize the entire NPD process – and corporate image. The impact of process failures is both internal and external.

A word here about the creative mind set. In my opinion, creative people can be organized and encouraged to stick to schedules. I also believe that organized people can be extremely creative.

Sound heretical? I recognize that this is not the popular wisdom. But I have seen plenty of left-brain/right-brain people in my worldwide experience and I can tell you with assurance: people with good hearts and strong minds, who feel responsible for the outcome of a group project, will be able to handle their role within the NPD group.

Developers and researchers like to hobby, to noodle around with wonderful new ideas and, yes, they need freedom to explore their inner Einstein. And, the reality is, the success of your NPD initiatives hinges on that most fragile of attributes: creativity.

Creation loves chaos, and control is anathema to creativity, or so the theory goes. Think of all the artists, musicians, and designers who have that certain gift, to create something wonderful from the magic that only exists between their ears. These folks are not the same as those who are perfectly happy punching the clock at 5 p.m. and watching reality-based television programs all night long. Which is why we come back, at this point, to the role of the Champion, who must infuse the group with the one for all, all for one mentality that served Alexander Dumas’ Three Musketeers so well, and that will move your NPD program on to new heights. The Champion is the key, the respected leadership model who encourages, supports and facilitates cross-team participation.

Our recent survey of executives – see for details – found that a sense of accountability is one of the most difficult things to create within organizational culture of any kind. See:

I do favor some free time, some flexibility for your creatives’ – skunk works or pet side projects, as they’re referred to in some of our most innovative firms. I would even encourage tying skunk works success with rewards. As long as everyone realizes they’re running a business. Therefore, NPD team members – yes, all of them-need to be held accountable.

Accountability – its importance goes without saying, but can be extremely tricky to inculcate.  As – the Innovation champion – build a culture of Innovation, consider these methods:

  • Give Them Enough Rope To…: The natural tendency is to dictate terms – deadlines, methodologies, etc.  Let the team members decide upon the “how it’s going to get done” elements.  Should they go a bit off the track, you can always fine-tune.  Or, better yet, lead a discussion on how they can fine-tune.
  • It’s Expected: State clearly, from the outset, that the team members will be expected to develop the answers to work-related issues – it will be their responsibility.
  • We Know that You Know the Answers: Let your people come up with the solutions.  When someone comes to you with a question, ask them: “what’s your recommendation?”  They will find the answer.  And why not: you picked great people for your team, right?
  • Tread Lightly on the Gas Pedal: Initially, you may have to take a more overt role, in terms of direction, support.  Once they start “getting it” and build a confidence level, ease off on the throttle.  The knee-jerk reaction is to swoop in and save the day.  Force yourself to ease off.
  • Skinner Was Right: Positive reinforcement works wonders.  It’s downright frightening to brave failure and be held accountable.  When your team, or a team member, hits a home run, lavish praise is in order.  Encourage.  Reinforce.  It works wonders.

Category: Innovation Leadership


About the Author: Robert Brands

Robert F. Brands is President and Founder of, Author of "Robert's Rules of Innovation" (Wiley, March, 2010), Innovation subject expert and speaker. Brands' hands-on experience in bringing innovation to ma…

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