Lack of Accountability: The Enemy Within
Year after year, accountability tops the charts of issues executives say they want to improve.
Based on hundreds of engagements and data I have collected over a 5-year period from more than 3,200 CEOs and their key executives from around the world, lack of accountability is the single greatest threat to achieving consistent levels of high-performance.
The facts are clear: most organizations are not as effective as they could be at getting things done. A lack of accountability is a big reason why; often it’s the reason why.
We Are Our Own Worst Enemy
As leaders, we get the behavior we tolerate. When it comes to holding people accountable, we are often our own worst enemy. Instead of practicing accountability, we practice avoidance.
That was certainly the case with me. Along the way, I learned 3 valuable lessons:
1. Clear expectations must be established.
Don’t assume everyone on your team has the same definition of success. They may not. Failure to set clear expectations means that evaluating performance is subjective. When your purpose, expectations, and rewards are crystal clear, your employees will embrace accountability as a way to become even more successful.
The opposite is also true: If you are not clear about everything – vision, values, objectives, strategy, rewards, and, yes, penalties – the likelihood of achieving your vision is slim.
2. Bad news does not improve with age.
Avoiding performance issues in the hope performance will improve is wishful thinking. When you see a problem, it’s best to address it immediately. Failure to speak frankly with the person about his or her performance means nothing will change.
3. It’s not personal.
Yes, you’re talking with a person, but leave emotions and opinions behind. Stick to the facts, set a plan to get performance back on track, and communicate specific consequences for underperformance. If underperformers require termination, do it professionally and allow them their dignity.
I learned these lessons the hard way. I figured there’s got to be a better way to build and sustain a culture where accountability is part of the DNA of high-performing organizations.
The 7 Pillars of Accountability
To discover that better way, I asked leaders at widely admired companies in completely different industries to share the steps they have taken to create, nurture, and sustain a high-performing culture.
I learned that accountability transcends borders and industries. I learned that all organizations wrestle with accountability in similar ways. Although the scope and complexity may differ from organization to organization, the problems leaders encounter on a daily basis are the same.
High-performing organizations drive accountability and fulfillment through a set of principles and practices that are simple to say and hard to do.
I call these principles, “The 7 Pillars of Accountability”:
The acronym – C.U.L.T.U.R.E. – is deliberate and will help you remember the 7 pillars. This acronym also will help you remember that your culture is a significant predictor of your future performance.
The key to accountability is bringing together these principles and then acting on them with consistency to sustain a high-performance culture. High-performing organizations have in common a way of doing things that distinguishes their culture. If your view of accountability is having a tough conversation with an underperformer, you will miss the bigger point.
Yes, we examine a model for a conversation with an underperformer, but long before that conversation occurs dozens of other practices must be in place if you expect to drive accountability throughout your organization to create and sustain a high-performance culture. At high-performing organizations, those practices are The 7 Pillars of Accountability.