Exploring accountability: is it promoted in your org?

Exploring accountability

What does it mean to be accountable?

If you’re the CEO of an organization (or someone who reports to the CEO), do you have a culture that promotes accountability? For the sake of this blog, I approached accountability from a few different angles: first from goal setting, then communication, then failure and performance measurement.

I’ll admit this topic was a challenging one to explore because I think it’s quite easy to fool ourselves (myself included) into believing that we’re accountable and our organizations are accountable—after all, who would blatantly say they would like to avoid accountability? But practically speaking, I think accountability can actually be somewhat elusive and tough to pin down. To get some additional perspective on this topic,  I reached out to my LinkedIn network to see if they had any thoughts on the matter, and I’ve noted below some great insights from a few of them.

Ultimately I decided the best way for me to offer something valuable in today’s blog was to compare and contrast what a CEO might expect to see in an environment where accountability is low and, alternatively, where it is promoted. Suffice it to say, this blog touches the surface of accountability and I welcome your feedback or additions to what I’ve outlined below.

What you’ll see in an org with low accountability:

  • Leaders will be reluctant to set goals. They might even resort to “sandbagging” their goals so they don’t have high standards to meet.
  • People will be reluctant to communicate. Rather than being proactive and bringing their concerns to the CEO, leaders will avoid saying anything altogether or they’ll wait until the CEO tracks them down. A common phrase a CEO might hear is, “I was waiting to talk to you about this problem…”
  • If a plan doesn’t come to fruition or a sales deal falls through, leaders will start using blame, saying, “This is ridiculous. That wasn’t my goal … You didn’t give me the tools I needed to really succeed.”
  • People won’t know their goals. A salesperson might fumble around with excuses or deflect to telling “what I did last weekend” stories. In some more obvious cases, a leader might object to performance measurement altogether saying it’s “unfair” to measure this or that metric.

What you’ll see when accountability is promoted in an org:

  • Leaders are inspired to take on difficult, but achievable goals.
  • The CEO speaks with specificity and clarity around his or her expectations. He or she ensures that the team has a goal, a strategy, a team to execute the plan and that everybody knows their part to play.
  • The CEO operates with vulnerability around what his or her goals are—and eagerly shares them with the leadership team. By doing this, a culture of accountability is modeled from the top down. (Thanks for this one, Shannon Eckmann!)
  • The CEO will never be “in the dark” on a project because his or her leaders will proactively be reaching out about both the good and the challenging things they encounter.
  • When the team hits a roadblock, the team won’t default to blaming or finger-pointing. Instead, they will rally together and focus on “what we need to do” to address the challenge. Such a blame-free environment promotes mutual accountability and inspires leaders and employees alike to give their best efforts (thanks, Chris V!).
  • Leaders will know their goals and will be eager to articulate them. This reflects also in an eagerness to have their performance measured because they understand it’s the best way the organization can achieve its goals.
  • When an organization is met with failure, the leader should lead with transparency in understanding why the goal wasn’t achieved. This allows the organization to learn that risks are worth taking and failure is an option as long as they’re coupled with learning and growth. (Thanks, Mike Abbaté!)

Is there anything we missed or overlooked? Feel free to tell me!