[Editor's Note: True Accountability can be the biggest impediment to strong results in a company. In Parts I and II in this series , we asked the questions: "Is a Lack of Accountability a Problem in My Organization?" and "Am I Part of the Accountability Problem in My Company?" In this issue, we explore how to start down the path to improve accountability at your company. I hope you find this useful. -dpm]
The Continuing Quest for Accountability -Part III
Starting Down the Path to Greater Accountability
Over time, as organizations grow, certain norms become ingrained into the culture. In early stages, decision-making can be centralized in a few hands with key people wearing many hats. This is essential to being successful in small early-stage organizations. As organizations grow and people are added, decision-making, "ownership", and accountability need to change as well.
If decision-making, ownership of decisions, and accountability doesn't change, it can lead to a culture of losing. What happens if decision-making, ownership of decisions, and accountability doesn't change? We see this with many Mead Consulting clients. Many times the senior people (including CEOs and business owners) have difficulty letting go. They are the "smartest guys (gals) in the room." They continue to want to influence all decisions, not trusting those lower in the organizational structure. Over time the middle managers and employees become conditioned to "delegate decisions upward." Decisions, projects, new products, etc. are not owned by individual employees, but become the province of the senior managers. Some of the symptoms are micro-managing, lack of commitment to goals, missed deadlines, poorly designed products, missing sales forecasts, and a general apathy among employees.
Performance in these companies suffer, strong performers leave. In a number of these companies, a fatalistic culture of losing ensues. No one really feels that they have the power to change things. Ouch!
Cultures take about 3 years to become reinforced. We saw this during the 2008-2013 period when companies hunkered down, rewarded cost-cutting, and became risk- averse. When the economy started to rebound many company cultures had become so risk-averse that they missed opportunities - or were too timid to take advantage.
When belief biases have set in, it can be very difficult to get employees to buy into change. With companies with a culture of a lack of accountability, there are significant headwinds encountering change. Some of this is related to "Belief Bias." Because people have not seen positive change, they do not believe it is possible. Certain negatives have become accepted beliefs or truths over time. Some examples of belief bias in product companies are: "you can't accurately predict what customers want in a new product - it's a crapshoot"; "You can't plan production;" "Downtime is a fact of life"; "Management doesn't care/doesn't listen"; "We can't make money doing this"; "Oh Boy. Here comes yet another initiative"; "We don't know how what we do matters."When belief biases have set in, it can be very difficult to get employees to buy into change.
How can you begin to change a culture of a Lack of Accountability? It isn't about words, or slogans. You have to begin to change beliefs - with positive experiences that actively demonstrate a new way of operating. It starts at the top - with you - and the senior leadership. Pick a couple of problem areas and get started (Some of these are listed in Part II- Am I Part of the Accountability Problem in My Company?). You have to create new, positive experiences that build the accountability culture. It requires commitment and repetition, repetition, repetition. Remember, they have probably heard hollow words or seen abandoned programs or initiatives before, so it will take time before the employees believe in the new ways.
Don't waste time strategic planning or planning for 2019. It will do little good to establish strategies, action plans, and metrics. Without accountability, the results will be more of the same - disappointing results. The data shows that companies with true accountability greatly outperform those with a lack of accountability. Don't let another year go by. Neglecting the next steps in your company's growth and maturity can be very short-sighted. You need to have your company firing on all cylinders.