Accountability: Cornerstone of Success

Business owners and leadership teams strive daily to accountabilityperfect the execution of the key success factors of their business. Success factors might range from financial stability, positive cash flow, experience, leading edge technology, cultural sensitivity, etc.

One key success factor that is often overlooked, but one that is fundamental and a cornerstone to the success of any company, is accountability.

What is accountability?
Webster defines accountability as: an obligation or willingness to accept responsibility or to account for one’s actions. The operative term is accepting responsibility for one’s actions. Accepting responsibility results in accepting the consequences of one’s actions. While accepting responsibility for the consequences might be termed honorable in many situations; in a business context, depending upon the outcome of one’s actions, it can be viewed as a route to punishment and something to be avoided.

Current Condition: Safety Nets
Too often businesses, and people, are propped up by “safety nets” so that they do not have to be accountable and responsible for their own wellbeing. The rapid expansion of government into areas previously the domain of the individual or private enterprise has resulted in customer apathy as to how to hold government services accountable.

When companies and professionals fail to perform. recourse exists to hold them accountable. This is not possible with the behemoth organization of the US Government. It is even worse when we consider how to hold elected officials and appointed officers accountable for their actions, let alone for what they say.

Accountability in business
Given all of the bad examples of poor accountability in society, how does a business stand apart and promote accountability as a success factor? It starts at the top. Where the owner, CEO, senior leadership team leader needs to demonstrate how they are accountable and then projects that philosophy into the leadership team and employees of the company. If something goes wrong that was the result of the leader’s action then that leader needs to shoulder the consequences and not look for someone else to blame.

Role of Politics and Accountability
Many executives and principle performers are adept at avoiding any responsibility that would result in a high risk of being held accountable. If something goes wrong they quickly seek a way to shift the blame, obfuscate the impact of a bad condition, redirect attention toward others instead become defensive, protecting their own area of responsibility.

This is an endemic condition in organizations that are very political. In my experience, political organizations do not focus on real performance and personal accountability but what only benefits privileged individuals and not the organization. Results are more what people “want you to hear” versus “what you need to hear.”

Accountable Business Organizations
Senior Management
Accountability starts at the top with the owner, CEO or senior leadership team leader. They set the example, which begins by holding themselves responsible for their actions, then defining responsibility and delegating corresponding authority to the management team. This action is reinforced by periodic reviews of the actions of the management team consistent with their responsibility and their exercise of authority.

The senior leader needs to review the actions of his management group regularly to insure responsibility is reasonably delegated into their respective areas of the organization and lower level individuals, based upon performance, are also held accountable for results.

When recruiting employees, the recruiting criteria should emphasize characteristics that demonstrate that the candidate clearly demonstrates examples of accountability in previous work experience or other activities. A candidates attitude to ward accountability might also be determined by the following:

  1. A letter of recommendation includes specific examples where they were accountable. These examples should be personally confirmed with the originator of the recommendation.
  2. Work experience where responsibility and accountability were clearly assigned.
  3. An incident where the candidate took the initiative, went beyond what was expected, saw what was needed to be done, took responsibility for an uncertain outcome and achieved it.

The effective balance of responsibility, authority and accountability can energize an organization. When accountability and responsibility is properly distributed, each level of the organization knows what is to be done, how they are to do it, are confident that supporting and next level organizations are likewise under the same direction to achieve high levels of performance and regular accountability. Where each person and team is held accountable, morale improves, employees are energized toward common goals and the business has a greater chance of success.

Where performance exceeds objectives then recognition and rewards are directed to all involved. Where performance falls below objectives then actions are taken to understand why, corrective measures taken, scrutiny of the operation and its processes increases, employee training evaluated and employee performance closely monitored until the performance of the operation meets or exceeds objectives.

Accountability and Brand
Poor organization accountability can have major impact on your brand if your employees and your organization processes do not respond in a timely manner and serve the customer. We have all dealt with businesses where customer service or product quality was below par or unacceptable. Ultimately this is an example of poor implementation and execution of accountability within a business.

The customer sees the result and says, “Does someone really care?” This is a very astute observation because when accountability processes breakdown it is often the result of someone not caring. Most likely poor service or product quality is an example of someone who did not go the extra mile, or at a minimum, do what was minimally expected.

Establishing accountability is not easy as it may require confronting those that find detail definitions of responsibility and authority too “measurable” for them. However, staying the course, overcoming objections and resistance, replacing employees where necessary, will result in teams, departments and the organization that are tuned for high performance.

Accountability is a success factor and cornerstone of every high performing organization.

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