Lack of accountability is a kiss of death on transformations. Among other problems, it leads to a looming morale when important change initiatives do not gain traction and fail to show concrete results. Gaps usually appear in the perceived accountabilities as the teams come to terms with their morphing individual roles, responsibilities, and unfamiliar deliverables. I recently met with a client project sponsor to review a stalling key project within the transformation program. I was ecstatic when the client leader stated, "I want to make sure people have clarity on their roles and what is expected". Instead of jumping into the problem-solving mode to meet immediate timelines, this leader had recognized and wanted to address the possible root cause for stagnation: a lack of accountability.
If your organization is blessed with nomadic trusted partners, they can help bridge the accountability gaps and move along immediate priorities. However, relying only on these enterprising individuals to address issues as they continue to appear is a slippery slope. Without a strategy to develop a culture of accountability, the problem areas remain hidden. In such environments, long-term success on transformations is not sustainable and often leads to burn-out among the productive team members. A better approach would be to unleash the accountable behaviour among your teams:
Consensus on organizational priorities: To create a culture of accountability, the first step is to identify organizational priorities with rationale and impact. Then, ensure they are communicated through a terminology the teams use during their daily work. A feedback-loop will ensure the leaders can gauge how their communication is perceived and understood by the teams. Leaders will know they are communicating priorities effectively when individuals understand how the organizational priorities fit into their day-to-day work. This will provide individuals and teams the clarity they need to assess competing tasks and move towards informed decisions, instead of struggling with multiple issues without a sense of direction.
Separate person from the problem: Encouraging teams to focus their conversations on the problems instead of people requires dissociating existing assumptions and perceptions about people from the deliverables. This is easier said than done and is heavily dependent on the current organization culture. The good news is that there are many ways to begin implementing and testing this change. Leaders must create a safe-space by encouraging the teams to openly discuss their ‘half-baked ideas’ and assumptions, without the fear of judgement from their peers and leaders. Develop a culture where people feel comfortable talking about the problems and do not feel pressured to ‘come to the table with a solution’. This will empower them to request for help when they face hurdles while working towards success. Trust that the support will be available when requested from their leaders will motivate individuals to take accountability and discourage the blame-games.
Automate tasks and progress tracking: Provide the teams with simple processes and automated tools that dissolve information-cliques and help identify blind spots. This will allow the transformation to progress within a transparent medium that enables course-correction and highlights achievements for celebration. Toolsets such as Atlassian Jira and Confluence with simple workflows have worked well on my transformations to impart accountable behaviour. Paired with appropriate governance and automated notifications for individual tasks, these tools make scope, expectations, dependencies and timelines clearly visible. If used correctly, these tools enable self-management and invite fact/impact-based conversations with a clear definition of success. As Joe McKendrick says,
“automate key functions to free capacity and shift resources to be able to work on more value-added insights and analysis.”
Leading by example: In the end, it is much easier to solve the 'problem of the day' for short-term gains and move on. It takes commitment from strong leaders across the organization to practice and develop a culture of accountability. Leaders must find a way to balance the support they provide the individuals to motivate them, without directly taking over and solving the problems for them. In my experience, leading by example while providing platforms for others to do the same, as well as clarity between individual work and long-term objectives enables accountability. This ultimately increases the chances of successfully reaching the transformation objectives.
How do you unleash accountability among your teams?
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