Corporate accountability: here’s a different twist on the culture of accountability

If you’re the president, CEO or owner of a company, it’s important to watch for the 10 warning signs of employee disengagement. Here they are, in descending order:

10. Information pipeline dries up. Leaders are the last to know what’s really happening.

9. Employee complaints increase. Grumbling about perceived injustices (large and small) is the order of the day.

8. Absenteeism increases. Sick days and personal days are maxed out.

7. Turnover increases. Employees are leaving almost as fast as you can hire new ones.

6. Shrinkage and theft increase. “Where did that tool go?”

5. Productivity declines. It takes more people longer to com­plete assignments.

4. Silos (I’m not sharing!) and discourtesy are pronounced. “That’s not my job.”

3. Broken commitments increase. Tomorrow never comes.

2. Quality of service and products declines. “We have more returns and canceled orders than ever.”

1. Brand erosion occurs. “Remember when we were the pre­ferred provider in our industry?”

Any one of these issues can dilute productivity and profitabil­ity, and the top three can kill an organization if left unchecked.

Who’s at fault?

Playing the blame game can be a real time waster. But, Greg Bustin suggests that CEOs, presidents and company owners take a long hard look at one person in particular – and that’s the one you see in the mirror.

Yes. If a business is going to flourish, the CEO, president or manager must be accountable first.

Wondering why you should listen to Greg? Well, he came to his conclusions of corporate accountability after surveying more than 2,000 CEOs and key executives, stating that “lack of accountability is the single greatest barrier to improving individual and organizational performance.”

His perspective has appeared in the Wall Street Journal and Barron’s, along with other blue chip publications. He is also the author of Accountability: The Key to Driving a High-Performance Culture (McGraw-Hill, 2014) and master chair for Vistage International,  an organization described as the “world’s largest CEO membership organization.”

Definition of accountability

Here’s what Greg has to say about the definition of accountability: “The issue is trust. Accountability in its simplest form means ‘I can count on you’ and ‘You can count on me.’ When trust is absent, accountability looks and sounds like punishment instead of a support system for winners.”

Here’s a more detailed look using Greg’s seven pillars of accountability:

Character. An organization’s character is shaped by its val­ues, and these values are clearly defined and communi­cated. The organization does what is right for its customers, employees, suppliers, and investors, even when it’s difficult to do so.

Unity. Every employee understands and supports the organization’s mission, vision, values, and strategy, and knows his or her role in helping to achieve them.

Learning. The organization is committed to continuous learning and invests in ongoing training and development.

Tracking. The organization has reliable, established systems to measure the things that are most important.

Urgency. The organization makes decisions and acts on them with a sense of purpose, commitment, and immediacy.

Reputation. The organization rewards achievement and addresses underperformance, earning the organization and its leaders a reputation –internally and externally – as a place where behavior matches values.

Evolving. The organization continuously adapts and changes the organization’s practices to grow its marketplace leader­ship position.

The acronym C.U.L.T.U.R.E. is deliber­ate and helps leaders remember the seven pillars. This acronym also will help leaders remember their culture is a significant predictor of their future performance.

The buck stops with YOU

“Before you can hold others accountable,” Greg tells us, “you first must hold your­self accountable. This is true for any leader and it’s especially true for the top leader in an organization. If the CEO says one thing and does another, that CEO demonstrates with actions that his or her personal character is out of synch with the values stated as important. Character is who you say you are; reputation is what others think of you, in this case, inside the organization. Accountability starts at the top and is shaped by the character of the organization’s leaders.”

When you, as leader, are not accountable, you can expect to see the following begin to happen in your company:

“Companies with inconsistent views about accountability,” Greg shares, “will not be capable of sustaining consistent levels of high performance over an extended period of time. Such companies may achieve isolated successes, but high-performing employees will not tolerate double standards, inconsistent policies and inconsistent performance and will, first, decide that it’s not worth giving their best, and, eventually, will decide to leave.”

Whew, you might think. So far, nobody has left, so I must be doing okay. Well, maybe not.

“Other employees,” Greg continues, “will throttle back their efforts. And others will check out, or disengage. Most of us recognize that life provides no absolutes. And when it comes to employee disengagement, the shades of gray are infinite. But when accountability is a blame-game, when your colleagues have quit work but are still collecting a paycheck, and when other colleagues are wreaking havoc within your organization . . .” Yes. You can expect continuing employee disengagement.

Take the test

Business owners: to find out the level of your accountability, take this 10-minute assessment test and Greg will get back to you within 48 hours. You can also obtain free resources at this site after registering (free).

After you get results

Plenty of you will get the affirmation that you’d hope for: that you have established a work culture of accountability, and that you’ve set and are maintaining the highest standards for yourself.

But, let’s say you get less-than-optimal news. What then?

You need to remember that, “Before you can hold others accountable, you first must hold your­self accountable. And before you can hold yourself accountable, you first must know what matters most to you. In my work with leaders, I have found that two of the hardest questions any of us will ever answer are “Who am I?” and “What do I want?” This was certainly the case with me. So I had to be very clear about what I wanted and what I did not want. Clarity creates confidence. 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.”

Fork in the road

If increased accountability will help your business prosper, you need to make a decision. Will you commit to that – or not?

If you don’t, Greg acknowledges that your business may still continue, saying that, “Even when the CEO models behavior showing that accountability is viewed as a double-standard – one set of rules, rewards and penalties for one set of people, a second set of rules, rewards and penalties for others – the company can be successful at some level in spite of this leader. In extreme cases (Enron, Arthur Andersen & Co., WorldCom) where the CEO encourages unethical or illegal behavior, the company ultimately will fail because there is no accountability around the most important characteristic in any relationship: trust. But the issue is not success. Most companies succeed in spite of themselves. And in spite of the leader at the top.”

But, when you do embrace accountability as the “support system for winners, and when there is a high level of trust in an organization (starting at the top) that everyone will walk our talk and approach work so that colleagues know they can count on one another, then your company will have a competitive advantage over other companies who struggle to execute their business plans. In my work, my research and my interviews with senior leaders at some of the world’s most admired companies, as well as with CEOs of high-performing small and mid-sized companies, I found these companies not only out-performed their competition, they outperformed themselves.”

Making the commitment

Let’s say that you realize, after getting results from Greg, that you have not been accountable. What steps should you take? Greg recommends the following:

“People are not dumb, so be honest and consider delivering some version of this message: ‘I realize that I wasn’t holding myself accountable, and what this meant is that my actions did not always match my words. I also have come to realize that I could have done a better job setting clear performance expectations. You guys can’t hear me think. So going forward, I commit to you that you will know exactly what I expect of you, and you can be clear in knowing what you can expect of me in return. Part of what I expect is you will tell me when I’m not being clear, when I’m not being consistent, and when I’m not removing the barriers that will make you more effective in your job.’”

Then follow through on your statements to recreate a culture in which accountability – starting from the top – is the catalyst to allowing your company to grow and flourish.

What are your thoughts about this philosophy? Did you take the accountability test? Please leave your comments below.

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