Year after year, accountability tops the charts of issues executives say they want to improve.
Based on hundreds of engagements and data I have collected over the years from more than 6,000 CEOs and their key executives from around the world, lack of accountability is the single greatest threat to achieving consistent levels of high performance.
The facts are clear: Most organizations are not as effective as they could be at getting things done.
And lack of accountability is a big reason why; often it’s the reason why.
Accountability is critical to anyone leading a group of people, because, after all, every business is a people business. Accountability is how people get things done – or don’t get things done
We Are Our Own Worst Enemy
As leaders, we get the behavior we tolerate.
When it comes to being accountable, we are often our own worst enemy. We accept excuses that sound logical even when we know better. We allow emotions to cloud our decision making. We delay having a conversation with an under performer because it’s easier to avoid a difficult conversation than having one. Instead of practicing accountability, we practice avoidance.
That was certainly the case with me. Along the way, I learned three valuable lessons:
I learned these lessons the hard way. I figured there’s got to be a better way to build and sustain a culture where accountability is part of the DNA of high-performing organizations.
The Seven Pillars of Accountability
To discover that better way, I asked leaders at widely admired companies in completely different industries to share the steps they have taken to create, nurture, and sustain a high-performing culture.
What I learned is that accountability transcends borders and industries. I learned that all organizations wrestle with accountability in much the same way. Although the scope and complexity may differ from organization to organization, the problems leaders encounter on a daily basis are the same.
High-performing organizations create and sustain a culture of purpose, accountability, and fulfillment that is guided by a set of principles and practices that are simple to say and hard to do.
I call these principles The Seven Pillars of Accountability:
You probably noticed an acronym: C.U.L.T.U.R.E. It’s deliberate and will help you remember the seven pillars.
This acronym also will help you remember that your culture is a significant predictor of your future performance.
The key to accountability is bringing together these principles and then acting on them with consistency to sustain a high-performance culture.
Accountability’s Other Side
Ron Farmer founded US Signs in 1980 and led his company through nine tough months the company’s first year as well as through three recessions before selling his company in 2011 for full value. Growing more than 1,000 percent in the first 5 years landed US Signs on the Inc. 500 list at #196. Farmer started a second company, US LED, in 2001, and he and his team achieved average annual growth rate of 73 percent over the first 10 years. In 2012, he was an Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year finalist.
Like many of the leaders I interviewed, Farmer believes accountability has two sides: a positive side and a negative side.
Accountability gets a bad rap. Just saying the word conjures all sorts of negative images: micromanagement; an emotional, mean-spirited conversation; punishment. It can be all of those things, but it doesn’t have to be any of them.
“People do their best work,” Farmer told me, “when they know they’re going to be given credit for their contribution. So there has to be a certain amount of autonomy in people’s work so they can contribute without reservation. There’s accountability at work in this type of approach, but I view accountability not from the side that says, ‘This is what happens if you don’t do something,’ but rather, ‘See what’s possible if you do your best.’ It’s the other side of the same coin.”
High-performing organizations have in common a way of doing things that distinguishes their culture.
If your view of accountability is having a tough conversation with an underperformer, you will miss the bigger point.
Yes, we examine a model for a conversation with an underperformer, but long before that conversation occurs dozens of other practices must be in place if you expect to drive accountability throughout your organization to create and sustain a high-performance culture.
To dive even deeper into the topic of accountability, I invite you to purchase a copy of my bestselling book, “Accountability: The Key to Driving a High-Performance Culture.”
Business schools teach case studies. Hollywood blockbusters are inspired by true events.
Exceptional leaders are students of history. Decision-making comes with the territory.