Organizational accountability defines a company’s mission, values, goals and everyone’s role within the company. It is often top of mind for leaders within the corporate world and is commonly tied to actions or consequences that drive behavior to accomplish company goals.
For instance, when things aren’t going as planned, a phrase I commonly hear is, “We need to hold so and so accountable.” It has almost become cliché and likely parroted so often because we constantly see it pridefully shouted in the media and in politics. In these settings, it is often associated with exacting some sort of retribution for a misdeed or failure.
In the corporate world, however, things are much more nuanced. For example, should leaders seek punishment for timelines that slipped or sales goals that are softer than anticipated? And what is considered punishment: termination, public admonishment, other?
I doubt any company could afford to fire its employees for routine challenges that all business plans face and seldom do leaders want to create a culture of fear. But what many might not realize is that organizational accountability can be achieved without punitive connotations commonly associated with this topic. Here is how I look at accountability within my organization.
Senior leadership and boards of directors might be unknowingly driving accountability as part of their routine annual planning. Most companies set annual corporate goals and measure performance around those goals. Remuneration in the form of bonuses and stock is often connected to that performance. Poor performance against goals leads to reduced bonus attainment, so this accountability management tool has consequences built in.
However, it is rarely an all-or-nothing structure, and while compensation may be reduced, there is still positive reinforcement by providing some reward for goals met. Any program that involves setting goals and rewarding achievement against those goals can provide the accountability leaders want to see in a more positive format.
It’s common for senior executives to drive performance throughout the organization, given they are often accountable for driving corporate goals. This can be more challenging in larger organizations as the degrees of separation between senior leadership and management are increased.
One way to push accountability further down the organizational chart is to tap into peer influence. For instance, at my company, we create quarterly milestones, which are assigned to middle management. Each person responsible for a particular milestone is required to update the group on their execution, and we track progress against these milestones on a percentage basis toward 100% completion.
This process creates a scorecard that informs the greater team how everyone is doing relative to their peers, and it forces employees to provide credible justification for slipped milestones. It doesn’t single out any one person, but it does make performance, and accountability for performance, publicly visible. Higher performers will undoubtedly influence lower performers and drive better accountability throughout the organization.
This is the most often overlooked aspect of accountability and should be the ultimate goal for organizational accountability. Organizations that strive to achieve personal accountability need to worry less about “holding people accountable” because employees will do so themselves. In the quest to hold teams accountable, we often don’t take the time to determine if our employees show self-accountability.
What I look for when goals are missed or timelines slip is a sense of personal responsibility and an earnest desire to improve performance and resolve the issue or performance gap. In my opinion, the only time to embrace punitive consequences is when an employee avoids personal accountability and looks to blame others or external factors.
Organizational accountability is tied to company goals and should not be associated with punishment or repercussions. Leveraging positive reinforcement, such as remuneration for goals met; peer accountability, with high-performers setting the bar; and self-accountability, an organization can thrive and achieve its goals without compromising morale or its corporate culture.