6 Warning Signs That Your Accountability System Needs Updating 711x400

6 Warning Signs That Your Accountability System Needs Updating

If you’re trying to create a culture of success to ensure that your organization runs in the most effective manner possible, you’ll inevitably have to look at your system of accountability.

In a matrix (any organization of 50+ people that must operate cross-functionally to succeed), accountability requires a commitment to ensure that you’re delivering organizational, team and individual outcomes—in that order. In other words, accountability in the cross-functional organization focuses on results and not individual activities.

Accountability in a matrix is a commitment and not an assignment because you want to empower people to accept and own tasks and deliverables that they can actually achieve, based on available resources and capacity. By contrast, authority-based accountability will derail these efforts faster than I can write this blog post.

Designed to support high-performing teams, this new approach to accountability is paramount to an organization’s success because the goals and outcomes are based on organizational priorities.

But how do you really know if your accountability system may be crippling your organization? Check out these tell-tale signs:

1. You’re Not Delivering on Your Strategy

This symptom can show up in many different places, such as customers requiring higher levels of service, functional silos that slow down production, overwhelmed personnel, and general lack of employee engagement.

Of course, having unlimited time and resources on every endeavor is a leader’s dream. But it’s just that—a dream. In the real world, leaders must learn how to manage their portfolio of projects effectively to ensure that the most important strategic initiatives get done. The accountability system must be proactive, creating alignment and driving cooperation and collaboration across the organization.

Even though the problem and solution here are a bit abstract, the next few should bring some clarity.

2. Functional Silos Are Clogging Productivity

The presence of functional silos is one the most obvious signs of authority-based accountability.

But because nearly every company is managed solely from the vertical dimension (the org chart), silos continue to run rampant. Consequently, when companies restructure to find more efficiencies and to foster collaboration, they get pretty frustrated when new, unanticipated silos pop up in the place of the old ones.

The horizontal dimension is where (and how) products and services actually get delivered to market, and authority-based leadership doesn’t work in this cross-functional dimension since no one person has authority. Therefore, putting an end to functional silos requires a complete revamping of the accountability system. Traditional, blame-based accountability is replaced by a proactive approach, where priorities are set at the organizational level, teams bring together the proper stakeholders, and individuals negotiate accountability by making commitments based on available resources.
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3. Individuals Drive Results and Teams Are Sub-Optimized

Individual prioritization is often, but not always, related to the presence of functional silos.

In this scenario, people focus on their parts of the organization, but teams do not deliver the expected results. This problem typically manifests in projects that take much longer than expected or reassignment of personnel to different initiatives because their leaders have functional goals that they need to accomplish.

Teams are nothing more than a group of people working collaboratively to achieve a common goal—in fact, the organization itself is one big team—but to achieve these common objectives, everyone in the organization must be motivated and aligned around organizational priorities. When they’re not, individuals work on those tasks that are most important to them or to whichever manager is screaming the loudest, and both options lead to disempowerment (which is why we’re so worried about employee engagement these days).

4. You Have Too Many Projects in the Pipeline and Not Enough Resources

Typically, this problem arises when all area leaders are looking at what they need to maximize their own functions, regardless of the organizational priorities. So they kick off initiatives that that will support their functional accountability, which in turn creates a larger portfolio of projects, which in turn drives their employees to work harder with fewer resources.

In short, if you have teams and leaders over-committing and not delivering on their commitments, you have an accountability problem.

5. Processes Are Ineffective

As used here, process refers to end-to-end, cross-functional processes. You might have individual sub-processes for which one person or group is accountable, but you’re not driving operations from the perspective of the end-to-end processes. As a result, you have no one (or no team) accountable for the whole.

Typically, no single team or leader has accountability for an end process. We’ve worked with lots of leaders where we’ve mapped out their most macro process and when we talk about who’s accountable for what, they’re very clear on who owns a part of it, but no one can tell us who owns the whole. And they dare not define it, either, because they’re uncomfortable with being held accountable when they don’t have authority over all the elements.

In other words, not having authority affects their willingness to accept accountability, and the accountability system doesn’t require anyone to accept accountability. So, no one is truly accountable.

6. Accountability Is Assigned, Not Negotiated

If you are assigning accountability and telling people what they’re accountable for, it’s time for an update. In a matrix, there’s no authority-driven accountability in the horizontal dimension, and you can’t tell someone what to do. (Well, you can, but you’ve likely seen firsthand how effective that approach is.) Accountability must start with a request and include a front-end process so that stakeholders can co-create the plan for implementation and then negotiate their individual commitments, based on the availability of resources, skill sets, and alignment with organizational priorities. This process engages and empowers employees while creating a culture of success—an environment where team members can own and deliver on their commitments.

So how did you do? Ideally, none of the above issues is holding your organization back. But if they are, upgrading your accountability system could be an important next step in creating the culture of success you’re looking for.

About Jason Myers

As the Editor-in-Chief of OD Innovator Magazine, Jason Myers is on a mission to help people transform their organizations into more innovative and collaborative environments. He co-developed a Crash Course in Collaborative Project Leadership to arm leaders with needed skills to drive innovation in any organization.

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