Accountability by Design – Leader Driven

In this series so far, we have talked about two of the five drivers of an accountable by design organisation. The first addressed how having the right consequences greatly influences the extent to which employees are motivated to behave accountably. The second touched upon how having the right processes in place – those that are agile, well-defined, and uniformly communicated and executed – ensure that employees are almost unconsciously nudged towards demonstrating accountability. From this article onwards, we’ll move more towards the people side of building an accountable by design organisation.

This week’s driver is no surprise. It is well-established that the behaviour of people in positions of power in the organisation, significantly influence the behaviour of the other employees. Leaders at all levels in the organisation have the power to actively promote accountable behaviour through their actions. The corollary, however, is that if they are not careful, their actions can negatively impact accountability, turning employees cynical with a “Why should I?”  or a “What’s the point?”  attitude.

In an accountable by design organisation, anyone taking on a leadership or management role is trained to demonstrate certain skills and abide by a fixed leadership framework to ensure that they actively help promote accountable behaviour in the organisation. Here are five things to encourage in your leaders to promote an accountable by design organisation.

Ensure that they clearly set expectations

Leaders need to be able to clearly put into words what they want from each of their team members. Without this, timing, quality, performance among other aspects of an outcome, are left purely to the discretion of individual employees. The clearer the expectations and goals are, the easier it will be for employees to know how they are expected to behave in a given scenario. Linking this with the previous two drivers, the clearer the expectations, the simpler it will be for employees to know which processes to put in play and what rewards they can expect for a job well done.  

Encourage them to lead by example.

This one is fairly self-explanatory. Your leaders need to understand the importance of practicing what they preach. Nothing brings down accountable behaviour faster than leaders who ask their team to do something they don’ t do themselves. If they are ever in a situation where they cannot, open and honest communication with their teams can go a long way in making sure there is no feeling of unfairness.

Hold them back from micro-managing

The natural instinct of most leaders is to step in and help out wherever they can, especially when it comes to making decisions. This often leads to team members demonstrating less accountability because “I was just doing what I was told to”. Having leaders make decisions for them reduces the need for them to feel responsible or accountable for the final outcome. To create an accountable by design organisation, help your leaders define broad boundaries within which the decision making is entirely in the hands of their team members. This would help them both feel more accountable for the work they are doing, while also enabling them to slowly take on more and more responsibility.

Make sure they create an environment of trust

It is important for leaders to trust their team members and their ability to do the task at hand. If team members do not feel trusted, it almost primes them for failure. They may not put in the required effort and may be quick to blame their apparent incompetence if the job is not done well. The default setting of a leader in an accountable by design organisation needs to be trust. With the right processes and consequences in place, this almost blind trust becomes a lot easier.

Help them enable their team members to perform

Finally, leaders need to set their teams up for success. They’ll need to be quick to provide the necessary guidance, support, and resources that are needed. This helps the team members feel empowered to give it their all with no room for excuses. The more you take away the possibility of excuses and enable them to do their best, the more likely they are to demonstrate accountable behaviour.

Unlike the processes and consequences earlier discussed, this driver has a lot to do with the individual capabilities of the leaders. However, by having a well-defined leadership framework, a standardized leadership on-boarding program, and strong selection criteria for choosing empathetic and competent leaders, accountable behaviour can be driven very positively by those in positions of power.

Next week, we will explore the fourth driver, another one from the people side of an accountable by design organisation – the culture.

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