Accountable by design – Consequence Driven Accountability

It’s well known in the professional world that accountability is extremely important for success. The question is whether to build accountability at an individual level or an organizational one? We’ve worked with HR Heads who want to identify their least accountable employees and put them through rigorous training programs. We’ve also worked with HR Heads who want to run culture building interventions to ensure that the culture promotes self-governing, accountable behaviour across the organisation.

While working with over 300 organisations for the last 12 years, we’ve spent a lot of time looking into how organisations function, trying to see if there is one right way to drive accountability. Training non-accountable individuals has shown some success, as have certain culture building initiatives. However, the more we worked with organisations, the more we realised that the need of the hour is accountability by design – to create an organisation that by its very functioning, its regular day-to-day functioning, is able to drive accountability, almost like clockwork, without depending on individual employees and their innate tendency to behave accountably.

We’ve zeroed in on 5 core drivers that seem to hold the key to this idea of accountability by design. In this blog post, I’ll talk a bit about the first of these drivers.

There’s been a lot written about the carrot and stick method of driving performance. While we know now that this is not the best way to motivate people to work, there is something to be said about the value of consequences. From what we’ve found, one of the drivers of creating an accountable by design organisation is having the right consequences associated with performance. Essentially this means having consequences that employees value and think are worthwhile and fair.

Here are five ways of making sure your organisational consequences promote accountability by design.

1. Define clear and precise consequences:

Employees need to know exactly what is expected of them to get the rewards or recognition that they desire. The more subjective and vague the criteria, the less likely it is for the consequences to drive the desired behaviour. Come up with realistic and achievable, yet not necessarily easily attainable, criteria for rewarding your employees.

2. The consequences must be relevant in the short term:

 Organisations value employees that are reliable, who work hard and always deliver quality output. These are the employees that come to mind whenever there are exciting new projects, promotions or other opportunities for career growth. Unfortunately, because of the superior level at which they perform, they may often be overlooked for smaller, regular, short term rewards. To encourage accountable behaviour, ensure that there are significant short term reward schemes in place. Something as simple as public appreciation or small gift cards will do. Now, employees do not need to wait indefinitely to be recognised for their good work.

3.The consequences must be relevant in the long term:

 Accountable by design organisations are all about balance. Public appreciation and gift cards help with instant gratification for a job well done. This increases the likelihood that they’ll repeat the same behaviour. However, this is not enough. With time, this instant gratification will not have the desired result, unless people know it is all adding up to something more significant. Make sure there is enough reason for employees to continue to demonstrate accountable behaviour by defining objective long term rewards as well.

4. Ensure that the consequences commensurate with the task:

 Employees need to feel like the reward is worth working towards. If the task takes a lot of effort and the reward is small and inconsequential, they might as well focus their energy elsewhere. Listen to your employees. Understand the effort it takes for each task. Define the rewards accordingly. It is also important to recognise what tasks to reward. If the rewards come by too easily, they lose their value. In fact, this may actually promote non-accountable behaviour with employees thinking that they don’t need to push themselves to do better or to achieve more.

5. The rewards need to be fair:

 Most importantly, employees need to feel that the rewards are fair and unbiased. This is a mix of defining the reward structure well and communicating the criteria to all employees. What often happens, quite unknowingly, is that some people get recognised for a job well done, while the same work done by others (especially on busy days) often falls through the cracks. This may not seem like a big deal in the larger scheme of things. Some managers say “But they know we appreciate them”. However, it is small instances like this that start to build the “What’s the point?” attitude, typical of non-accountable employees.

Before Closing…

Finally, I’d like to bring out three points before closing this post. These are questions that I’m sure have come up as you’ve skimmed through the article. One, we have consciously stayed away from talking about the negative consequences of not behaving accountably (punishments, penalties etc.). From our experience and that of those before us, it is evident that building an organisation on fear is unhelpful and is eventually likely to promote unethical behaviour. The idea is to make people value the positives so much that the fear of losing out on them is enough to drive the desired behaviour.

Two, there has been a lot of research on intrinsic motivation and how rewards can often negatively impact your already motivated employees. It is key to choose the right consequences for the right tasks to ensure that it feels like a reward and not a bribe. The minute an employee sees as a bribe, it becomes detrimental to driving the desired accountable behaviour. Spend time talking to your employees and understanding what they do, what they want and what keeps them going. The answers for what the right consequences are will only come from them.

Finally, as mentioned earlier, this is just one of the five drivers of an accountable by design organisation. All the five need to work together for an organisation to truly see success.

See you next week with driver number 2 – Processes.

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