As we all get close to ending 2011 and starting up in 2012, there is a lot of talk about how to create a culture of accountability. This goes beyond the subject of alignment. You can provide clearly established goals to executives, managers and employees, but how do you assure that they are accepted and that employees feel and act as if they are accountable for their role in meeting the business objectives?
Much of the research that the energy team has done shows that despite the complex efforts to roll out strategies, employees remain confused about direction and how strategy affects him/her. This, in many cases, is because the business environment changes quickly and as a result the business changes what it’s doing, disorienting employees. About 70% of the open-ended comments we receive from clients and in the leadership work focus on direction, with employees and leaders saying that alignment is very difficult because employees are unclear to what they are suppose to align.
What does work in terms of accountability is positive peer pressure. If one looks to the world of marketing, advertising campaigns designed to create positive peer pressure to purchase items are quite effective. People are accountable to their peers and will pay money to purchase items that let them “fit in” with peer groups, either at work or at school. Facebook is another interesting phenomenon. Users are very accountable to their “friends” and do what it takes to keep up their profile, add pictures, communication, and be part of the ongoing network.
Being accountable because you WANT to be accountable appears to work well. The challenge then is how to create an environment where employees and managers want to participate in a system that holds them accountable for doing work.
- The energy metric is coupled with other custom questions that meet the needs of the business on the day the data is being collected. Every organization using the energy system has a unique, customized metrics strategy that can be adjusted on a moment’s notice to fit changing business conditions. That means managers are accountable not for something set in stone or a set of questions that is being used by the competition but for questions that are important to the organization. During implementations, managers and sometimes all employees are involved in helping shape question ideas.
- The overall metric strategy is horizontal (questions spread out over time) not vertical (all questions loaded into a once-a-year bigger process). Trend data are collected, pulse dialogues are short and easy to do, and trust is built up over time because employees have experience in submitting data, engaging in dialogues, being part of an action taking process, and learning as recipients of results or news about outcomes.
- Reporting is frequent and to everyone. If pulse dialogues are done weekly, then reports are delivered weekly; if they are conducted monthly then reports also are provided monthly. The pulsing process is used with all employees, not a random sample. This is because all employees and all managers receive reports. This is what builds accountability. Random sampling results in the HR department or leadership team “owning” the data because sampling does not provide enough people responding to provide reports to all managers. If an organization wants to increase accountability at the line level, then the line needs its own data. Thus, the energy pulsing process keeps the pulse dialogues short, and it provides trend data and regular fast reporting to everyone.
- Everyone translates to mean all employees. At some time in an implementation, when trust is built, all employees get reports. The energy pulsing process is built to give employees personal reports. Every single employee can see his/her own data compared to the trends for the company overall and for other views of the data (e.g. department, location, occupation). This moves accountability from leadership and HR to the manager and to every single employee. Employees “own” their own data because ultimately employees are responsible for their work experience. By sharing the data to everyone, visibility to problems and opportunities improves. Transparency increases accountability and alignment.
- All employees use the event log (to track their own experience) and the action-taking module. The words “action taking” are used vs. “action planning” to remove the passive language that is customarily used in employee-driven survey processes. The action-taking module is attached to reports, providing employees with a tool for reviewing actions taken by others and recording their own actions. The system tracks opportunities, actions against opportunities, return on investment (ROI) when an action is closed and/or an ROI story. The stories are powerful, and we find it is the stories that travel from one person to another very quickly. Story telling about successful actions is where the positive peer pressure starts to develop. The ROI stories range from very small actions that may have a $300 benefit to large, organization-wide changes that result in millions of dollars in savings.
- Everyone can nominate actions as best practices. The process builds heroes, and by this competition for doing your best, accountability takes hold in a positive, results-focused way. Accountability for taking action is not the result of threats; it’s not the outcome of a new compensation or performance management system. Accountability grows out of active, high-energy participation in a process designed to make the workplace better.
- Accountability and alignment are outcomes of employees networking and taking action to meet business priorities. The organizational objectives are the focus of all this activity because they are at the core of the metric strategy used to power the pulse dialogues, which kick off the interactive dialogue driving action and results.
Barriers to success and barriers to creating a culture with higher levels of accountability