6 Organizational Myths That Sabotage Accountability

This is a guest post by Travis Dommert. He is president of IRUNURUN, a performance and accountability platform designed to help people and organizations achieve greater results in their work and lives. For more tips on peak performance and building a culture of accountability, visit the IRUNURUN blog. If you want to guest post on this blog, check out the guidelines here.

From the days of Enron and Worldcom to more recent Wall Street collapses, Ponzi schemes, and political scandals, much has been written about the need for greater accountability in the workplace. Cultures of accountability foster trust, integrity, and sustainable performance. But the reality is that few companies do this well.

Shattered Glass - Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/digihelion, Image #14247835

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/digihelion

Here are six myths that sabotage accountability in the workplace and what you can do about them:

Myth 1: Focus. Everyone knows what matters most. We don’t need to spell it out.

There is a reason Gallup’s Q12 employee engagement survey starts with the question “Do you know what is expected of you at work?” It’s because crystal clarity is the single most important factor in determining whether or not you have a workplace that will attract and retain top performers.  Even marginal uncertainty can undermine the focus on an entire organization.

Spell out key responsibilities in writing and review it again and again. If people don’t know how they are being measured, it is difficult for them to be accountable for delivering results!

Myth 2: Consistency. Any initiative will stick if it comes down from the CEO.

Wrong.  While it may be true that initiatives that lack the CEO’s support are often doomed to languish, a rubber stamp from the top does not ensure success.

You must spell out what new behaviors are expected, who will be measuring them, and how often…and then actually do it! Otherwise, just save yourself the time and frustration of rolling out another new program.

Myth 3: Visibility. Publicizing commitments and failures only weakens morale.

If your culture supports open dialogue and learning from mistakes, public commitments and public results can fire up morale.

Friendly competition raises everyone’s game, and sharing post mortems on things-gone-wrong (TGW’s) can lead to new learnings.

Myth 4: Training. Training is sufficient for hard-wiring new behaviors.

Most training introduces new skills. Terrific! But how many persist after 30 days? Typically few. If you want your training to deliver a lasting impact, translate the learnings into specific behaviors that must change.

Prioritize them among existing priorities. Publicize them. Measure whether or not they are done.  Don’t just go through the motions with training and expect things to be different this time.

Myth 5: Work-Life Balance. You can’t hold people accountable for taking care of themselves.

When leaders realize that peak work performance requires immense energy, and that energy renewal often comes from “life activities,” they may begin to embrace the fact that work and life complement, not compete with one another. (See this great HBR article on this topic.)

Where there is trust and employee engagement, the opportunity exists to talk openly about healthy personal habits. Provide education on fitness, nutrition, and stress management and then get creative with an office challenge or other accountability initiative to celebrate group achievement.

Myth 6: Stress. Stress is a bad thing.

To preserve company morale and avoid the moniker of local tyrant, leaders may shy from stretch goals that stress the troops.  To the contrary, stress is fundamental to growth and peak performance.  No super star performs without stressing themselves mentally, physically, and emotionally.  

The key is to understand that accumulated stress is a bad thing. Instead, develop cycles of stress and recovery. Just as with building a muscle, the better people master the stress/recovery cycle, the more power they bring to work. (For more insights into this process, check out Stress for Success by Dr. James Loehr.)

Whether by luck or brute force, any individual or team can deliver a single great performance, but sustaining excellence in a manner that honors the organization’s mission, vision, and values requires a culture of accountability.

While this sounds simple enough, pitfalls are common and leaders must focus, think long-term, and challenge conventional wisdom to avoid “the road paved with good intentions.”

Question: How do you see these myths operative in your organization. You can leave a comment by clicking here.
Want to launch your own blog or upgrade to a self-hosted WordPress blog? It’s easier than you think! Watch my free, twenty-minute screencast. I show you exactly how to do it, step-by-step. You don’t need any technical knowledge. Click here to get started.

Watch my free screencast

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are snarky, offensive, or off-topic. If in doubt, read My Comments Policy.

  • http://www.christianfaithatwork.com Chris Patton

    Well done, Travis!  I was not aware of IRUNURUN, but it looks like a great tool.  I will have to check it out.

    Thanks for the simple list of myths.  I know I have been guilty of embracing a couple of them at one time or another.

    I especially like number one – focus.  Patrick Lencioni talks about this in his book Four Obsessions of an Extraordinary Executive when he describes the third obsession – Over-Communicate Clarity.  Too often as leaders, we think we have already talked about one of our focuses too much and we don’t want to overdo it.  He says to keep on communicating it…they still need to hear it more.

    Thanks for the reminder!

    • http://smallgroupbooks.com Ryan Knight

      Thanks for the Lencioni tip Chris. I just saw he’ll be at CFA Leadercast 2012.

    • http://www.irunurun.com/blog/ Travis Dommert

      Thanks Chris.  Yes, Patrick’s work is terrific and so insightful.  I look forward to hearing him at next year’s CFA Leadercast.  (Speaker line up is here: http://www.chick-fil-aleadercast.com/speakers)

      Great test of #1 – Survey the team and ask them to articulate the top 3 priorities of the firm.  If they are inconsistent…even just out of order…there is uncertainty.

      • http://www.christianfaithatwork.com Chris Patton

        Travis, what if they just sit and stare at you?

        Just kidding…thanks for the tip.

        I am also looking forward to the Chick-Fil-A Leadercast.  The line-up looks like a good one – as usual!

  • http://smallgroupbooks.com Ryan Knight

    Great tips Travis. I like the idea of using stress in a positive way. I’m a runner and the stress/recovery idea resonates well with me.

    For Work-Life balace, I recently started a walking competition at work. It’s been great to see people excited about their health and I recommend the idea to anyone looking to get people at work moving around a little more.

    For Focus, I’ve been at jobs where management laughed at the Gallup survey. They thought it was a waste of time and that all that mattered is hard-work by lower level employees. “Just do what your told,” they’d say. They also laugh at leadership events and think it’s all just a show to make some money. Any tips on managing up in those situations?

    • http://www.irunurun.com/blog/ Travis Dommert

      Have we worked in the same company, Ryan? Kidding of course.  I have heard the snickers, too…and even “Oh yeah, I get it.  Engagement is important, but right now all that matters is the budget.”

      It is a complete paradigm shift to start believing that sales, profit, and loyalty stem from employee engagement rather than the other way around.  To this end, I highly recommend Dr. Fred Reichheld’s book, The Loyalty Effect.  It goes beyond theory and proposes financial and economic models for measuring the impact of engagement.  After all, those cynical bosses are often moved by the numbers more than a good vibe.  Engagement is rock solid business strategy.  

      Another thought (though not my first suggestion), look for a servant leader whose success was built on serving and building up others…and follow him or her instead.  Good luck!

      • http://smallgroupbooks.com Ryan Knight

        Thanks Travis.  I’ll check out that book.

  • http://John.do John Saddington

    this myths are great. well done and well shared!

  • http://www.extremejohn.com Extreme John

    These are myths indeed. I love myth no. 6. Stress is a bad thing. I believe that if we can’t appreciate stress, life wouldn’t be that well-lived. It’s just like saying: You need to have a bad day every once and a while. Otherwise, how will you know how a good day feels like. 

    • http://www.irunurun.com/blog/ Travis Dommert

      Indeed.  Remove stress, and we atrophy RAPIDLY.  Our brains literally shrink.

      Another fascinating resource on this, the book SPARK by Dr. John Ratey.  The data is accumulating to suggest that exercise (a steady diet of simulated stress) is God’s medicine for the vast majority of things that ail us.

      The key is not to let stress accumulate.  We must learn to recover.  Few organizations make recovery one of their best practices.  It’s a powerful (and simple and FREE) concept!

      • http://www.extremejohn.com Extreme John

        Sounds like a great book.  Thanks for introducing that to me Travis. 

  • http://twitter.com/JoniHannigan Joni Hannigan

    Great reminders of myths and the obvious.

  • http://successbeginstoday.org/wordpress John Richardson

    Actions speak louder than goals… so true. The irunurun app looks like a great way to stay focused and take action on the important things in life. I’ll have to give it a try.

  • http://www.thehahnhuntinglodge.com Nikole Hahn

    One thing most businesses forget, as in my last job, is number 6. They do meetings where it pays workers overtime. Some workers ask tons of questions at the meeting to lengthen their overtime while most others want to go home and be with their families. They don’t want meetings with moral building games and there are some things that can just go into a memo. I think business need to make sure overtime is used only when necessary and anything that can go into a memo, should, and not keep a worker at work away from their families. That’s been my experience.

    • http://www.thehahnhuntinglodge.com Nikole Hahn

      Actually, that goes into five as well. Life balance.

    • http://www.irunurun.com/blog/ Travis Dommert

      Sounds like someone needs to get a memo on Best Practices for Effective Meetings!  Perhaps an upcoming post from Michael that you could forward?  Thanks!

    • http://www.jmlalonde.com Joe Lalonde

      Great observation Nikole. The myth of working overtime being productive has been a major setback to families. Becoming overworked and overstressed does not do the company or your family any good.

  • Ken Hilburn

    Travis,

    Thanks for the insights. One thing I noticed was how a little bit of open and honest communication is the root solution to several of these. A great thing to remember!

    Keep up the great work at irunurun!!

    • http://www.irunurun.com/blog/ Travis Dommert

      Thanks Ken.  Well said – and a strength of yours that I have witnessed.  You’re the best!

  • http://brandonweldy.wordpress.com Brandon Weldy

    Your first point is often an issue in the Church. I have heard from friends and have also witnesses, in many churches there is no definition for focus. Everyone just figures that we know what the job of the Church is, there is no point to define. I have found that a congregations needs to have a clear cut purpose and several goals to meet. This helps everyone stay on the same page. Even if the purpose statement is Matthew 28:18-20 written out then list ways the congregation plans to meet them. This also helps with youth group/adult group tension. When both groups have the same purpose (maybe with differing goals) they are able to work better together!

    • http://www.irunurun.com/blog/ Travis Dommert

      Great point, Brandon.  Would be curious to hear how other Church leaders have articulated their focus.

      Same is true in Education, Healthcare, and Government.  Schools could assume that everyone knows they are there “to equip future leaders”…or is it “to teach the 3 R’s”…or “provide a sanctuary for creativity”…???  Hmm.

      Clarity makes a big difference, particularly when limited resources require tough decisions.

      • http://brandonweldy.wordpress.com Brandon Weldy

        Most places don’t do a great job of articulating the focus. I have seen them put it on the sign out front and then that is all you get. “Transforming Lives Through Christ,” “Reaching God and Touching Lives,” “Love the Lord, Live the Truth, Light the World” are a few that I know of

  • http://www.wol.ca/staff/lyons Charlie Lyons

    Great stuff here. I love it. Thank you for this post.

  • http://friendlyhuman.com Daniel Roberts

    Great post! Especially the part about accumulated stress. I’m leaning that I can do some surprisingly tedious, stressful tasks without wearing out if I take time to recover.

    Thank you so much for creating irunurun. I’ve been using it for a month or two, and I can already see how my life is starting to change. The team aspect of it is great too. It’s almost like alpine climbing and being tethered to others. As long as everyone doesn’t fall all at the same time, you all keep moving up the mountain.

    • http://www.irunurun.com/blog/ Travis Dommert

      Great analogy, love it!

  • Jeremiah

    Great post Travis! I think you are spot-on.

    How about myth 7 “My employees will do as I say, not as I do.” One of the biggest problems I see in companies is the leadership acting in a way that doesn’t reflect the stated company culture.

    • http://www.irunurun.com/blog/ Travis Dommert

      Amen!  This is such a part of #5, too.  If the leader says work/life balance is important, but doesn’t practice it, no one else will either.  I have been amazed how many leaders dismiss the impact of their words and actions on others.

      In a previous firm, it nearly took an intervention to convince our ceo that people WANTED and NEEDED to know what he thought…on an ongoing basis.  One foul mood or rant or off-the-cuff display of frustration and people would talk doom-and-gloom.

      He implemented a weekly voicemail and dedicated a team member to harrass the daylights out of him to make sure he did it consistently so people got their regular dose of his thoughts and feelings about how we were doing.

      He insisted it was silly and that everyone was paranoid.  “Just work!”  It’s just not that simple.

  • Anonymous

    Good post, sound points to be remembered and put into practice.

  • Anonymous

    Travis, 

    Great guest post.  Still pondering how they apply to our church.  I’m particularly intrigued by #4.  One of our challenges is providing training to workers who are primarily volunteers without making it too much of an extra burden.

    Love your blog.  Just signed up for the RSS feed.

    • http://www.irunurun.com/blog/ Travis Dommert

      Thank you so much, Karl.  

      The key aspect of #4 is not to dismiss training, but simply to embrace that training is simply the spark.  You still have to fan the flames and feed the fire for as long as you want the fire to burn.

      Volunteers are indeed among the greatest leadership challenges, though I love how John Maxwell (and others) encourage all leaders to treat their people like volunteers.  After all, they are free to take their time and talents elsewhere.

      To this end, new social media tools can be very helpful for maintaining a sense of connection among people who don’t show up to work together each day.  Facebook, Ning communities, etc. 

      That was sort of an unexpected use of irunurun actually…having people who don’t work together use it to share accountability around something that mattered to the group, like small groups from charities, churches, and leadership round-tables.

      Good luck!

      • Anonymous

        Facebook has helped with the connection, particularly with younger members of our church.

        Thanks. I look forward to getting to know you and your work better through your blog.

        • http://www.irunurun.com/blog/ Travis Dommert

          Thanks Karl!

  • http://www.jmlalonde.com Joe Lalonde

    Thanks for sharing and exposing these myths Travis!

    I see myths 1, 2, and 4 happening in a lot of companies.

    With myth one, I often struggle with it as I feel I’m not always given the most clarity in the direction our company is going. Thus, I feel like I’m treading water not knowing where I need to be.

    I fully agree with you on myth 4. Following training, there needs to be an implementation strategy. Otherwise the information you gained fades away and is lost. I’ve seen this happen quite a bit.

    • http://www.irunurun.com/blog/ Travis Dommert

      Thanks Joe.  A quick thought on #1…regularly communicate up what you believe to be the priorities if they are not being communicated down.  Just a succinct periodic email.  

      [insert boss’ name], Just checking in.  Here are my priorities right now…1, 2, 3, 4.  If I’m off-base on any of these, please let me know.  Thanks! -Joe

      • http://www.jmlalonde.com Joe Lalonde

        Travis, thanks for the tip on communicating up. I’ll have to implement that type of quick email to him.

  • http://golfwisdomlife.com Larry Galley

    Michael, you had me saying hoorah all the way through point five and the I momentarily dug in my heels on point six.  I had to reread and emphasize to myself the importance of the “stress/recovery cycle.”  I’m ordering Dr. Loehr’s book for further grounding.  Thanks for the lead.  Larry Galley

    • http://www.irunurun.com/blog/ Travis Dommert

      Larry, you won’t be disappointed!  

      The key is not to wait until you feel stressed to seek recovery (reactive mode), but rather to accept that you are accumulating stress all the time.  Active recovery is key.  

      People who can’t articulate their recovery strategy probably don’t have one.  Jim provides great simple examples to get people proactive with approaches to sleep, fitness, nutrition, family, faith, travel, phone time…etc.  I just wouldn’t suggest trying them all at once!  Pick 2 or 3, create a powerful new habit.  Then pick a couple more.

      Otherwise it’s: STRESS…STRESS…STRESS…QUIT.  Predictable.  Good luck!!

  • Pingback: Leadership Roundup 42 | Matt DeYoung()

  • http://danieldarling.com Daniel Darling

    Great post Travis. Good information for leaders at all levels. 

    • http://www.irunurun.com/blog/ Travis Dommert

      Thanks Daniel.  Appreciate your encouragement.  I took your lead!

  • http://ericspeir.com/ Eric

    I’ve learned that it takes consistency to build consistency in an organization. It doesn’t come easy and it is only achieved by great effort. It takes everyone pushing towards the same goal.

    • http://brandonweldy.wordpress.com Brandon Weldy

       This is a great reminder. Thanks!

    • http://www.irunurun.com/blog/ Travis Dommert

      Eric, I think you raise a subtle, but important point.  Organizational impact stems from personal impact…said another way, professional habits can stem from personal habits.  

      If you’ve never achieved a goal or been consistent with personal habits, it may be unlikely that you’ll become magically consistent at work.  The good news is that the opposite is true, too.  Covey talks about this…do something enough, it becomes a habit.  Work a habit enough, and it becomes character.  Those personal characteristics can then help the org shine.

      You are certainly right about the other part…it doesn’t come easy.  Simple ideas, deceptively challenging!

  • http://uma-maheswaran.blogspot.com/ Uma Maheswaran S

    Some more myths which I have noted:

    — It is always important to operate with a to-do list
    — It is mandatory to follow a ‘one-size-fits-all-time’ management system
    — Maintaining a clean office cubicle
    — Everyone must be a tech geek and digitally organized

    • http://brandonweldy.wordpress.com Brandon Weldy

      the “one-size-fits-all” happens all the time in the Church! We see a program going great in a place like Saddleback or Willow Creek and everywhere wants to do them. Sometimes we forget that there are many factors that go into it working well in those places (finances, interests, different people, a  lot MORE people, etc…). 

      • http://uma-maheswaran.blogspot.com/ Uma Maheswaran S

        Agreed Brandon! It is one of the greatest fallacy we practice everywhere.

        Subject: [mhyatt] Re: 6 Organizational Myths That Sabotage Accountability

  • Mark

    I work with churches going trying to recover from traumatic stress. Relating to #1, I find that everyone assumes that everyone else on a different page — different values, different goals, different dreams. Once I give members the chance to verbalize their values, goals, and dreams, they usually find much more common ground than they realized. So the focus on the organization’s top goals needs go both top down and grassroots up.

  • http://twitter.com/toddpollock Todd Pollock

    Very nice. Myth number one, folks. Write it down. Socialize it. Correct it. Make it clear. Show examples. Teach it. Make sure folks get it and believe in it.

  • http://twitter.com/jamespinnick7 James Pinnick

    I think myth #5 is the most important. You can’t hold people accountable for taking care of themselves.

    Thanks for the great post!

    James
    Author-The Last Seven Pages
    http://www.jamespinnick.com

    • http://www.irunurun.com/blog/ Travis Dommert

      Thanks James.  This was certainly one of our most unexpected findings.  It is very powerful for a leader to back up talk, such as “I want our employees to live full lives and achieve their potential outside the office” with actual measurement and actions.  

      Clients started doing this in our app by including some life activities in people’s effectiveness score.  In that way, people can’t score well unless they are performing both their work and life activities…talk about a “balanced” scorecard!

  • http://www.nginaotiende.blogspot.com Ngina Otiende

    Awesome insight Travis.

    On Visibility, I have to confess that I have come from a place where I used to shun post-event critique meetings because i was afraid of “exposure”..thought it wouldn’t be good for anyone’s morale (esp mine!). Now I see that it makes me and others better and counts in the success of the next project.

    Awesome and insightful read, thank you

    • http://www.irunurun.com/blog/ Travis Dommert

      Thank you Ngina.  Appreciate you sharing your own experience and growth in this area.  Certainly helps when leaders create a safe environment where people can be authentic.  There is so much to be learned from mistakes…except when they’re hidden.

  • Daniil Kofner

    Real advices for a Top Manager if he has such staff which can&want to follow such recomendations in a proper way!

  • http://twitter.com/winggirlkim Kiai Kim

    Stress level, ability to balance work and life, and how well training sticks may all depend on whether a person is naturally well-suited for a position. For example, in a managing position, if a person is naturally and primarily an introverted thinker, his or her secondary function may or may not deal with tasks effectively. A secondary thought function of extraverted intuition is good for seeing the big picture within a company, but extraverted sensation could come out as seemingly narrow-focused on the rigmarole of work. But even a person whose secondary thought function is extraverted intuition, that person’s introversion might prevent good communication if his or her extraverted thinking function is not well-developed. This can cause stress among co-workers who miss information needed to do their jobs well and subsequently cause more stress in the manager.

    Introverted or extraverted stress can be prevented by incorporating one’s team in the problem-solving process by communication. This is why naturally extraverted thinkers tend to make better managers since their instinct is to communicate their ideas to their teams. Stress is alleviated when communication facilitates co-workers with taking initiative and acting as a team. Less stress, better work-life balance. And if training doesn’t stick, the skill and probably the position is not well-suited. On the other hand, “ineffective” training might also be a matter of a person not having developed the thought functions necessary to use that skill.

    (The example is what I see at my day job.)

  • Linda

    Thank you for putting these points together so succinctly Travis.  I know of several businesses that would benefit immensely from taking this on board.

  • Odette

    Thanks, the above myths were very insightful.  The company I’m working for accepts most of them. Which makes it difficult to work for?
    I particularly found myth one and myth 4 intriguing. Amazing how an organization has no clear focus / goal. How can any organization move forward when the employees do not have a clear vision for the future?  
    We go on regular training, which is a great learning experience and a fantastic way to implement new procedures to the benefit of the company. However, I have found that most people are so set in their own ways that they are not prepared to change their procedures even if it’s in the best interest of the company.  Most people know how to achieve greatness, but they are not prepared to put in the necessary effort.
    I especially love the way to use stress in a positive way. Will definitely use it to grow and improve performance. I have just order Stress for Success.
     Thanks.

    • http://www.irunurun.com/blog/ Travis Dommert

      Glad you found this useful!  Don’t be afraid to have a [tactful] discussion with your leadership team or perhaps just share the post and let them get the idea.  One of these (like #1) just may be the elephant in the room.  Hope you enjoy Jim’s book!

  • http://www.jeffrandleman.com Jeff Randleman

    I found 5 and 6 especially true in my office.  It’s a bit of a different scenario, since there are only two of us full time, and two more part time.  But the accountability is just as crucial as in a bigger group.  Thanks for the great info!

  • http://www.facebook.com/louise.thaxton Louise Thaxton

    This is a great list …..Probably number 5 is one I need to work on at my office.  Although, I encourage my employees to have work/life balance – and the benefits of living healthy- I do not hold them accountable…..we just have “conversations”…..I will reflect on this…

    • http://www.irunurun.com/blog/ Travis Dommert

      Healthy observation, Louise.  This is what we tend to find just about everywhere.  At best, people are having the conversation, but hard ever does the conversation get right down to “Ok, are you doing it [consistently]?”

      The great thing about using an app or other simple means to track it is that you don’t ever have to ask, nor do you really even need to know exactly what the life activities are…but you can simply see if colleagues are doing what they said was important.  If not, you can ask…”I couldn’t help but notice that some of your big rocks aren’t getting attention.  How can I help?”

      In fact, even just knowing that you can see it may be enough to keep the other person on track!

  • Pingback: You Are Responsible for Burning Out Your Team - churchthought.com churchthought.com()

  • http://www.bradandlindsey.com Brad Bridges

    Love #1 and #6. I think oftentimes people vilify stress, when the real problem is accumulated stress without rest. The need for clarity is often discussed but not always achieved. I find myself asking where it is that I need to be more clear. Good work. Very helpful. 

    • http://www.irunurun.com/blog/ Travis Dommert

      Thanks Brad.  Appreciate your comments!

  • Pingback: 6 ORGANIZATIONAL MYTHS THAT SABOTAGE ACCOUNTABILITY | darwinlopez()

  • Sylux

    These facts are very true and something everyone should keep in mind when working on a simple task, or a long-term project. A very handy application for avoiding/following these things is irunurun.com

    check it out

  • Kristen

    Myth 2 absolutely rings true to me. Great advice on how to overcome it.

    At my present employer, we are currently integrating a new CRM service, and slowly requiring all employees who interact with clients to use the system to record those interactions. This is the VP’s baby, and while everyone knows he is serious about being proficient and requiring 100% usage, there is virtually no support for the Customer Service Reps. There are vague threats of discipline for not complying, but no outlined system for training, implementation, or measurement of results.

    Futhermore, we’ve had recent turnover issues, leaving entire departments with no managers or overworked temporary replacements. I know that if we were to provide a clear plan for implementation, consistent training across departments, and clear goals to set measurment standards by, we could be more successful.

    Thanks for a great post!

  • Tamara Vann

    This is a fantastic piece. Thank you so much for sharing it. Accountability needs to come from the bottom up and the top down. When there is logical behind movements and people are aligned toward a common and understood goal, great things happen. This video shows how to create that alignment:
    http://www.upyourservice.com/video-theater/get-better-results-through-alignment-of-effort-not-through-greater-effort

  • Pingback: IRUNURUN in the blogosphere | irunurun()