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.
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.”