New clients nearly always list “greater accountability” on their short list of performance improvement goals. Leaders cite missed project deadlines, finger pointing, and “not my problem” behavior as evidence that they have an accountability problem. I see it differently: they have a chaos problem. Different problem, different countermeasure.
In today’s HBR blog, I was struck by Deborah Mills Scofield’s post, Let’s Bring Back Accountability. While she rightfully identifies fear of failure and lack of commitment as playing a role in accountability-challenged cultures, she glosses over what I believe is the most important statement in her post: “Requesters frequently change their minds, reprioritize, or create new, more urgent projects without ever really closing the loop on the old ones.”
In my book, The Outstanding Organization, I cite clarity, focus, discipline, and engagement as the keys to outstanding performance. They are also conditions under which accountability soars. You will never create an accountability culture unless people are crystal clear about what the vital few top priorities are, and the organization aligns around them and avoids distractions.
You want to see people have greater accountability? Get clear about what really matters, stop overloading staff with competing priorities, and allow people to focus on one or two projects at a time. It’s easy to commit when you know what you should commit to.