What does it take to put accountability into practice in an organization? I was refreshing my memory with staff performance review season coming up again. Clear accountability can help organizational efficiency. I think there is always benefit in defining clearer expectations up front (even though this will take effort) and with better measurement of progress against those expectations. Trying to drive for improved accountability with unclear expectations is not a fruitful path.
The following points are well known and frequently repeated.
- Create a Culture of Responsibility: Managers should discuss responsibilities and obligations with reports. Reports should provide upward communication to help identify problems and barriers to progress.
- Set Expectations: Accountability depends upon defining who is responsible for what. The leader needs to set, and get agreement on, expectations that are clear, measurable, and personal. The S.M.A.R.T GOALS acronym spells it out:
- Specific – The objective is stated in sufficient detail to ensure understanding of the desired result.
- Measurable – The objective is stated in terms that define the quality, quantity and/or cost parameters that are important to achieving the objective.
- Attainable – The goal is challenging but within reach.
- Relevant – The goal focuses on an area that is within the scope of the person’s job and linked to department and organizational goals.
- Time-Bound – The goal is defined with a schedule.
- Monitor Progress and Provide Feedback: The leader needs to track how accountabilities are being met and respond to the data. This includes maintaining regular communication to identify, understand, and remove barriers to achievement, measuring the progress of agreed upon goals, and responding appropriately to what the metrics are showing.
- Manage Systems: In addition to monitoring agreed upon expectations, the leader also needs to pay attention to the systems that bear on accountability. Are they actually reinforcing the right things? Are they introducing unanticipated consequences? Do the recognition/reward, selection/training systems align with the accountabilities leaders want to establish?
But how to capture expectations clearly? Writing N lines of code may be easy to measure, but is not a good metric. The good metrics are often less precise or easy to measure. The following is one approach I came across that I like. It names a goal, defines it in some detail, then gives examples aligned with the goal.
Value: Personal integrity
Definition: Ethics and integrity is how we earn the trust and respect that is critical to our success. Our customers trust us to be their advocate. Our suppliers trust us to be an equitable partner. And, as company employees, we trust each other to uphold the highest standards of conduct every day.
- I communicate honestly.
- I follow the law and company policies.
- I ensure personal alignment with company expectations by understanding the code of conduct and policies that apply to my position.
- If I am aware of actions that violate the law or company policy, I immediately report this to a salaried member of management or to our ombudsperson.
- I cooperate with and maintain the privacy of any company investigation into violations of the code of conduct or any other company policy.
In development practices for one internal team supporting other teams there can sometimes be a tendency to try and get away without clear agreements in place of requirements that must be met. Improving the internal quality of requirements capture, and the design capture can help a lot with cross team interactions, before launching into implementation. This is especially true as the complexity of the project involved increases. More complex projects need better practices in place and more discipline to be successful. Improving accountability is one dimension of that discipline with real benefits to those who can implement it effectively.