15 Nov. 2012 | Comments (0)

Nowadays, we hear a lot of talk about creating a culture of accountability, a concept that goes beyond the subject of alignment. Leaders can present clearly established goals to executives, managers, and employees, but they also must assure that those objectives are accepted and that employees are held accountable.

For years, organizations have been trying to create cultures of accountability through rigid employee performance management systems. There is an interesting debate being waged about whether we should even keep engaging in performance appraisals, as both managers and employees claim they’re not useful. In fact, many feel that these types of appraisals may actually cause more harm than good. On the other end of the spectrum, some companies are using performance management systems to formally roll out their business goals to their entire organization, cascading messages and metrics to everyone from senior managers to entry-level employees.

Much of the research that the energy team has completed demonstrates that despite complex efforts to roll out alignment strategies, employees remain confused about their company’s direction and how business strategy affects them. In many cases, this confusion is due to a quickly changing business environment, which, as a result, causes an organization to alter activities, further disorienting employees. About 70% of the open-ended comments received from clients focus on direction, with both employees and business leaders stating that alignment and accountability efforts are not working.

What gets in the way of success is not the culture or the employees. The research shows that the biggest barrier to success is often found in the company’s leadership team and/or the human resource departments. Fear of the unknown and/or lack of faith in one’s employees lead organizations to limit transparency and visibility, and that kills an accountability initiative. Accountability requires that employees have a deep understanding of cause and effect, but if an organization is unwilling to share information with employees, then a culture of accountability cannot be built.

Making employees accountable means that leaders must first be accountable to their staff. They must share information, opportunities, and problems, and allow everyone to engage in ongoing dialogue about changing business conditions.

So, how does a leader create a culture of accountability?

Lessons from marketing and social networking

What has been proven to work, in terms of accountability, is positive peer pressure. If one examines the marketing world, using positive peer pressure to inspire people to buy gadgets and clothes is quite effective. People are accountable to their friends and contemporaries, and will pay money to purchase items in order to “fit into” peer groups, either at work or at school. Facebook and other social media outlets offer further examples of positive peer pressure. Users feel accountable to their “friends,” and actively maintain their profiles in order to remain 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.

We found that positive peer pressure can be attained through a series of pulse dialogues, which allows employees to provide information about their energy at work and respond to other inquiries about the business. Pulse dialogues places accountability directly on managers, and create a more transparent, goal driven culture.

Please read my next blog in this series, Creating a Culture of Accountability Through Positive Peer Pressure, to learn how this process works, as well as how to create a culture of accountability in your organization fueled by positive peer pressure.


View our complete listing of Talent Management and Employee Engagement blogs.

  • About the Author: Theresa Welbourne

    Theresa Welbourne

    Theresa Welbourne is a Research Professor at the Center for Effective Organizations (CEO) in the Marshall School of Business, University of Southern California.  She is also the President and CEO…

    Full Bio | More from Theresa Welbourne


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