Accountability Mechanisms to Drive Organization Transformation

The beginning of an organization transformation can feel like you’re embarking down the yellow brick road to Oz, eager for a redesign that will make the organization more competitive, more efficient, and more productive. But then for some it can begin to feel like the never-ending  story. Attention wanders, enthusiasm wanes, and morale deflates—all of which makes it even harder to stay on track. So a key element of any organization transformation is accountability.  Having leaders hold themselves and their teams accountable for the results and for sticking with the organization transformation objectives will help sustain focus and momentum when things get difficult.

When trying to hold yourself and your team accountable for transformation results, it may be helpful to put in place one or more accountability mechanisms.  An accountability mechanism is something that links both business results and people’s performance expectations. It’s one thing to tell a team member they need to do X as part of the organization transformation; it’s another thing to put an accountability mechanism in place that comes with a consequence. It can be a positive consequence – I’ll pay you a bonus if you get the project done by the end of the month—the proverbial dangling a carrot. Or it can be a negative consequence like: Get this done—or else. There is an argument to be made for both positive and negative reinforcement, depending on the circumstance, but as a rule positive mechanisms, where possible, are better at inspiring engagement rather than pushing through fear.

In addition to applying accountability mechanisms for an individual, you can also implement similar methods on the organization as a whole. If the company achieves this sales target by the end of the year through implementing these changes, there’s a bonus in it for everyone. Or: If we don’t hit our target, bonuses will be cut in half. At the same time you can also identify a key individual like a project manager who can shepherd the organization forward and dangle a carrot in front of them to make sure they prioritize the target goal and keep everyone on task.

Whatever the accountability mechanism, it is crucial to make any progress visible so people can see their progression and know if they are going to make their objective. For a collective situation, one well-known model is the United Way thermometers you see in office buildings that show the amount of donations collected to date toward whatever goal has been set. Either daily or weekly, the thermometer’s “mercury” is colored in to show how much closer they are to their goal. Or how the Muscular Dystrophy Labor Day telethon would keep a running total of the money raised as they urged TV viewers to call in and donate. You can apply those same principles to keeping everyone involved in an organization transformation informed of the collective progress being made. Instead of a thermometer or digital readout board, you could have some visual charts, whether posted in the office or on a company web site that show where you are on a timeline with how many salespeople have been trained or how much of a system has been launched or whatever the realignment is calling for at that moment.  

Now for an individual’s personal endeavor, you wouldn’t put that out publicly in most cases. But you could still provide a visual scorecard or some sort of chart that allows team members to see their progress so they can better stay on track to meet their transformation goal(s).  And whether for the collective or the individual, these mechanisms don’t need to be written in stone. Unexpected challenges or market changes may require going back and revising goals or setting new deadlines. That flexibility will only benefit the transformation because the focus is on changed performance, not just implemented processes, structures, systems, or cultures.

Lastly, it’s important to establish accountability mechanisms upfront. That may seem intuitive: start with the carrot dangling at the beginning, so stakeholders know what they’re working for. There’s truth in that, but my rationale for doing it sooner than later is related more to leadership accountability. If you’re going to open this can—the We’re going to redesign and transform our organization can—you need to drink everything in it. You can’t crack it open, take a sip, then say: Well, good luck, folks.

The fact is an organization transformation is time-consuming and disruptive, sapping people’s time, energy, and attention. So even leaders who are gung-ho and committed in the beginning can become frustrated with the process over time. So if you are going to kick off a transformation, there’s a leadership imperative there to hold yourself accountable as well and to establish accountability mechanisms for everyone from the top down to ensure you get the best results possible out of your organization transformation.