In a recent blog post Suresh Kumar, President of KaiZen Innovation and former Assistant Commerce Secretary for Trade Promotion appointed by President Obama asked a key question: “What does it take to put accountability into practice? How does one create a culture of responsibility and integrity? Leaders need to nourish the cultural context and manifestations of accountability. Leader-member exchanges create an atmosphere of mutual responsibility and obligation. Monitoring creates a natural context for dense feedback. Providing feedback successfully requires a high level of management credibility. 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.”
As Suresh points out, accountability is NOT about setting a goal or assigning a due date to see if a person delivers. Real accountability is achieved in a “conversation”. In fact, achieving commitment and engagement requires a particular pattern of conversation. I’m referring to the ground-breaking work of Fernando Flores, and others, who developed the practice of “commitment-based management”. The model he developed of a “conversation for action” is simple, even obvious, but powerful for achieving accountability in practice.
The conversation progresses through 4 stages – Request, Negotiation, Delivery, and Assessment. The leader/manager or even a colleague begins with a request to a specific performer (e.g. Can you…by this date?). The performer provides an explicit response (i.e., Agree, Decline, Counter-Offer). Once a clear agreement is reached between the two parties, the conversation moves to the Delivery stage during which the parties keep in touch with each other regarding progress or issues as they arise. Next, the performer delivers what they said they would deliver or explains why they couldn’t. The conversation moves to the final assessment stage where the requester accepts the delivery and provides feedback about their satisfaction. The cycle repeats for each goal or task.
What excites me most about this model is the effect this practice has as an organization development intervention to build a culture of autonomy, transparency and trust. Performers are “elevated” and engaged at a peer level relationship (as opposed to a command and control leadership style). The quid pro quo for providing greater autonomy and control to the performer is palpable accountability for achieving outcomes. The practice introduces a new style of conversation.
The act of making a “request” (vs. an assignment) changes the mood of the conversation from the outset. What we say, the words we use and how we say them, changes the quality of the interaction between individuals. New words (e.g. request, commitment, counter-offer, decline, assessment) are introduced into the organization, which drive more explicit accountability for the performer and the requester.
New technology can be very helpful to introduce and reinforce this “conversation for action” model. To see this in “action” for yourself, check out the 4Spires demo.