How to build an accountability bridge

Leadership needs to provide the foundation

(Editor's note: This is an excerpt from business performance improvement expert Larry Valant's book, Stop Breaking These Rules! 100 Hard-Hitting Truths for Business Integrity and Performance.)

The bridge from objectives to execution is accountability.

The bridge from objectives to execution is accountability, a bridge that is difficult to construct and requires constant maintenance.

It is the role of leadership to provide the foundation for this bridge, a vision statement which defines where the firm is, where it wants to go, and how it is to get there in terms of detailed strategies and plans. It is management's role to execute the strategies and plans to assure the firm gets to its final destination.

In order for the vision statement and its resulting strategies (on one side of the river) to reach the desired results (situated on the opposite side of the river), management must develop and maintain accountability based on the willingness of everyone in the organization to commit to their objectives and personal deliverables.

Accountability and individual commitments comprise the intricate web of the suspension cables and supports of that bridge that allow achievement of the results on the other side.

Maintaining the bridge of accountability is perhaps the most tedious and yet critical of all the steps of execution. Creating commitment plans and gaining individual commitment to achieving objectives must be renewed and reviewed weekly during staff meetings. As we have seen throughout history, bridges that are not maintained will surely collapse.

How does change occur? By practicing accountability.

Quite often the CEO will say to me, "I think we need an entire culture change, but we don't have time to get that done so, what should we do?"

My response is always, "Not only is change possible, but it will happen far more quickly than you can ever imagine if you're prepared to do what is required."

When they ask what is required, I respond: "You must be prepared to commit fully to a process of effective execution that develops accountability. Your follow-up must be unrelenting. And, you must be prepared to make the tough organizational decisions you have been avoiding."

A culture changes when people are treated fairly, know what is expected, and work in an environment that is safe – an environment that rewards good performance and punishes, absolutely, poor, unkind, intimidating behavior.

An effective execution process must not only assure accountability for work performance but for behavior as well. When it does, change not only can occur, but does occur quickly.

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