Editor’s note: Michelle Stockman is an independent consultant with her company, Fort Smith-based Msaada Group. Stockman earned a bachelor’s degree from Loyola University-Chicago in communications and fine arts, and earned a master’s in entrepreneurship from Western Carolina University. Her thoughts on business success appear each week on The City Wire.
For years, I had a friend in high school who would make plans with me and cancel at the last minute. Since I’ve moved away, she would call and ask about coming to visit only to let the whim fade away. The capstone on our relationship occurred this past summer during a visit. We had plans to meet so that we could catch up and I could play with two wonderful growing kids. Oddly, I was the one who almost needed to cancel due to a sudden need to make sure my car would make it back home. I was late, but I made it only see her abruptly end our time together to take the kids home. No reason, no accountability for her actions and no apology as she never called me back when I checked to see if all was alright.
Needless to say, I’m not eager to continue that friendship. However, what happens to a business that begins to lose sight of accountability to its customers, financiers and coworkers? How do you respond to an employee who no longer seeks what’s best for the company and begins to feel entitled to whatever they can get from you?
In Ram Charan and Jerry Useem’s “Why Companies Fail” article (as published in The Oz Principle) they describe the demise of an organization: “The descent occurred because of what one analyst calls ‘an incremental descent into poor judgment.’ A ‘success-oriented’ culture, mind-numbing complexity and unrealistic performance goals all mixed until the violation of standards became the standard. Nothing looked amiss from the outside until boom. It was all over. It sounds a lot like Enron, but the description actually refers to NASA in 1986, the year of the space shuttle Challenger explosion. We pull this switch not to conflate the two episodes — one, after all, involves the death of seven astronauts — but to make a point about failures; even the most dramatic tend to be years in the making. At NASA, engineers noticed damage to the crucial O-rings on previous shuttle flights yet repeatedly convinced themselves the damage was acceptable.”
“The Oz Principle,” a book by Roger Connor, Tom Smith and Craig Hickman examines personal and organization accountability. Businesses large and small are living mobiles. When one piece moves, it affects the other pieces around it and can get easily tangled.
Most traditional work environments construct employee or department silos, which makes it easy to blame someone from another department on the issue of the day. Over time, silo driven companies create employees who do lackluster work while depending on blaming others for their productivity. With the hope of hiring the right employees, companies end up squelching the promise of productivity or creative ideas in the wake of anti-accountable work environments.
“Success springs not from some new-fangled fad, paradigm, process or program but for the willingness of an organization’s people to embrace full accountability for the results they seek,” noted the authors of “The Oz Principle.”
Oddly, accountability is not natural for humans. From hiding the candy you snuck into your room as a child to hiding the source of the test answers you used to get through that tough class. In growing up, we learn quickly that pleasing is more important that acknowledging or admitting.
Moving toward a functional work environment that embraces accountability takes more than just saying the word. It is critical to define it, communicate expectations of employees and learn what the employee’s expectations of the company include. Accountability is a two way street in the work place for everyone when expectations are communicated, the right tools provided and team work is rewarded.
Management cannot expect employees to be accountable alone. Managers must show their accountability through communications and transparency. The “do what I say” mentality is unhealthy and dangerous in work places that need employees to push their abilities and grow with the company.
Start changing the business environment by creating a loop for feedback. Feedback will in-turn begin to create accountable people. Feedback (as honest as it can get) provides opportunities for management (or whomever) to measure what you believe your actions/results are versus what others see them as. The truth will allow a person to adjust and grow rather than hide and hope any problems go away.
The “Wizard of Oz,” the source of inspiration for “The Oz Principle,” Dorothy, the Tin Man, the Lion and the Scarecrow realize they had what they were looking for all along.
The business book notes: “(O)nly when you assume full accountability for your thoughts, feelings, actions and results can you direct your own destiny; otherwise someone or something else will.”
Stockman can be reached at email@example.com