In my current role as CEO of a financial technology company, I have committed to my entire team to be totally transparent and maintain open communication. Anyone can reach out to me — by Microsoft Teams, email, or “Slido” polls that let participants post comments, anonymously or not. I host bi-weekly and quarterly company-wide meetings during which the team hears reports from me and other executive leadership as to where we stand on achieving our company goals, and they get answers to questions asked.
Why value transparency and open communication?
• Teams that understand a goal are more likely to engage in achieving it
• Engaged and empowered team members are more trusting of leadership and their peers
• Trust creates a safe space in which to step outside of comfort zones and innovate
• Teams that trust their leaders, colleagues, and the organization are more likely to approach problems, issues, goals as opportunities and be accountable
According to Culture Partners in their “Empowering your Culture with Accountability”:
Accountability is understanding that you and every single person within your organization is responsible for delivering the results the organization needs to achieve.
But what does accountability look like in action? Here are some examples from my current organization.
Understanding a Goal
Each year, before the beginning of a new year, we establish four annual goals or four key priorities from which to track and measure our success. I’m not going to share the actual priorities with you. However, I am going to share what’s important about those priorities in the context of accountability: How we communicate them, how we explain and reinforce them. We hold company-wide All Hands monthly meetings and Town Hall quarterly meetings and in each – at least 16 times per year – the ELT member or members most-directly responsible for achieving the goal provide updates on where we stand and what we need to do going forward.
We state, restate, explain, and, as the fiscal relevance of the goals are critical, we’re also transparent about our financials. Last year, with the realization that no one was asking questions during the financials portion of the presentation – arguably the most important portion of the presentation – we instituted internal learning sessions during which our CFO simplifies the financials and makes them understandable in ways they were not. Hundreds of team members have attended the CFO’s sessions and more have listened to the session recordings.
Engaging Team Members
The previous are two examples of where we did a great job from the start. Now here’s an example where a restart was needed.
This past year, in an attempt to guide accountability company wide, the executive leadership team created an operating committee comprised of around 30 managers of various teams. The stated purpose of the committee is to “get company-wide alignment on the 4 key priorities by expanding the conversation beyond the ELT and providing more transparency.” OC members were to further the conversation with the unique teams they lead. Sounds good, right? However, the conversations at these meetings were forced, the same people either spoke up or didn’t speak at all. The committee wasn’t having the intended impact. Until a small group of committee members talked honestly among themselves and took accountability for solving the problem: The ELT was driving the conversation, asking for resolution for problems that the operating committee didn’t think the most pressing, and the committee felt constrained and unable to make an impact on what they thought needed addressing. I can now report that this committee is more engaged and more empowered to make a difference.
Creating a Safe Place
And here’s another problem that needed solving. Just recently, a client expressed concern that they had not gotten the response they needed in the time they expected. This is something an organization like ours NEVER wants to hear. We believe in establishing relationships based on accountability and trust that we will set expectations and meet them. In this case, just about as quickly as the client’s email hit our teams’ inboxes, one team member took action, spoke up, said I’m accountable, “I made a mistake, here’s why this happened and what we should do.” Given this one team member’s trust in the “safe place” of the organization, the issue was quickly addressed – the reason identified, a resolution delivered. Leadership’s appreciation of the team member’s accountability was shared companywide, NOT as a way to point a finger in blame, but in appreciation and as an extension of the positive impact of a team member’s ownership.
Several years ago, a number of my organization’s team members participated in accountability training. They learned the importance of asking other team members for their commitments and were challenged for the next weeks or months to end each conversation that resulted in a deliverable with, “can I count on you for that?” Honestly, it was awkward and caused laughter at the onset, but the practice was remembered and set the tone for the expectation that each was accountable.
Accountability far exceeds problems solving. Giving team members equal access to company goals and issues, as well as problems, opens up unlimited opportunities for unique perspectives on ways of driving the company’s success.
It gives team members the opportunity to ask, “what’s my role in this,” and claim, “you can count on me for that!”