Corporate culture: Accountability is the glue for top performing organisations

by HCA08 Jul 2009

Those seeking high performance should first look for accountability.

Consistent values - and above all those of accountability - are the glue that bind repeated performance. In high-performance teams, we see repeatedly that mutual, internal accountability prevails in force. Such teams are characterised by self evaluation, and their sense of internal accountability is far greater than anything imposed by a boss or outsider.

They demonstrate clearly that accountability is a behaviour, not an action. This is deeply cultural. Yet it is the nature of the modern world that the culture of even the healthiest organisations is under persistent challenge. Rates of technological change create the suggestion that there is always a newer, better, faster way of doing things. So, as the ground shifts repeatedly, requiring regular workplace reconfiguration, we see that there is a risk to every successful culture.

In restructure, whatever its cause - acquisition, realignment, divestment lies the possibility of fracture, and of values unattended working themselves adrift. Yet cultures take time to build and time to manage, and consistent values - and above all those of accountability - are the glue that bind repeated performance.

When accountability drifts, typically, we see avoidance behaviours begin to creep in. When what is sought are processes and frameworks that can uphold an achieving culture, an investigation of the organisation's practices of accountability should be a first port of call.

We've all been victims of poor service. We see it in our retailers, in our banks and in anonymous and faceless telecommunication providers. Many see it daily in the workplace: people are busy but nobody is responsible anymore. Even those who might wish to help us are unable to do so because the appropriate structures are not in place.

The culture of failure, of passing the problems back to the customer, has become so ingrained that they are powerless to change it without fear of recrimination from above. And those unexposed to the angry customer are unlikely to jump in and help. When accountability is present it becomes the glue that holds a top-performing organisation together at the top of its game.

But if a lack of accountability is costing the customer, just imagine what it is costing the organisation that repeatedly delivers such poor performance. Is it any wonder that the best workers will be among those heading for the exit?

In hiring circles, word has a way of getting around. So what are the implications in your own battle for talent if the culture can't fix such obvious problems? And, when management really seeks increased confidence in its groups' ability to deliver on its plans, when things go wrong in your business, who gets obsessed with the blame game?

Cultures in which strategy isn't playing out have a knack of telling us that something is afoot within. It has proven too easy for many to betray their legal and moral responsibilities, and recent years have delivered a string of high-profile failures of corporate accountability - among them Enron, HIH, Worldcom, ABC Learning, Opes Prime, Allco and AWB.

The shared behaviours, language and standards of accountability to which most societies must subscribe were not found in these organisations' senior managerial ranks.

Each manifestly had a culture of accountability which rewarded behaviours at odds with the wellbeing of other stakeholders. Yet we see it persist in the sub-prime mortgage crisis, which began in the United States, and from whose unravelling the world may yet take many years to recover. Yet who was accountable? Who can we blame?

It's easy simply to blame the accountants, auditors, or traders when a culture of 'anything goes' or 'whatever it takes' becomes an organisation's norm. But organisational culture manifests through its myriad symbols, often invisible to the unfocused eye.

But those for whom the strategy isn't playing out as it was meant to have a knack of showing us that something is afoot. Exposed in the headlights of the media, those who should have been accountable suddenly - inexplicably - aren't.

They were of course only acting on the information they were given. It can be argued that senior management thought it was no longer answerable to investors. Executive rewards were out of alignment with real progress and business growth. Short-term share price was considered more important than profitability as by realising its targets, managers were able to release their performance bonuses. Yet it is those beneath who were forced to shoulder the burden of the reduced salaries required to achieve it, and the fewer people available to do more work.

Yet no one seems surprised when the next incidence of failed governance appears on the media's radar. So what could happen if accountability for its culture doesn't take hold in your organisation? And what are you going to do about it? Where accountability is insufficiently woven into the plan of execution, or there is possibility for misinterpretation of what is expected, it is the belief, behaviours and the careers of the willing that are most fallible.

About the author

Craig McCallum is general manager marketing, specialist recruitment & consulting services at Chandler Macleod Group. Phone: 02 9269 8879 or email craig.mccallum@chandlermacleod.com

 

COMMENTS

  • by Harry Wolfe 10/07/2009 11:05:05 AM

    Craig McCallum has written a valuable article pointing the way for all Board's and their Directors.

    Corporate culture is the key to good Corporate Governance.

    To quote from his article "Consistent values - and above all those of accountability - are the glue that bind repeated performance. In high-performance teams, we see repeatedly that mutual, internal accountability prevails in force. Such teams are characterised by self evaluation, and their sense of internal accountability is far greater than anything imposed by a boss or outsider."

    However Craig then goes on to state "They demonstrate clearly that accountability is a behaviour, not an action." That is an over-simplification of a real, far greater challenge to every organisation.

    Accountability is embedded in a person's beliefs and values that, inextricably entwined with their feelings and motions as attitude, motivates and determines their behaviour of accountability.

    The attitudes of every person in a team, when aggregated, is the organisational culture of that team, no matter whether it is a high performance team or not,

    But even if the attitudes, beliefs and values of every member in the team motivate self evaluation that is not enough to result in high team performance.

    High-performance teams have excellent communications with their market. Excellent communications, where the words and symbols, and their implications, have the same meaning for both parties, are determined by the team's ability to communicate with their market, on their market's frequency of beliefs, values, attitude and culture.

    In other words if the culture of the team in communicating with their market, does not match the culture of their market, there is no high-performance.

    The string of high-profile failures of corporate accountability quoted by Craig: Enron, HIH, Worldcom, ABC Learning, Opes Prime, Allco and AWB are excellent examples not only of their organisational culture not matching that of their market, but of internal culture misalignments within their organisation.

    Corporate culture is the key to good corporate governance. All financial loss is a symptom of a culture misalignment!

Most Read