What Does a System of Accountability Look Like?

June 30, 2021 Jamie Notter

In a recent post I offered up what I think is a better definition of accountability. It’s not about busting people when they don’t follow through. It’s about creating a system inside your organization that ensures you get the results that everyone agreed would be the goals. This system, by definition, will integrate strategy, culture, and execution. This is one of the topics that I covered in the recent pilot we launched of our Growth Mindset Bootcamp online course (side note: once the pilot’s wrapped up, we’re going to start offering this course more broadly so stay tuned…). Here’s what the system looks like.

The first component is what we have called strategic line of sight. An accountability system is based on strategic clarity. That is, everyone understands the long-term vision and can connect what they do on a day-to-day basis to that north star. But it’s not just saying “we are going to be the pre-eminent organization in our field” (north star), and then “my negotiating a good hotel contract is part of what will get us there” (day-to-day). It’s about connecting the dots between the two points.

What are the important capacities you need to develop in the next three to five years that will enable you to reach that north star? What are the annual initiatives that you’re focused on in order to build those capacities? Everyone needs to see that, so even if good hotel contracts aren’t connected to this year’s initiatives, that employee knows what’s going on, and knows how to fit that important contract work around those other priorities. That is a system that keeps everyone focused on driving the right results.

The second key component is a set of really good internal metrics. Everyone in your organization should identify quarterly goals that can be measured, plus identify leading indicators that tell them if they are getting off track. I often get push-back on this, as it sometimes feels forced, and a lot of people have work that is not as easily quantifiable as, say, a sales rep. I get it, but the point here is not to generate random targets in order to check a box. The point is to experiment with identifying metrics that help you get to those agreed upon results. Maybe an executive assistant could keep their own scorecard that measures the sentiment of emails they get from their boss. If they end up getting a few too many emails expressing frustration, it could be an early indicator that they have become over-extended or focused on the wrong priorities.

And if this metric is visible to the team, it could be helping others see that same dynamic (being overextended) and lead to some broader shifts on how you execute. The purpose of the metric is not to get the executive assistant in trouble because their boss is frustrated. The purpose is to enable the people in the system to quickly and proactively change their behavior in order to get better results. A system of accountability ensures we get the agreed-upon results.

In our coaching program, we help organizations build and implement this system. If you’d like to learn more, schedule a call with us today.

Photo by Pascal Swier

Jamie Notter

Jamie is a co-founder and culture strategist at PROPEL, where he helps leaders create amazing workplace cultures that drive greater performance and impact. He brings thirty years of experience to his work designing and managing culture, and has specialized along the way in areas like conflict resolution and generations. Jamie is the co-author of four popular business books, including the award-winning Non-Obvious Guide to Employee Engagement, and his fall 2023 release, Culture Change Made Easy. He holds a Master’s in conflict resolution from George Mason and a certificate in Organization Development from Georgetown, where he serves as adjunct faculty.