Is Accountability More Like Glue or Teflon at Your Organization?

If you don’t hold yourself and your employees accountable, the links of your supply chain may become stressed or even broken

Julie Miller and Brian Bedford
Julie Miller and Brian Bedford

As a leader of the supply chain organization, you like to think that you run a pretty tight ship. But if you’re being honest with yourself, you know that you let a few things slide in 2013. The leader of the sales and operations process (S&OP) process makes excuses for the inaccurate numbers in the plan. The customer relationship team feels they can go around the system since they are expediting on behalf of the customer.

So far, these issues have been easily solvable, but you know if you don’t start holding yourself and your employees accountable for the little things, they may eventually lead to the links of your supply chain becoming stressed—or worse—broken. After all, if one piece of the chain misses commitments, the entire chain is in jeopardy of missing expectations.

Accountability is a tricky business because it has different meanings for different people. A definition we like is “a personal willingness, after the fact, to answer for the results of your behaviors and actions.” How did your organization do in 2013?

In our book, Culture without Accountability—WTF? What’s The Fix?, we provide a make-it-stick plan. Here’s an approach we suggest that uses the concepts from the book.

1.Conduct a 2013 Accountability Post-Mortem for your Supply/Demand Chain

Gather the team leads for all the supply and demand links in your organization for an open discussion of the company’s core values and required behaviors, and where you’ve dropped the ball as a team. Set the stage by taking responsibility for your own transgressions; this encourages others to be honest in turn. Ask people to share the negative effects they believe these behaviors have had on the business. Explain that those negatives only get worse if left uncorrected.

Finally, explain that things are going to be done differently in the upcoming year. Use this meeting to get consensus on what the core values and behaviors need to be to support the organization’s strategies and goals for 2014.

2.Clearly Define Behavior Statements

Everyone needs to understand that they are going to be held responsible not only for the results of their work, but also for how they go about their work, and that their rewards depend on both. If your most experienced manufacturing manager has great results, but bullies the quality organization every time he or she needs a product rushed, those transgressions must have consequences despite these employees’ successes in other areas.

One useful way to communicate this is to develop behavior statements that make it clear what you’re looking for—precisely what you’re trying to fix, implement or eliminate. This is especially helpful in international companies because accountability may mean different things in different countries, languages and cultures. Here are some examples:

  • Always do what you say you’ll do.
  • Bring issues up as you discover them.
  • Understand what is needed from you both up and down the chain.

And then make those even clearer through dos and don’ts. For example, do be open, honest and truthful; don’t make excuses.

3.Hold an Accountability Boot Camp for All Links of the Supply/Demand Team

Share your vision for what accountability means for the business and share the behavior statements the team created. You need to make sure employees understand why accountability is important, and what accountable behavior looks like in their specific organization and across the supply/demand team. Leaders need to know that you expect them to be role models. Everyone should understand that their accountability mindset and behaviors affect their pay and progression in the organization.

If you weave accountability behavior statements and dos and don’ts into the performance review process, you can help drive discussions with employees on how they are doing. If, by way of regular communication, you reinforce the changes you want to see, you can drive the value deep into the organization.

4.Don’t Promote Accountability Shirkers

A sure way to express the importance of accountability at your organization is to connect it to advancement. Promotions and salary increases should be considered only for people who demonstrate accountability. When employees do well, reward and promote them. If they don’t do well, apply consequences, and make sure they understand that their behaviors limit their success and possible progression.

5.Hire Accountable People

Instead of asking job candidates about strengths and weaknesses, ask them, “Describe a situation in which you very clearly held others accountable for their performance and it paid off. How did you do it and what was the outcome?” It’s a lot easier to hire them than change them.

6.Monitor your Success and Make Adjustments as Needed

Goals and metrics should be used to guide the business on an ongoing basis, not just at the beginning and end of the month. Use regular business meetings and communication sessions to establish an accountability drumbeat to keep goals, metrics and your focus of accountability on track so there is a better chance for success.

What will 2014 be like for your organization? Will you commit to making accountability stick? Or will this be another year where accountability takes that Teflon slide?