It’s a gigantic international problem, and it has not changed over the last 10 years. The Gallup poll does research on what percent of employees are engaged at work. The bad news is the statistic is about 13%, and has not moved a lot in a decade. What makes matters worse is the reality that a high percent (over 20) are actively disengaged, which means they are involved with behaviors that sabotage the organization’s effectiveness. What can be done to address this problem?
The root of this problem has to do with our approach to management, review processes, and how accountability works in organizations.
I was with a talented professional last week, and she described the bi-annual review process at her place of employment. First of all, it is extremely political. Her boss is a person that is threatened by her talent, and has been working to sabotage her employee with her boss and her boss’s boss. Secondly, the executive leadership does not value the contribution of her part of the organization, and consequently the boss’s boss knows next to nothing about this profitable part of the business. Third, the people asked to review are doing so very subjectively, and there are no actual metrics, goals, or other objective to evaluate in a meaningful way. Fourth, the informal power structure is much more powerful than the formal power structure and therefore her boss has no real power in her position, and no way to have a real conversation because of all the above, and because the reputation of my friend is stellar amongst the main executives. Fifth, the H.R. department does mainly compliance, and does not do much to set up appropriate processes.
Admittedly, this is an extreme case, but many people operating in hierarchical, top-down structures know most of these realities all too well. The problem is a much better run organization, but today there is something much more fundamental happening. The speed of business, and the flexibility and agility needed within organizations has caused accountability to be rethought completely.
The biggest conceptual change in the mind of leaders that will set up a series of different actions is to realize that organizations are much more akin today to the human body, and not a well-oiled machine. Why is this important? Many reasons, but we’ll begin with the forces that create the need for change related to accountability:
- Work is done primarily in teams, not done by individuals
- Real-time accountability is the only way to operate in fast changing and networked environments
- At least parts of many teams have a virtual aspect, where someone is remote
How does an organization respond? Let’s look at the human body’s mechanisms for accountability:
- All information is available to the whole body all the time – Transparency.
- Feedback loops are constantly updating everyone part of the body of status, progress, threats, etc.
- Collaboration between many systems within the body are needed to process a multiple set of changes of behavior.
- Inspiration and motivation surrounded by purpose and meaning are consistently reintroduced to stay engaged.
- Authority is distributed to various aspects of the body for quick responsiveness.
This list mirrors what successful organizations are doing today to change accountability completely. Here is what it looks like in those organizations. They are distributing authority to where decision making is needed quickly. For many, online dashboards that can be updated by everyone all day allow the organizations to see progress, problems, or new insights all the time. Team goals as well as individual goals are critical to success, and collaboration tools are critical to accomplish this. Leaders are doing a series of new functions to help members of the team do several things:
- Build trust between the members, so authentic and honest conversations are possible
- One on one coaching sessions to support, troubleshoot, and challenge employees during the process of work on an ongoing basis
- Adding new members to the team when added capacity or unique talent is needed
- Some forms of inspiration and motivation is shouldered by the executives frequently
- Elimination of employees that do not fit, or after being coached and given more than one opportunity to change are not willing or able to respond.
Interestingly, when Paul in the letter to the Ephesians talks about transformation and change, he also uses the body of Christ image to explain how it works. Here is the text from Ephesians 4:
So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. 15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. 16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.
A few things to notice in this text. First of all, notice that Paul uses the body image, where both individual success (each doing its own work) and organizational success (grows and build up in love) is measured. Second, speaking the truth in love requires transparency, trust, and accountability to make it successful. Many parallels are actually in this rich word that is translated “equip” which the leaders are to do. The five images behind this word reflect very close to the leadership list above:
- Connect people together on teams in appropriate ways
- Support and help people who are struggling to succeed
- Teach and Train the team with what they need to function well.
- Put them in the right positions and give them appropriate assignment based on their giftedness
- Coach those who are falling short of their work.
In other words, the image of the body, with its many individual parts, is instrumental in changing how accountability happens in engaged organizations, and therefore what they need to do to succeed.
To learn more, please listen to our podcast on Accountability.