In last weeks’ blog the Effectiveness Lab discussed soft-marketing and the efficacy and value it brings to companies, via high quality and targeted customer services. We asked why companies, and some colossal corporates at that, spend millions on hard-marketing and miss the fact that in high-quality and consistent customer service, comes extremely effective marketing. We shared my family’s experience at Jomo Kenya International Airport – Nairobi
This week, the Effectiveness Lab continues to discuss the power of soft-marketing, but from the lens of internal accountability. The hypothesis of the Effectiveness Lab in this blog is that: ‘if companies integrate internal accountability and the resulting transparency in their day to day operations, they will become more effective and efficient, causing a domino effect all the way to their customer ranks.’
Many of you must be wondering why this subject is up for discussion in this blog. Well, you may be surprised by how companies disregard getting their internal dynamics like accountability on top of their agendas and instead choose to focus on distant externals. There is something human about impressing the ‘outside’ and forgetting the ‘inside’; and the fact that it is the inside that delivers value to the external.
Have you not come across CEO’s, directors, and managers that are extremely good at external representation but abysmal at managing the internals and their drivers? We at the Effectiveness Lab are confident that leaders that neglect the workings of the ’soft’ internals will never achieve their full potential. This blog is dedicated to discussing internal accountability and how, if done well, is powerful and in many ways ‘cost-free’ marketing.
What is Internal accountability?
Let us first explore what accountability is, before assigning tags like internal, external to the term.
- A is accountable to B when A is obliged to inform B about A’s action and decisions, justify them, and suffer punishment in case of eventual misconduct (Scheduler, 1999). In this particular context, accountability has three dimensions:
- Answerability – timely share any relevant info in a manner accessible to all stakeholders – with apparent justification for decisions made
- Responsiveness – responsive to the views of stakeholders in the process
- Enforceability – bear consequences of violation of duties (punishment, sanctions, and redress)
Since we are discussing INTERNAL accountability in this blog, one has to assume that leaders like you and myself, need to apply the above definition of accountability, to our ways of working, our values, as well as processes and systems at the organisations we lead. Let us outline below what this means in practice:
- You won’t only decide what is done because you are the boss, but will explain to those you lead the rationale (why?) behind your decisions
- You won’t only explain the rationale, but will be willing to take questions about the reason and in many instances, tough questions – better develop a thick skin!
- You will showcase an authentic will for answerability; those you lead will quickly get to know if you are taking questions simply because it is the politically correct thing to do – do not fool those you lead
- Create time from your very busy schedule as leader to engage with stakeholders – again, this is not about political correctness but creating windows for quality engagement, however short
- Create tools to share information with those you lead as well as receive feedback from them – the communication loop ought to be complete.
- Create a robust and integrated internal accountability system, that allows for processing of feedback and the decision making required
- Show evidence that a culture of accepting and acting on feedback is ever present at the organisation, and that feedback informs value-chain review decisions as well as organisational policy – yes, it has to be tangible
- Accept failure and allot appropriate sanction to yourself
- Learn to accept failure, say sorry to those you lead, both in words and writing
- Make good of whatever failure has been attributed to your actions and be upfront about it
- Be willing to resign from your leadership role, if your judgement and that of others, is such that failure attributed to you or its impact on those you lead and other stakeholders is substantial
Why Internal accountability?
Leadership is no longer about passing on diktats to those you lead; it is about:
- You the leader modelling the things you are asking of your staff;
- Facilitating the staff’s ‘work-task journeys’;
- Accepting ultimate accountability for your staff’s failure;
- Giving those you lead credit for their good work;
- Accepting that you are not immortal
If the above is the paradigm we want to look at leadership from, then a leader that embraces internal-accountability vices (answerability; responsiveness; and enforceability) will cause significant productivity growth in the workplace. It is from such humility that mighty and effective companies are derived. Let us put the latter statement in a little more light:
- Accountable leaders directly influence a strong team ethic – staff will quickly align to the accountability values of their leader, and the cumulative effect leads to a critical mass of goodwill, commitment, and hard work. This positively impacts the brand of any company, big or small
- Staff will push boundaries if they know their leader is open to feedback
- Internal accountability encourages a culture of accepting responsibility for failure at all levels of the organization. In accepting responsibility for failure, comes a strong organizational learning culture. Learning organizations constantly challenge the status quo, provide superior values to their customers, and bottom-line strength for shareholders
- Finally, internal accountability is ultimately a behaviour issue; internal accountability is a three-pronged process of structure, motivation, and consequence that when implemented correctly and consistently, derives superior organisation behaviour and value addition from its staff.
My takeaway: Irrespective of the type and size of organisation you lead, practising internal accountability increases the productivity of your staff and this directly and in positive ways, impacts your customers. Yes, you may still have to advertise via billboards, radio, TV; but can you imagine the potential we disregard everyday, in this yet another type of soft-marketing called internal-accountability?
Internal accountability not only enhances leadership credibility but also creates value at the organisation and for customers.