Businesses that actively cultivate a spirit of transparency and accountability stand a far better chance of attracting talent, instilling a sense of purpose in their employees, and delivering good business results. Transparency can mean different things to different people, but it starts with clarity of vision and a willingness to share important information about the things that matter most in fulfilling that vision. Accountability is a bit easier to define; it’s when individuals and teams throughout the organization consistently deliver on their commitments.
Together, transparency and accountability can be transformative for an organization. Here are some key principles to keep in mind as you strive to foster these important values in your company.
Put your vision front and center
Your company’s vision begins with its mission and values. Unfortunately, there are a lot of organizations that treat their mission statement as a dusty old artifact that sits on the shelf somewhere, only to be brought out in time for the annual company picnic or for the occasional press release.
Organizations that achieve high levels of transparency and accountability tend to talk about their mission and values frequently. They often invoke the mission statement in business discussions, making the case for or against a decision by asking whether it fits well with the company’s stated mission and values. Companies like that see their mission and values as guiding principles that help to direct everyday decisions.
Organizations that exhibit high levels of transparency are also very good at communicating key strategic objectives. These are the “big rocks” (to use a term borrowed from Gino Wickman) that drive your company or department for the coming quarter and year. By making it crystal clear to all employees what matters most, business leaders can be sure that everyone is operating by the same playbook.
Measure and report
Transparency also calls for a rapid feedback loop, in which employees can be kept informed about how the organization is doing relative to those key strategic objectives. You wouldn’t expect a basketball team to be effective if they were not allowed to see the scoreboard. Likewise, your employees need to clearly understand how the team is performing relative to the big-picture objectives laid out in your vision.
Quality and consistency are produced through repeatable, measurable processes. By putting systems in place to provide timely monitoring and then reporting on progress against key targets, you can ensure that everyone is looking at the same scoreboard.
Ask for input
Transparent leaders are willing to listen with an open ear, accepting critical comments without judging the person giving them. Company leaders should routinely solicit input from employees at all levels of the organization. This could take the form of periodic “ask me anything” sessions, or just engaging the old practice of “management by walking around”. One CEO we know holds a weekly breakfast with a dozen or so employees, rotating the invitation list so that everyone in the company gets to participate at least once or twice a year. There’s no fixed agenda; just an opportunity to talk in an informal setting.
Be clear about who owns what
Accountability may be easier to define than transparency, but it can be even more challenging to actually change it. When the company’s vision has been clearly articulated though, – including key quarterly and annual targets, – you have a starting point for holding people throughout the organization accountable for the results they produce.
A key factor, of course, is to be clear about who owns what. We have all heard the old story about everybody, somebody, nobody, and anybody. Organizations that exhibit high levels of accountability set clear boundaries around who owns what and when it will be delivered.
It’s important to keep in mind, though, that accountability is not a one-way street. Above all, management must be accountable to the rest of the organization. When the C-suite falls short of meeting obligations, it sends the wrong message.
Neither is accountability simply a two-way street, flowing up to management and back down through the ranks. Great organizations see accountability as a peer-to-peer phenomenon. When employees throughout the organization feel a sense of accountability for each other, great things happen.
Reward the right behavior
Finally, management must recognize transparency and accountability as desirable qualities by rewarding employees who exhibit these traits in their day-to-day job functions. Employee recognition programs and performance reviews must reflect transparency and accountability as company priorities.
Transparency and accountability usually don’t happen overnight, – but when leaders make the commitment and demonstrate their willingness to follow through in their actions, – organizations can remove many of much of the miscommunication, finger-pointing, and other barriers to creating an affirmative culture of continuous improvement.