Organizations that execute with excellence invar-iably have strong accountability systems. The data indicate, however, that such systems are not very common. In a recent Franklin-Covey xQ study, more than 12,000 U.S. workers were asked to describe accountability within their organizations. (See Figure 1.)
These are key symptoms of weak accountability for commitments:
- Only about two in five (41 percent) of respondents talk to each other routinely about progress toward their goals.
- Only about one in four (26 percent) meets at least monthly with a manager to review progress on goals.
- Only about a third (31 percent) said they stay on budget.
- A few more than half the respondents (58 percent) indicated that they keep commitments in a timely fashion, meaning deadlines are only met around half the time.
- One in three said that no one cares much if they deliver with quality.
If sharp execution requires precise accountability, the typical organization is in trouble.
Teams known for excellent execution are also known for “mutual accountability.” They feel themselves accountable not only to owners, bosses and supervisors, but also to each other. They have clear roles in executing a few core goals, and they regularly and often answer to one another in keeping their commitments.
That’s why the fourth discipline of execution is to hold everyone accountable—all of the time. Those who practice this discipline do three things extremely well:
- Hold frequent accountability sessions—at least weekly: Most knowledge workers aren’t asked to account to their managers even monthly. It is so easy to lose focus on key goals without intense and frequent focus. New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s turn-around team met every day in a “morning meeting” to keep key goals in constant sight.
- Focus on the “wildly important goals”: Many goals are important, but only a few are “wildly important”—that is, crucial to the mission. Examine the scoreboard on those crucial goals. Ensure that everyone agrees precisely and individually on what to do this week to move those goals forward.
- Clear the path for each other: The notion that the boss holds subordinates accountable, that accountability flows only one way, is not characteristic of an execution culture. On a real work team, everyone accounts to everyone else. Everyone has individual tasks, and everyone encounters obstacles. If I’m the leader, I clear the path for you by getting you resources or approvals or making important contacts. In turn, you clear the path for me by giving me technical assistance or research data.
Only organizations that execute with excellence can sustain results over time. Practicing the four disciplines of execution is truly a key to superior performance.
Stephen R. Covey, Ph.D., is co-founder of FranklinCovey, a leading global professional services firm. Stephen is also author of the best-selling“The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.” E-mail Stephen at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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