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The Link Between Communication & Organizational Accountability

By Cathy McCullough

    Tue, Jun 25, 2019 @ 11:04 AM Accountable Leaders & Teams

    Sometimes, you just have to slow down to speed up.accountable culture and communication

    Communication Leads to Better Connectivity and Team Accountability

    Communication is a very powerful thing, yet we talk about it so lightly. We toss the word ‘communication’ around as if it’s a catch-all for…everything. Yet, it is communication that aids us in the confirmation of the truth in certain scenarios and it is communication that provides clarity, definition, and intention to our words. The challenge with communication is that everyone’s communication truth can be taxing. Determining how to communicate to bring out individual truths (yours and your team’s) can be a powerful tool in developing higher levels of accountability and can lead to better connectivity throughout your organization. Knowing the people you’ll be speaking to and having an awareness around individual communication preferences is the most effective way to align individual and corporate truths.

    When it comes to creating a higher degree of accountability within your organization, it’s worth noting that the stage for accountability simply cannot be set unless the communication framework is in place for creating the right kind of personal accountability.

    A study by Queens University in Charlotte revealed that…

    • 44 percent of top executives expressed that soft skills (such as communication) are a critical skill gap in today’s organizational environment.
    • 80 percent of millennials strongly favor real-time (proactive) communication vs. after-the-fact (reactive) communication.
    • Three out of four workers rated teamwork and collaboration as “very important.”
    • 27 percent of workers receive communication training, and this 27% also felt much more confident in their workplace communication capabilities.
    • 39 percent of those surveyed think that organizational collaboration is simply ignored or not overtly encouraged.

    Communication Delivery

    If creating an accountable culture is at the top of your leadership list, then let your journey begin with understanding the power of your words and your overall communication delivery. When we consider that almost half of workers working on a project were unsure of what they were being asked to do (i.e., they were unsure of the boundaries, or they weren’t sure what the specific desired outcomes were other than, of course, to merely ‘do the work,’ etc.), then we can come closer to seeing that leaders need to slow down and communicate. When the research group at HR Magazine put these results into a numerical context, employees felt this lack of clarity results in about 40 minutes of wasted time each day (which is the equivalent of 83 employees in a company of 1,000 doing not too much every day).

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    Without effective communication, healthy accountability in its purest form simply cannot be achieved. How can you hold people accountable when, as the HR Magazine study demonstrates, a serious gap in understanding exists between leadership and employees? Couple this with low employee morale (61%), confusion for the company's clients or customers (60%), and loss of business (31%), and we can begin to see the impact of poor communication—and a big internal accountability problem.

    I share with leaders I consult with that they simply must, at times, slow down in order to speed up.

    Slowing Down…

    You have to slow down and make the time to c o m m u n i c a t e because individuals “hear” information differently, which is why investing the time to establish a clear understanding up-front matters. Doing so also supports your communication in being open, honest, and clearly stated while also allowing you to be sure your team receives and understands the full message you intend for them to hear.  If they are going to be held accountable, you want to ensure that they are fully aware of what they are accountable for.

    In today’s fast-paced, crazy-busy world of work, we succumb quite naturally into a dependence on email or text messaging to deliver a message. If you’re going to create accountability, then it’s only fair to slow down and remember that it is incredibly difficult to convey your tone and other nuances through memos, emails or texts, and we’ve probably all been privy to how these communication mediums are given to misinterpretation. Our intent in using these mediums is to be efficient. However, being efficient isn’t the higher-level leadership question. That question is: How effective are we? Talking face to face (or via video technology, if locations separate you) enables people to be able to ask for clarification on topics without having to worry about their tone (or your tone) being perceived in a negative way.

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    The truth is: You simply can’t hope people attribute the same definitions to words that you do, nor can you hope that they fully embrace a situation or concept as you do. Yet, you find yourself wanting to create higher performance environments where everyone holds themselves accountable for doing their work (and you hope that they find their work rewarding and invigorating in a way that challenges their minds). Hurried communication, emails, or texts simply can’t convey any sense of conviction you might have about a project or workflow. Your sense of urgency, excitement, and engagement in the project itself can only be heard via face-to-face interactions. This is where your passion comes through. How can you expect your people to hold themselves accountable when they really don’t fully understand what they should be holding themselves accountable for doing, much less be excited about doing it? How can they get engaged in a project if your own level of engagement is perceived as being low or non-existent—all because you’re “too busy,” or rushed, to slow down to fully communicate expectations?

    A Framework

    To hold people accountable, it is important that they understand what (specifically) is being communicated. As a leader, consider framing your communication around a upcoming project or work endeavor using The Five C’s to create a culture of organization accountability.

    • Share the Common Purpose: Why are you asking the person (or your team) to do this? What’s the purpose and place? How will it make a difference?
    • Express Clear Expectations: Establish who’s doing what to keep wires from getting crossed, while also defining what success looks like (which in my experience is rarely ever discussed upfront).
    • Communicate & Align: Co-create the pathway to success. How are we going to achieve the end result we desire? What assumptions might we be making? What questions do you have?
    • Collaborate: This is your opportunity as the leader to monitor and coach by being a resource and by asking key questions, such as: Who else should be involved and/or engaged? How can I be a resource for you as this process continues? What are the boundaries (i.e., When do you want me to step in and when do you not want me to step in)?
    • Talk about Consequences: We think of consequences as 'bad' or negative. While there are probably negative consequences, there are also positive consequences. Talk about the positive consequences (for the person, the team, the company, etc.) upfront as well as throughout the implementation. You can also talk about the negative implications. What if we can't do this? What opportunities might we lose? To what degree is this a risk, and are we willing to take that risk? What are the implications if we do this really well? How might that set the stage for our future successes? In addition, assess the results, or progress toward your expressed results, all along the way. Ask, too,: What are we learning? What’s not going well, and why? What might we do to course-correct?

    Once you’ve slowed down to truly communicate the full picture encompassed by The Five C’s, you also provide time for clarification, questions, alternative perspectives, and more (depending on the situation).  The team members will be more aligned to the team goals and will feel more responsible for achieving their targets.

    Suddenly, you’ll see the long-term efficiency of slowing down—and you will reap the rewards of the efficient and effective work that results from higher morale, a clear understanding of expectations, and a definition of what success looks like. In doing so, you’ll see that ‘slowing down’ is now allowing your team to speed up – and what a motivated, engaged group of people can do will amaze you.

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    Want more information on creating a culture of team accountability? Check out these additional resources:

    The Power of Systems and People: Accountable Leaders and Teams leadership development program to improve team performance.

    Why You Need a Peak Performance Plan for Your A-Players

    Leadership Accountability Definition in Management

    Follow Up: The Key To Leadership Development

    Building Team Accountability: Job Scorecards

    10 Signs of an Accountable Culture [Infographic]

    Growing Team Accountability in Your Organization

    Photo Credit: iStock by Getty Images

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