Driving Accountability for Change

Few people like change — it’s uncomfortable. One of our senior executives recently shared a story of how, even as a child, a change in babysitters or a new bus route sent her spiraling down a tunnel of confusion and anxiety. What was wrong with the last babysitter? Why were they going a different way? 

What helped her manage the change was how it was presented to her.

In today’s digital era, marked by rapid disruption, the thirst for on-demand products and services (evidenced in the success of companies like Amazon, Uber, Netflix, and GrubHub), and hyper-connectivity via our devices, change is inevitable. 

Considering that 72% of executives believe their business model will be under threat within the next five years, it’s no wonder the term “organizational agility” has become a buzzword equated with success across industries. 

However, amidst this widespread upheaval, change fatigue becomes an epidemic. 

In an effort to keep pace with the ever-evolving marketplace, companies launch new initiative after new initiative — many of which are unfocused attempts to create change in the workplace and establish organizational agility. 

This speed of change requires employees to adapt quicker than ever. And yet, there’s often no time to circle through the change management cycle: shock, denial, frustration, and eventually integration. Most organizations don’t have a change management department to guide the organization either. It’s a responsibility of everyone in an organization to shuffle through the changes, adapting at rapid speed because there’s another change around the corner. 

When this happens, instead of taking accountability to drive the change, employees experience apathy, resignation, and burnout. “This will never last,” they think. It’s no wonder, then, than some 70% of transformation initiatives end in failure.

It’s up to leaders to work together across teams and functions to ensure a change initiative is positioned for long-term success. However, HR leaders play a particularly important role in change management. But how do they facilitate effective change in the workplace in a change-fatigued world? It turns out that with adults, like children, it’s all about the set up. Let’s dig in: 

Organizational Agility Meets Cultural Accountability

Overcoming change fatigue and driving real, lasting culture change in the workplace (that is cemented into employees’ hearts, minds, and actions) begins with cultivating higher levels of positive accountability in the workplace.

Accountability, according to the New York Times bestseller The Oz Principle, is “a personal choice to rise above one’s circumstances and demonstrate the ownership necessary for achieving results.” 

When employees take accountability in the workplace, they identify gaps in performance and take action to close them using innovative, effective solutions — whether or not these actions fall within their individual job descriptions. They keep a close eye on organizational goals and do whatever it takes to achieve them, since they recognize that the achievement of these results benefit both the organization and their personal growth.

Leaders prevent employees from falling into a pattern of apathy or change fatigue when they focus employees on overcoming obstacles. If a component breaks on a new piece of production line equipment, an accountability-driven employee doesn’t externalize the problem, saying, “I knew this fancy new machinery wouldn’t do any good, where’s the old stuff? Who’s going to repair this?” 

Rather, they see the problem, own it, and set out to fix it. In this case, they may decide to research how to reprogram the machine or conduct a full scan to identify if any screws are missing or parts are jammed. Once they’ve landed on a solution, they put it into play, demonstrating proactive, solutions-driven behavior. They are taking personal accountability for solving problems creatively. 

HR leaders are uniquely positioned to spot which employees are the early adopters of a new change initiative and which revert back to old ways of thinking and acting. Employees who fail to buy into a new change in the workplace externalize their problems and assigning blame — and feeling unfulfilled and frustrated as a result. Allowing employees to temporarily express frustration can be healthy, allowing them to release pent-up negative thoughts and emotions.  The key is to help employees move past unproductive venting into proactive problem-solving. 

An effective way to do this is to leverage The Steps To Accountability® model that empowers employees to see the reality of the current situation; take personal ownership for individual impact on the current results (good or bad); creatively identify solutions to close the gaps; and clearly define who will do what by when to complete the task.

Effective Change Management

Organizational leaders will not see desired results with a workforce that resists change or fails to understand how it will help the organization achieve agility and remain ahead of the competition. According to data from the Partners In Leadership Culture Advantage Index, fewer than half of employees have a desire to adapt or change. This resistance is rooted in a belief that change is negative — rather than a belief that change will help an organization grow and thrive. 

When leaders don’t see change initiatives “stick,” it’s most often the result of this kind of thinking. As a response, leaders commonly implement new protocols in the hopes of achieving a different result. Unfortunately, this tendency further facilitates burnout and unproductive behaviors. 

Effectively driving accountability for change in the workplace requires addressing employees’ root experiences — the causes behind their behaviors. According to The Results Pyramid®, experiences shape beliefs, which inform actions and drive desired results. Beliefs about the effectiveness of a new initiative can’t be forced. They have to be cultivated from the start.

Consider how change is announced. Leaders can create negative experiences with poor communication or positive experiences by articulating “the why” behind the change. The first approach causes confusion and possible push back; whereas, the latter invites employees to engage with the initiative and embrace new ways of approaching their work.

Take, for example, a leading packaged goods company with whom we’ve worked. A new CEO immediately launched a new cultural initiative. The initiative was designed to replace the three distinct cultural programs that each of the three business units currently subscribed to — programs that framed their performance reviews, recognition processes, and more. While the CEO believed these existing programs had value, he wanted all departments aligned around the same set of organizational results

The company’s HR leaders knew that, in order for the new initiative to be effective, they needed to work with department managers to cultivate intentional experiences for employees. They began by coaching these executives on the art of communication, helping them host town halls, craft blog posts, and even record brief video snippets that were played in workplace common areas. 

Within each communication was a story of an employee who had embraced the new culture — and the organizational success that ensued as a result. These stories served as experiences that shifted existing beliefs. In a matter of months, the three business units — once ruled by their own agendas — were aligned and operating under the same set of organizational goals. They proved that adapting to change in the workplace is possible.

Embracing Change in the Workplace and Reaping the Benefits of Organizational Agility 

Organizations like Spotify, Netflix, and Amazon have emerged as leaders in their respective spaces thanks to their ability to adjust to ever-evolving market demands at speed. But while organizations like these are born agile, many more have to make an intentional effort to shift from traditional to agile operating models.  

HR leaders, CEOs, and department managers who work together to cultivate experiences that foster accountability for change are greatly rewarded. The Culture Advantage Index reveals that employees are 59% more engaged with their work when there is a culture of accountability within the organization. Companies with engaged employees are 21% more profitable than their competitors. Meanwhile, companies with disengaged employees lose upwards of $550 billion a year. 

It’s clear that cultivating accountability is critical to change management and organizational agility. With accountability-driven teams in place, companies are strategically positioned for success well into the future.

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