Strategic Execution Accountability 101: A Guide

If you feel like you’re constantly hounding multiple people for reporting updates, you’re not alone. Most plan execution leads experience common barriers of not knowing who to ask for an update on any given initiative — or too many people to ask. To accelerate execution and move from a reactive organization to a proactive one, strategy leaders need to develop a system that effectively doles out responsibility — that’s where accountability comes in.

In This Article

How to Use Accountability to Amplify Execution Excellence

The best technology solutions drive accountability, communication and collaboration by ensuring each initiative has an owner. But who is responsible for tracking the progress of a single initiative? How do you ensure updates are on time and accurate?

Often, initiatives falter simply because no one is held accountable for their progress. When a team of multiple individuals is the “owner” of an initiative, there is no one clear accountable party. As the old saying goes, “When everyone’s in charge, no one’s in charge.” With no clear accountability, no individual team member is responsible for creating results for that initiative.

If one individual is held accountable for each initiative, that employee will be much more motivated to move the initiative forward. No one wants to be seen as a low-performing employee, particularly in front of their peers. A technology solution allows employees to be recognized for their good work while also providing a way to keep an eye on whether the team member has been diligent about providing updates and if their projects are on track for timely completion.

It’s important to ensure these “owners” are not accountable in name only — the accountable party should make progress reports and take responsibility for project wins and losses.

Accountability also enhances organization-wide efficiency. It allows managers to easily keep an eye on each team member’s responsibilities and workload to ensure the burden of responsibility isn’t all on one person. With a better view of who is accountable for what, they can distribute tasks and delegate more effectively.

What Happens Without an Accountability System?

Organizations tend to perceive accountability as elusive, especially if they lack formal processes for the management of teams and individuals. If you don’t establish an accountability strategy, team members may lack the foresight to take initiative, and your organization will struggle to pinpoint the sources of inefficiencies and challenges.

An accountability system ensures the success of strategic objectives and instills a sense of trust that everyone is responsible to one another. When individuals see their work as vital to their team’s success and the organization as a whole, everyone does their part to ensure successful strategy execution.

5 Ways to Inspire Accountability Throughout Your Team

Just as you would tend to a houseplant, accountability requires attention and the right conditions to grow. To ensure accountability on your team, you first need to foster the conditions in which it thrives. These five strategies will help encourage accountability:

5 Ways to Inspire Accountability Throughout Your Team

1. Have a Clear Plan With Defined Objectives

When approaching an initiative, the first two questions to ask yourself and your team are what needs to be accomplished, and why does it need to be accomplished now?

Teams operate best when plans for success are clearly outlined, complete with actionable objectives. Building a foundation for high-performing, accountable employees starts with being clear about what you expect. To establish these expectations, you can:

  • Use the five Ws: When communicating expectations, an easy tactic may be to apply the five Ws — who, what, when, where and why. This helps eliminate any discrepancies between perception and actual expectations.
  • Provide clear directions: Outline expected goals like sales figures to be achieved, product launch dates to be met or marketing programs to be launched, and add as much detail as possible about how to accomplish those goals. Specificity provides guardrails for teams to follow and establishes clear expectations around how individuals should work together to get from point A to point B with regard to strategy.
  • Establish schedules: For longer-term projects especially, it’s important to establish a cadence of communicating and providing progress updates while also making sure you maintain that cadence. This commitment to a schedule fosters accountability and enables the quick identification and removal of roadblocks to success. It also gives you the opportunity to reinforce, manage or even shift expectations as needed.
  • Avoid ambiguity: Ambiguity is the Achilles’ heel of accountability. Human communication is a highly imperfect process — be more specific than you think you need to be when setting or agreeing to goals. For example, rather than agreeing to send the proposal to your team by the end of the month, agree to send it by 5:00 p.m. Central Time on Friday, March 23, in final form with two prior reviews by stakeholders.
  • Define success: Paint a very clear picture of what success looks like, defining both qualitative and quantitative measures of success. Being precise about your shared vision of the future you’re striving for improves the likelihood that you’ll get the results you want.
  • Offer soft and hard deadlines: For initiatives with multiple steps, offer a timeline your team can work from in addition to the final deadline. Rather than just mandating that everything is complete by a certain date, establish soft deadlines for specific elements leading up to the final deadline. This strategy also provides the benefit of review — if the team is off-track, you can quickly adjust and reset to meet expectations when you reach the hard deadline.
  • Communicate next steps: You can streamline your team’s workflow when you communicate the next steps. Explain how the current task fits in with the larger picture and what they can expect in the future.

2. Use Delegation to Create a Sense of Ownership

A high-functioning team is one that works collectively to accomplish objectives, utilizing the strengths of every team member. As a team leader, it is important to recognize and leverage your team’s talents to support shared success. You can foster a sense of ownership by delegating tasks and connecting the dots for your team.

According to John Hunt, a London Business School professor, only around 30% of leaders are seen as effective delegators by their teams. To be a successful delegator, use past performance as an indicator of future success, assign team members to specifically defined objectives and explain how their role fits into the larger goal of plan execution. Good delegation ensures you distribute the workload appropriately and properly assign responsibility for said work.

Connecting the dots, or creating alignment, is the secret sauce to success. Creating alignment involves communicating how your employee’s work fits into the bigger picture. When you explain why their work matters and they can visually see how it aligns with larger organizational goals, it creates a sense of ownership, improves commitment and strengthens engagement.

When alignment increases, the door for increased accountability swings open.

3. Communicate Regularly, Especially When Objectives Are Not Achieved

Strategy execution often comes with challenges. Team leaders should expect delays, obstacles and sometimes outright failure to accomplish desired objectives. However, truly great teams are defined by how they manage and overcome failure.

Communicate Regularly, Especially When Objectives Are Not Achieved

Consistent communication around objectives helps ensure all stakeholders are informed about possible obstacles, allowing time for preemptive action. And in cases where objectives are not achieved, communication helps ensure proper course correction for future projects.

For instance, because everyone wants to please their bosses, we often say yes to proposed deadlines — regardless of whether or not we can realistically reach those deadlines. Whether you are requesting or delivering on a task, first consider your ability and bandwidth to get it done before you agree to the deadline. Communicate the importance of advocating for realistic deadlines and expectations with your team so, in turn, you can have more realistic expectations for the objectives.

To establish clear communication channels, you can use a simple three-column 3W form — what, who and when. What needs to be done by whom, and by when?

4. Lead by Example and Hold Everyone — Including Yourself — Accountable

Accountability is like rain — everyone knows it’s good for you, but nobody wants to get wet. When team members, the leader included, join together to share accountability and commitment, the result is a team that strives harder for achievement.

One of the hallmarks of great leadership lies in one’s ability to lead by example. How reliable are you to act upon what you say? The key is to be careful about what you say — and if you say something, be committed to doing it. Demonstrating that you follow through on your commitments instills a sense of responsibility and ownership in every team member.

Being honest and willing to have candid conversations promotes trust and generally leads to faster problem-solving and higher performance levels. An organization can have great processes for planning, delegation and communication, but the core of accountability stems from company culture. Transparency around objectives, from the top down, instills trust and demonstrates an organization-wide commitment to responsibility and accountability, no matter one’s rank.

Transparency and accountability should be a two-way street. Employees should provide the same level of transparency and visibility to leadership about the status of their work and any barriers to success they’re encountering. As a leader, you can model this kind of transparency by divulging challenges or obstacles you face to your team.

5. Celebrate the Wins

Celebrate the Wins

If you can make the results of high performance and accountability visible by publicly celebrating wins, you can provide positive reinforcement to further encourage those behaviors. With a clear accountability system, it’s easier to see who contributed and acknowledge the individual successes of your team. Employees who receive recognition often report higher levels of engagement in the workplace.

While it’s great to celebrate when your team achieves specific project goals, avoid limiting your feedback to performance. According to the Harvard Business Review, there is a distinction between recognition and appreciation. Recognition generally refers to feedback on good performance, while appreciation acknowledges a member’s value to the team. In addition to complimenting a team member’s contribution to meeting objectives, validate their hard work and dedication even if — or especially when — things don’t go their way.

How to Structure Your Accountability System

What can you do to create an accountability system to receive effective and regular updates?

1. Get Buy-In From Your Leadership Team

As the strategy leader, you need to know your leadership team will commit to reviewing the plan on a monthly basis. We’re not talking about just “looking” at the plan once a month — you should be carving out dedicated time to review the plan as a team.

2. Roll Out Your Monitoring Plan to EVERYONE

Once your leadership team has created space to dedicate to in-depth, monthly reviews, you need to clearly communicate to your broader team how you will review the plan in the leadership meeting and the rules of engagement around making timely updates.

For example — “You have five business days from the end of the month to make your updates because the leadership team will be reviewing the strategic plan with the team on the sixth day of the month.”

If you then walk into the leadership meeting and some members didn’t make their updates on time, you need to establish consequences for those who failed. When you clearly communicate your expectations, you also have to follow through on any consequences to reinforce your new accountability system.

About AchieveIt

AchieveIt is the platform that large organizations use to get their biggest, most important initiatives out of the boardroom and into reality. Too many great ideas never quite make it across the finish line because there’s no real way to keep everyone on course and everything on track. What does it take to actually guide these initiatives all the way through to completion? You’ve got to:

  1. Get everything in view: See what’s happening with every initiative, at every level, from the enterprise to the individual, in real time.
  2. Get everyone engaged: With an easy-to-use platform that connects your organization from the executive leadership to the project teams, you can keep everyone accountable and on the same page.
  3. Get every possible advantage: With the premier platform in this space, you can draw on the experience and best practices of our execution experts.

That’s why everyone from global corporations to regional health care systems to federal agencies has turned to AchieveIt for their Integrated Plan Management.

Let’s Actually Do This

Use our single, automated platform to ensure accountability on key initiatives and increase visibility into plan performance and execution. Reach out to schedule a demo and learn how AcheiveIt can help your organization.


Meet the Author  Chelsea Damon

Chelsea Damon is the Content Strategist at AchieveIt. When she's not publishing content about strategy execution, you'll likely find her outside or baking bread.

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