9.3 Cultural Accountability and Organizational Capacity for Change

Two books have become popular tomes on the relationship between cultural accountability and organizational capacity for change. The first book, written by Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan, talks about the importance of creating a culture focused on executing strategy well. Bossidy and Charan note that execution must be a core element of an organization’s culture and that execution is a discipline that is essential to strategic success.

Larry Bossidy quickly rose through the management ranks at General Electric, and then inherited a turnaround situation when he became CEO at Honeywell International. He states,

My job at Honeywell International these days is to restore the discipline of execution to a company that had lost it. Many people regard execution as detail work that’s beneath the dignity of a business leader. That is wrong. To the contrary, it’s a leader’s most important job.Bossidy and Charan (2002), p. 1.

Bossidy goes on to say, “Organizations don’t execute unless the right people, individually and collectively, focus on the right details at the right time.”Bossidy and Charan (2002), p. 33. Since Bossidy led Honeywell through a very successful and dramatic turnaround, his words carry special weight.

The second major book devoted to creating accountability was written by three change consultants—David Ulrich, Jack Zenger, and Norm Smallwood. They argue that many leaders and leadership training courses neglect the fact that leadership is about getting desired results. In their own words,

Results-based leaders define their roles in terms of practical action. They articulate what they want to accomplish and thus make their agendas clear and meaningful to others. Employees willingly follow leaders who know both who they are and what they are doing. Such leaders instill confidence and inspire trust in others because they are direct, focused, and consistent.Ulrich, Zenger, & Smallwood (1999), p. 21.

Furthermore, they argue that accountability is the primary means for achieving those results. They state,

Organizations may learn, change, and remove boundaries, but if they lack accountability and discipline, success will elude them over time. Accountability comes from discipline, processes, and ownership. Discipline requires getting work done with rigor and consistency, meeting scheduled commitments, and following through on plans and programs to deliver promises. Process accountability may require reengineering how work gets done, reducing redundant efforts, and driving down costs at every level. With accountability comes ownership, as individuals feel responsible for accomplishing work. Leaders who foster accountability continuously improve how work gets done, deliver high-quality products and services, and ensure commitment from all employees.Ulrich, Zenger, & Smallwood (1999), p. 97.

In sum, change-capable organizations benefit from cultures of accountability. In the next section, I provide some ideas for making your culture more accountable.