"When you build a Culture of Accountability, you create an organisation filled with people who can and will get game-changing results."
Roger Connors and Tom Smith, authors of The Oz Principle, have written a book all about organizational culture and how to achieve successful culture change. To do this they emphasize the importance of accountability in achieving the desired changes, as a means to achieve a sustainable competitive advantage. I think they have made a sometimes complex and intangible topic quite simple and extremely results focused. I will be trying out some of their checklists and suggestions in the workplace in the very near future.
The Big Idea
Attention to your Organizational Culture is Critical
"Optimizing the culture should command your attention every bit as much as your effort to achieve performance improvements in manufacturing, R&D, sales, and every other organizational discipline…Neglect it at your peril."
This is absolutely key, and Connors and Smith take the reader through some real-life case studies which demonstrate the importance of organizational culture as it relates to performance. Their key focus is the Results Pyramid which incorporates Results, Actions, Beliefs, and Experiences, with Results in at the apex and Experiences at the base. This is a key model which the authors frequently return to as a foundation for more complex concepts and tools. Essentially this model (pyramid) highlights that the results a company delivers is a direct result of its culture. The process requires team leaders and the organization’s senior management teams to identify the results they want, and then break this down into what they need to do to create the right actions, beliefs and experiences.
Effectively, the outputs and/or outcomes of an organization’s efforts reflect its culture, and if outputs need improving, Connors and Smith suggest that the first step requires changing the organization’s culture. What is refreshing about this book is that it sets out what individual managers/leaders must do to turn the culture around, and enable the organization to achieve the desired results. The authors also note that a shift in culture is not necessarily a once and once only activity, but that continuous efforts and adjustments may be needed to ensure the organization is successful in the long term. It was great to read the view that the current culture isn’t necessarily a bad or poor culture, it is simply not the culture to help the organization achieve its desired results.
Managers Make the Culture
"Whether managers realise it or not, they are creating experiences every day that help shape their organisational culture... these experiences foster beliefs about ‘how we do things around here’, and those beliefs, in turn drive the actions people take."
The message here is that, an organization’s culture is influenced by its managers and leaders. A takeaway for me is that unsatisfactory cultures (in relation to the organizational outputs) are largely attributable to the organization’s managers. Connors and Smith provide this model and other actions to support managers in reviewing their practices to shift the culture to achieve the desired results. The authors also note that a key component in shifting culture is to encourage individuals to think and act differently. The leadership team must take the responsibility for creating the cultural change, and it must involve all leaders.
I loved the Steps to Accountability: these identify above and below the line activities. Those above the line build on the previous one and involve best practices, they are:
- See it – obtain others’ perspectives, communicate openly and honestly, seek and provide feedback, hear the hard things that help outline reality.
- Own it – align with the organization’s mission and priorities, and adopt them as your own.
- Solve it – consistently ask ‘what else can I do?’ to help overcome obstacles and achieve progress.
- Do it – walk the talk, maintain a trusting environment, focus on top priorities and not blaming others.
Below the line involves blaming others or taking the perspective of a victim. The authors note that this isn’t wrong as everyone occasionally benefits from sharing their frustrations about events or obstacles. They emphasize that if we get stuck below the line, we lose our opportunity to focus on what we can do to get past the obstacles and achieve the outcomes we want. Changing how people think helps obtain their commitment for the desired results, and can dramatically accelerate culture change. This doesn’t mean brainwashing them: it is still important that individuals understand the ‘why’ behind the changes It just means that managers need to change their own behavior to help shift employees beliefs: about them, the organization, and the results it wants to achieve.
Confusion Equals Chaos
"Confusion licenses people to maintain the status quo and to dismiss their accountability to internalize the need for change. Confusion kills the momentum of any culture change effort because no one feels confident about which direction to move."
This highlights the need for clear, concise, consistent, and constant communication about the results the organization needs to deliver. The authors note that 90% of management teams cannot identify with complete alignment the results their company wants to deliver. I can think of many organizations where the leaders state the results they want, but their actions and day to day decisions do not support these high-level goals. The result is confusion among middle managers. The authors provide several case studies where this has happened, with staff failing to deliver the appropriate results because they are uncertain of where to place their focus.
The authors also note that it is important for managers to be clear about results, as this assists them in communicating objectives so that all employees share the same understanding.
It’s important to note that clarifying objectives will help to identify whether cultural change is required. If the identified results will take more effort to achieve than past results, the organization probably requires significant shifts in some (if not all) aspects of the culture.
The best parts of the book for me were: Part 1, which worked through the pyramid in detail and provided lots of practical takeaways to implement in my workplace; and Part 2, which was very informative, and provided guidance for managers to integrate these practices at an individual level, including seeking feedback, storytelling, and recognition of good efforts towards achieving the change. It is definitely a must-read for managers interested in understanding how to improve their organization’s results and their own role in creating organizational culture.
How will you change the culture of your organization to change the game?