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Taking Action - Accountability vs Compliance


We spend a lot of time at Culture Amp talking to our customers and community about their employee feedback, and how they might take action. More and more, we are seeing organisations taking a multi-layered approach to their action plans where a specific focus area will be adopted at an organisational level and responsibility for team or department level action will be owned at the respective level. This usually prompts the following question from HR, “How do we make sure our people will take action?”.

Our experience is that people generally act on the feedback they’ve been given, they are intrinsically motivated to ‘improve their lot’ - but a lack of tools, knowledge, or ideas can be a barrier to action. Culture Amp's approach is one of empowerment: to put data and tools into the hands of the people who are in the right position to make change and take action. Many times, the people in the right position are not in HR or sitting at the Executive table. Regardless of seniority, experience or job title, many of us require additional support when taking action to change behaviour. This is where we can draw on the lessons of positive psychology and professional coaching for the best means of support to keep ourselves accountable.

It’s important to point out that there is no magic piece of software that can keep a person accountable - or motivate them towards ownership. What technology can do is:

  • Make focusing on a targeted action simpler
  • Help us share experiences about what works
  • Provide access to shared ideas that others acting on similar focuses found success with
  • Help make the process of taking action more transparent
  • Set an individual or team up for success to track, nudge and remind us about action

 

Some good stuff about accountability

We define accountability as the acceptance and assumption of responsibility for actions. This means words and actions are in alignment.The power lies in people choosing to hold themselves accountable while also finding value in the help of others who can support their journey to achieve chosen goals. A good coach will invariably set their clients up with some kind of task or action to complete prior to the next session. The action is identified by the client as one they want and agree to do, and ultimately, that they believe will move them closer to their desired end goal or behaviour. Given these three things (desire, agreement, & belief) and the knowledge their coach will ask them about progress towards their actions in a follow up session - leads to feelings of ownership over the desired changes and action being taken.

In business, the same logic holds. We set goals we want to achieve, that we agree to complete and believe will move us closer to the desired state for our team or organisation. Being accountable is always easier when there is a clear strategy and defined objective to meet and when everyone is aligned to the plan. Problems arise when desired goals or behaviours of one individual do not match the goals of the group, team or the organisation. If this is the case it's worth asking 'why not?'. A manager or mentor is positioned well to be a guide who can encourage individuals towards goal setting for action as well as be an accountability buddy to share back progress.

 

What about compliance?

Compliance is the act of conforming; acquiescing or yielding. Where enablement and accountability require the buy-in of the individual or team in question, compliance dictates the person has no choice. There is an element of 'do this - or else'. In our experience, a compliance-driven approach may be successful in the short term for a specific action or in specific circumstances - think airline safety or medical procedures. However, compliance in this traditional sense can stifle progress towards goals when it comes to opportunities for improving organisational culture or enhancing employee engagement.

A compliance-driven approach often risks the same pitfalls and traps as traditional HR processes (likely some of the reasons you looked to Culture Amp in the first place?) and is only ever as strong and sticky as the mechanism in place to enforce it. That is, when the mechanism is removed or no longer enforced, the behaviour will cease. Any action plan must be explicit in the tasks the individual or team is to undertake, often turning meaningful data into a checklist and too often - ‘just another HR initiative’.


A note about managers

Managers are often the subject of our discussion with HR and the ‘how do I get them to do X?’ question. To which we respond - ‘Are we talking about all your managers? Or just a few?’ If it’s the latter - it’s worth considering whether your have a systemic issue to address or would be better served addressing just the needs of the problematic few.

Supporting managers who aren’t taking action

The solution to create a policy “compliance approach” when trying to resolve inaction around employee feedback often feels easiest and fairest. This approach can have the appearance of immediate impact, while creating merely a culture of compliance rather than a culture of “x” - x being your true desired end state. It encourages the opposite of empowerment and ownership. A more challenging approach, yet more effective in creating a culture of accountability and ownership, would be to encourage and recognize a team who is acting in the desired way, and ensuring all in the organisation (especially those problematic few) are aware of their successes. What gets recognized, gets repeated!

These conversations should focus on alignment amongst team members about the reasons behind the desired behavior (backed by data when possible), the desired actions, and the steps that can be taken to achieve various outcomes.

What works?

We at Culture Amp hear about managers in companies from all industries and across global markets taking successful action based on employee feedback day in and day out. This is particularly successful when companies take the time to (1) train their managers on how to access their team’s feedback results, (2) provide practical guidance and support about giving and receiving feedback, and (3) guide them on methods for planning action with their team on board.

Empowering everyone in your organisation

Managers are just one of the many potential owners of employee feedback in your business. Given their role responsibility, they are often well seated to lead action based on employee feedback. They are not the only ones well positioned however. We have customers relying on organisationally appointed culture ambassadors / survey champions as well as self-nominated volunteers to help lead action from employee feedback. It can be a great leadership and development opportunity for folks across the company and improves the likelihood of success with folks involved who are empowered and accountable, without being worried about compliance. Everyone can be a culture change agent!



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