10 Secrets to Creating a Culture of Individual Accountability and Execution

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In a recent webinar hosted by Becker's Hospital Review, Scott Regan, founder and CEO of Atlanta-based execution management and strategic planning software company AchieveIt, shared tips for creating a culture of individual accountability and execution.

"We live in an era of hyper-execution in which, if we don't execute, somebody will come in, take our market share and surpass us," Mr. Regan said. "We have to figure out how to execute on a much higher level."

Mr. Regan began the webinar by discussing four stages of cultural transformation organizations go through on what he refers to as the "cultural evolution ladder." The goal is to ultimately climb this cultural ladder and obtain all four of these cultures in your organization in order to execute a plan.

•  Culture of collaboration. Developing a culture of collaboration is about creating a common vision to rally executive and middle managers together around long-term goals. In a culture of collaboration, work plans are developed and a great amount of activity occurs, but activity should not be mistaken for results, according to AchieveIt. At this cultural stage, there is generally little effort to track tactical implementation — a lot may be getting done, but very little is really getting accomplished.

•  Culture of individual accountability. The shift from collaboration to accountability is very difficult and requires three changes within the organization. These changes include:

o  Realizing the importance of tracking measurable outcomes.
o  Willing to both individually assign tasks in a plan with firm due dates and tie assignments to annual performance objectives.
o  Embracing transparency by providing everyone in management with access to all plans, along with periodic and regular updates on plan implementation and performance.

•  Culture of execution. The move from being an accountable culture to one that is a culture of execution involves two steps, according to Mr. Regan. Organizations should first become focused on strategy development and ensure plans address the most critical needs. Second, strategy should trickle down to every employee in the organization, so that all have a core comprehension of how individual job performance affects successful execution of the plan.

•  Culture of innovation. Once an organization can fully execute, it can start to innovate. This is the final transformation in cultural evolution. At this stage, employees make better decisions, begin to identify improvement opportunities, start to question the status quo and become a vital component of ongoing strategy discussion. These are all necessary components to real innovation.

After sharing the four stages of cultural transformation, Mr. Regan shared 10 secrets to moving toward a culture of accountability and execution.

1. Decide what really matters. Get rid of everything else. Organizations should focus on a lean set of initiatives that will get them to where they want to go, Mr. Regan said.

"Many organizations use a planning philosophy based on pillars. Healthcare organizations tend to use this model," Mr. Regan said. "It's a nice structure, but it's a two-edged sword. The problem is, we sometimes load as many things as possible onto pillars and constantly make our strategy more and more complex."

The important thing is to decide what is critical and focus on that, rather than tacking on more goals to standing pillars.

"Every time you add goals and objectives to a plan, it tells people in the organization that there's a lack of clarity as to what needs to get done," he said. "That lack of clarity will also push people to overanalyze."

2. A plan that is 70 percent correct is acceptable. Flexible organizations can determine how to handle the remaining 30 percent, Mr. Regan said. Some organizations will vet plans for more than a year and never actually execute a plan.

Organizations with the right people can start on a plan and tweak it along the way and get it right, instead of trying to perfect a plan without every actually implementing it.

3. Keep goals clear and directions simple. The way to do this is to communicate effectively and encourage your team to improvise, Mr. Regan said.

"You have to make sure everything is clear and succinct and people know exactly what it is they are trying to achieve," Mr. Regan said. "If you don't do that, decision-making will suffer."

4. Assign objectives, strategies and tactics to individual owners with firm due dates. "Do not let people share goals and assignments," Mr. Regan said. "The more sharing, the less accountable you hold people, and the chance of failure increases greatly."

He added that organizations need to make everything visible and hyper-transparent. Accountable organizations make sure there is clarity in who gets assigned what and when it's supposed to be accomplished. Assignment due dates need to be clear, Mr. Regan said, and firm dates should be set.

5. Measure outcomes, not processes. Being busy should not be confused with being strategic, Mr. Regan said.

"We see most organizations asking the question of how to measure success when it's too late in the game," Mr. Regan said. "The question ought to be: What results do we need and how soon do we need those results?"

For a hospital, that could be improving quality outcomes, reducing length of stay or improving market share.

Organizations should first ask what results they are looking for before coming up with metrics to measure the plan.

"This is a big shift in the thinking of many organizations," he added.

6. Align incentives to performance. Reward people for getting results, not for just getting things done, Mr. Regan said.

"It's a whole different scenario when someone is getting rewarded for achieving, for instance, market growth versus just getting rewarded for coming up with a marketing plan," Mr. Regan said.

It's important to align incentives with tactical outcomes, he added.

7. Review execution at least monthly, preferably weekly. The speed at which you execute and the collective level of organizational accountability are directly proportional to the frequency of your review sessions, Mr. Regan said.

Organizations that perform monthly reviews do better than those only doing a quarterly or semi-annul review; similarly, those that perform weekly reviews tend to do better than those who hold monthly review sessions.

The more time you consistently spend on a strategic plan, the better it generally ends up being executed, Mr. Regan said.

8. Give your team dedicated time to execute. Organizations need to figure out how to get this done in their culture. "Execution doesn't happen in management meetings," he said. Management should dedicate time for employees to focus on executing your plans.

Mr. Regan also suggested organizations ax any meetings that don't provide real value.

9. Push execution to the front lines. An organization that can do this has already become a culture of collaboration and accountability.

"Every person in your organization should know how their job impacts the execution of your plans," Mr. Regan said. "I don't care if this is the person who sits at the front desk in the lobby or if this is a clerical person — everybody in the organization can impact your plan and execution."

Mr. Regan said it's important to make sure every employee can translate their daily job to at least one organizational goal or objective.

10. Align mission, vision and strategy. "The purpose of strategy is to link mission to vision — it's as simple as that," Mr. Regan said.

At this point in the execution strategy, employees are seeing things in a different way, embracing a culture of innovation.

Mr. Regan ended the webinar with a quote from Thomas Edison: "Vision without execution is hallucination."

If you spend time to make plans without figuring out how to execute them, "it sucks the life out of your organization," Mr. Regan said.

View or download the Webinar by clicking here (wmv).
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