5 ways the best leaders are holding themselves accountable

Future of work trend #7: Accountability

When organisations across the Asia-Pacific took swift action to respond to the pandemic, they found themselves genuinely living their purpose. They showed that being accountable is not just about getting things done anymore – it’s also about how you do it and its impact.

The social responsibility of business is no longer just to increase its profits, but also to create a positive impact across and beyond its enterprise and the broader ecosystem. And this shift has a profound impact at every level of an organisation.

Employees who proved their ability to adapt and stay productive under extraordinary pressure now expect to be trusted – no matter where or how they choose to work. They want the autonomy to make their own decisions and find the best approach. And to do that, they need a clear understanding of what is expected and an organisation’s overall purpose.

While leaders continue to adjust to empowering remote and hybrid teams, they are also now expected to take a stand on social issues. Environmental, social and governance (ESG) strategies and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DE&I) action will become central to how their performance is assessed. The 2021 Edelman Trust Barometer found 65% of people globally believe CEOs should hold themselves accountable to the public – not just to the board of directors or stockholders. And there is a big gap to overcome: the same study found CEO credibility is at an all-time low in some countries in the region.

Customers, investors and employees also have higher expectations of organisations to operate with increased transparency and openly admit mistakes. This may be culturally confronting for organisations across the region, but it can go a long way in building trust.

All of this is on top of the ongoing need to both perform (operate the business) and transform (change the business). The most future-oriented organisations are working to transition executive leaders into enterprise leaders – who can transcend the boundaries and interests of their function, geography and even organisation itself to serve the value-creating purpose of the enterprise and the ecosystems in which they operate.

Accountability in a flexible workplace

With hybrid workplace models likely to be business as usual, it’s time to create a culture of clear expectations and support. That means making performance management part of everyday workflow with frequent check-ins and continuous feedback. Leaders will need to show responsibility to the business as a whole, not just their silo or function – and be able to lead more agile, fluid teams doing asynchronous work.

Organisations will need to rethink their operating models, structures and KPIs to ensure they are enabling, measuring and incentivising the right behaviours. That might mean revisiting executive compensation strategy in line with ESG targets, for example. Or setting quotas (paired with behaviour reinforcement strategies) to ensure people are hired and developed from under-represented groups.

Enterprise leaders can also enhance accountability by setting the tone for overall organisational culture, driving expectations of individual, team and organisational ownership and accountability across all employee demographics. With this ownership comes accountability that puts the focus on performance, innovation and transformation instead of just the process.

How to stay accountable in 2022

1. Change how you think. Many APAC organisations are traditionally hierarchical with ingrained beliefs that can be hard to shake. It’s vital to shift the mindset of your entire group. Go from dictating a message of accountability and hoping it happens to embedding it as part of your organisation’s culture.

2. Communicate and get people involved. A deeply rooted sense of negativity toward feedback can be a roadblock to greater accountability. Encourage employees to give feedback with open channels. Toyota Motors Asia Pacific uses a Japanese principle, gemba, to bring people who work at ‘the source’ of an issue together.

3. Think “we”, not “me”. Build teamwork and trust by focusing on psychological safety. A Google study of its high-performing teams found how team members interacted was more important than who was on the team. Above all, they need to feel safe to take risks and be vulnerable in front of each other.

4. Run effective meetings. Respect and value the time of others by making meetings the length for their purpose, providing a clear agenda and expectations, and following up with summaries.

5. Turn problems into improvement. By providing constructive feedback and open communication at every stage of a project, and at all levels of an organisation, you can avoid major issues and identify room for continual improvement.

There is a strong business case for accountability: it helps you build trust with employees, customers and other stakeholders. Teams feel a greater sense of ownership over their work and impact. And if they continually receive constructive feedback, employees will grow in confidence.

Above all, it’s never been more important to walk the talk. ‘Purpose-washing’ – paying lip service to any commitment – will only undermine your credibility. Organisations across the region are rethinking and restructuring their businesses and teams. It’s time to stop focusing on what you say and start thinking about what you do and how you do it.