I was recently asked by Dorothy Crosby, our Program and Training Manager at PANALITIX, to join her on a webinar on creating accountability in an accounting firm to drive improved performance. I thought it might be useful to summarize some of the key points for those who missed the webinar as it’s such an important topic.
In my 30 years in this profession (10 in an accounting firm, 20 working with firms) I’ve noticed five key benefits in environments where accountability is heightened. They are;
- Improved performance of the firm as a whole
- Increased team involvement towards the firm achieving its targets and goals
- Increased commitment and follow through
- Heightened levels of creativity and innovation
- Improved team morale.
My sense of it is that the five are intrinsically linked. For example, to hit an aggressive target will likely require some creative thinking and teams working together. When targets are achieved, morale is high. So this is in a way self evident, but important nonetheless because I hear from time to time that partners are somewhat fearful of upping the ante in terms of accountability for fear of upsetting their team.
There is sometimes a concern at partner level that team members just turn up, do the job to bare minimum expectations and go home. I think we need to challenge that assumption. I truly believe that people want to succeed (as in, your team members) but too often they are limited in their ability to do so because they do not know what success means, they have no metrics to show them they are on the right path, and there is very limited accountability to encourage them get there even if they stumble across that path.
If you need empirical evidence that accountability is a good thing, check out the Hawthorne Effect. It refers to an experiment conducted at the Hawthorne Works, a Western Electric factory near Chicago, in the 1930s. The experiment was designed to figure out whether workers were more productive operating in bright light or dimmer light. Results were measured by observation – workers were aware someone was watching them. Interestingly, the results were inconclusive. It didn’t seem to matter how bright the lights were, productivity levels remained fairly constant. Until the end of the experiment, when they plummeted. Research found that productivity was lower before the experiment and after it ended, and output increased DURING the experiment. The only logical conclusion to draw is that when workers are ‘watched’, they perform better!
The really fascinating outcome of creating an environment of measures and accountability is that it makes it much simpler to look back, point to specific initiatives, meetings, conversations and corrective action taken in the moment (read, accountability!) and demonstrate how they were responsible for successful outcomes. That helps everyone.