5 Steps to Increase Accountability for Technology Adoption and ROI


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When working with clients to increase adoption of their IT systems I always hear, “there is no culture of accountability here”. The tell me that leaders will make a big speech about how things are going to change or announcing a new policy, but when it comes time to actually hold people accountable or enforce the policy, nothing happens.

End-users, managers and executives tell me that we can come up with all the user adoption goals we want or we can try to adjust the rewards and incentive systems, but without fixing the accountability culture (or lack thereof) problem it won’t matter.

A lack of accountability is major cause of poor user adoption

A strong culture of accountability encourages technology adoption. People understand what they do matters. And they adjust their behavior and performance accordingly.

Similarly, if there is no real accountability, it sends the message that it doesn’t really matter if people adopt the technology or not, no matter what the leaders say during big speeches. So why would they?

Do you know how to increase accountability?

When I ask people what they plan to do to increase accountability in their organization I often face a lot of blank stares. Many times they simply don’t even know where to begin.

Creating a culture and practice of holding people accountable for their actions and performance is complex and takes time. Here are five ways you can start to increase accountability in your organization:

1. Create an infrastructure for accountability

Tri Tuns recommends organizations create an infrastructure for accountability.There are many reasons why a given individual may not hold themselves or others accountable. The person may be a conflict avoider; there may be ambiguity about what goals or expected behaviors they’re expected to hold people accountable for; they may not be clear on their role, responsibility or authority level in holding others accountable, or they are not sure when or how to take action.

The first step is to make explicitly clear exactly what accountable truly means in your organization, and how it will be put it into action at all levels. There are a lot of small tools and practices organizations can easily adopt to create an infrastructure for enabling accountability. This may include defining policies, processes, templates, formal roles and responsibilities, or employing management tools like SMART goals, RACI charts, and similar items so that people have the organizational support they need to take action with confidence.

2. Measure results

Tri Tuns always recommends measuring results.Surprisingly simple, yet frequently overlooked! It is amazing how often companies don’t bother to measure results of their initiatives. If results aren’t measured, how can you hold people accountable for achieving them? And how will you know whether you’ve reached your goals?

While working on a $100+ million dollar technology project for a Fortune 100 company, I asked the executive when after go-live they plan to measure their actual results against the forecasted ROI we had defined in the business case. His response was, “well, we aren’t really good at that”. It turns out that people only looked at the numbers when it came to making a project funding decision, and not what reality was once the project was launched.

How can organizations make sure they’re getting the outcomes they want (e.g., ROI from a technology investment) when all they are focused on is the inputs (e.g., cost to acquire and deploy technology)?

When setting goals –whether for IT investments, special projects, or just ongoing operations – it’s best to define up-front exactly what will be measured, when it will be measured, who will measure it, and how and when you will analyze results and take action to enforce accountability.

3. Make it public

Tri Tuns recommends making accountability standards, practices and expectations public.When conducting focus groups and interviews with another client I was informed that years ago they used to generate multiple reports that showed how well individuals, departments and the organization as a whole was performing. However, people started to complain because they didn’t think others should have a view into how their individual or department performance compared to others. Eventually the decision was made to restrict access to reports and only show each department head their own departmental performance.

What emerged was quite interesting. There were several executives who were not comfortable with conflict and didn’t want to embarrass non-performing department managers in front of their peers. Not only did the restricting of reports NOT improve performance in the troubled departments, it increased staff resentment for the executives across the board. The staff explained that it was one thing if management didn’t know about performance problems; it was another thing entirely to have reports that highlight the problem and then do nothing about it.

The reality is that people talk and people always know which of their coworkers are not performing. Instead of trying to hide information – that people already know – you’re better off at least acknowledging, if not outright sharing the information and then taking appropriate action.

4. Explain yourself

While creating transparency around accountability within an organization, be sure to explain the hows and whys.Once results are publicly shared the actions taken now become a question of leadership, judgment and integrity. If people did not deliver on their commitments, you need to decide if you are going to hold people accountable or make exceptions. There may be extenuating circumstances that are justifiable reasons for relieving people of accountability. Or this may be a “moment of truth” when you need to take unpleasant, though necessary action.

What is important is that whatever action you take – and doing nothing is an action – you need to make sure people understand why you did what you did. Everyone will take their cues about how they need to behave in the future by the actions taken, so make sure everyone is clear on the reasons for those actions and what the expectations are going forward.

In a blog entry on leadership I talk about how, “we judge others by their actions, but we judge ourselves by our intentions”. This becomes extremely important when creating a culture of accountability. If there are special circumstances that justify not taking an action, but no one knows it, they may jump to the (erroneous) conclusion that they will not be held accountable in the future.

5. Ask for help

Accountability doesn't only rest on the shoulders of leadership; it's everyone's responsibility.Accountability doesn’t just happen from the top down. Coworkers at the peer level can hold each other accountable. However, many times people don’t want to “cause trouble” with their coworkers so won’t speak up without your clearly expressed request.

If you want people to help hold each other accountable, a good place to start is by asking for their help. When you explicitly ask for help, you give everyone permission to raise potentially sensitive topics. There can also be an agreement in advance as to how exactly people can support one another and hold each other accountable.

For example, I have friends who are “gym buddies”. They made a commitment to show up at the gym at some ridiculously early hour and they do it because they know the other person is counting on them. They tell me they feel accountable to the other person because they made a commitment to them and don’t want to let them down. How could you apply the gym buddies concept in your organization to increase accountability?

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Jason Whitehead
Jason Whitehead is CEO of Tri Tuns, LLC, an organizational effectiveness consultancy specializing in driving and sustaining effective user adoption of IT systems. He works at the intersection of technology, process, culture and people to help clients actually achieved measurable business benefits from their technology investments.


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