Accountability – the magic ingredient for business agility & resilience

Jul 27, 2020 3 min read
Accountability – the magic ingredient for business agility & resilience

In a low maturity market, a lack of leadership is often cited as the reason behind poor customer service, unpredictable, untrustworthy service delivery, and a lack of speed, agility, and effectiveness. However, what we see is a lack of accountability.

In a low maturity market, a lack of leadership  is often cited as the reason behind poor customer service,  unpredictable, untrustworthy service delivery, and a lack of speed,  agility, and effectiveness. However, what we see is a lack of accountability. Accountability catalyzes the required and latent  leadership to enable high maturity performance and a platform where  Kanban can delivery 8x improvements in productivity and more than a 90%  reduction in lead times.

Organizational Maturity

What we´ve learned from four years of the  Kanban Maturity Model is that the majority of the market, in  professional services, intangible goods industries, is incredibly low  maturity in comparison to their cousins and siblings in tangible goods,  physical goods, and services industries. Most of the market matches our  definitions of Maturity Level 0 or 1. However, flow is achieved at  maturity level 2. The Kanban Method becomes useful at that point and  most valuable taking organizations to maturity levels 3 and 4.

We characterize maturity levels as follows

0. Every customer has the pet

1. Never the same way twice

2. Never the same result twice

3. Consistent, trusted delivery

4. Balanced risk, every stakeholders needs & expectations met

5. Simply the best

6. A remarkable history of surprising reinvention

What customers want is a supplier that is at  least maturity level 3. However, the market is mostly stuck at levels 0  and 1. The reason often cited for this inertia is a lack of leadership.

Evolutionary Change

To start with what you do now and drive change  in an evolutionary-fashion, you need stress, reflection, and acts of  leadership at all levels in your organization. Low maturity Kanban  implementations typically feature some form of visualization and a  rudimentary reflection mechanism; if only at a personal or small team  level. So there is an ability to understand that things aren´t working,  but any focus of improvement tends to be self-serving; seeking to  relieve the workers of overburdening and remove the stress from the  environment. What is needed to take the organization’s future is the  need to value customer service; to recognize that there is a customer  and to work with a sense of purpose that is altruistic and  service-oriented. If these things are not present, it is attributed to a lack of leadership.

The inevitability of a lack of leadership

The lack of leadership is explained away with  thoughts like ¨leadership is rare¨, ¨leadership requires courage,  personal risk, and therefore, a culture of safety. As we don´t have  safety in our culture…¨, ¨leadership doesn´t grow on trees¨, or ¨you  can´t just snap your fingers and invent leadership¨. There is a  resigned, complacency to the effect that ¨things can never get better –  we don´t have the leadership¨. And consequently, classes and  certifications in leadership have become de rigueur.


My Spanish colleagues tell me that there is no  word for ¨accountability¨ in Spanish, that it would be translated as  ¨the person responsible for …¨ and they know that this isn´t what is  meant or intended in English – being responsible for, the person who  performs the job, simply isn´t the same as being held accountable. Responsibility is for an activity, while accountability is for an  outcome. The responsible person accepted the customer´s order and  started the work, while the accountable person ensured it was delivered  within the customer´s expectations and that the customer is happy with  the outcome.

Accountability catalyzes latent leadership

When you insert accountability together with  the appropriate reflection mechanism, in Kanban we call those the Kanban  Cadences such as the Service Delivery Review every couple of weeks,  then you find that together they spark magic. Accountability with a  reflection on how well someone is performing against those expected  outcomes creates the necessary stress on the individual to step and show  leadership. The necessary acts of leadership emerge when accountability  is present. Things start to change, to evolve. Using the Kanban  Maturity Model as a roadmap they will evolve to maturity levels 3 and 4 –  customers and other stakeholders will be adequately served, and the  business will move from an inherently fragile condition to a much more  robust, trusted, position with loyal customers, repeat business and  recommendations.

Delivering Organizational Agility & Resilience

So, those senior leaders reading this, looking  for the secret sauce and the magic carpet to transport your  organization to a glorious land of agility and resilience, it is up to  you. You must lead by holding people accountable! Accountability in your junior and mid-level positions, coupled to transparency and regular  reflection is how you bring out the best in your people, how you switch  on the latent leadership within them. Taking responsibility is not  enough, make people accountable for outcomes.

What next?…

At the David J Anderson School of Management,  we teach classes in organizational agility, maturity, and resilience,  together with classes in leadership and organizational culture. If you´d  like to learn more please contact our customer service team.

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