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Holding purpose accountable: How to Close the gap between purpose and action

A lack of purpose or connection to purpose is arguably one of the most significant problems affecting businesses today. When employees feel connected to a company's mission and values, they are more engaged.

According to insights released by Deloitte in 2015, employees today are focused on purpose, mission, and work-life integration. And when employees are connected to this purpose and see a commitment to it in a company's culture, there is stronger employee engagement and retention.

While the importance of communicating a sense of purpose in your company is a given, what happens when purpose and behaviors from employees and leadership don't actually align? There is a loss of accountability at both a company and individual level.

Having a conversation about accountability is not guaranteed to be an easy one. Why? Because it involves both participants identifying their individual contribution to the problem. We are not only accountable for the outcome, but we are also accountable for our behavior in the situation.

Where accountability goes south

In an article published by The Harvard Business Review, contributor Graham Kelly shares several real-life scenarios where organizations professed to have a certain workplace culture and values--a common sense of purpose--but their practices did not align with either the purpose or the values.

Kelly identifies two corporate trends in the article: the idea that to motivate employees you need to fuel them with a corporate purpose, and the sharp rise in CEO and senior executive pay. The role of purpose in an organization goes south when company behaviors (especially at the executive level) do not stand up to the values of this corporate purpose.

What has the potential to be a powerful means of engaging employees, building relationships, and boosting performance and productivity becomes what Kelly calls a "corporate purpose that rings hollow."

Who is in charge of ensuring that your company isn't losing its purpose, and who is holding the actions of executives championing this purpose accountable?

Hold yourself accountable first, others second

Don't jump too fast to point out how an executive or manager is talking the talk about purpose and yet is not walking the talk.

"Before we confront another's behavior," Fierce Founder and CEO Susan Scott said in her bestselling book Fierce Conversations, "it is essential that we first look at the ends of our own noses. No long confession is needed here."

The purpose of this conversation with yourself is to identify any role that you have played in creating this lack of accountability for your company's purpose as well as what you intend to do about it.

The first step in accountability and holding others accountable is to have a conversation with yourself, that interrogates your own reality. If you know something needs to change, than it is you who needs to change it.

Hold yourself accountable first, and your manager, colleague, or company second.

What changes through this approach is that accountability transforms to holding yourself and others able to succeed. It's not about pointing out failures and "putting someone down." Instead, you come out from behind yourself into the conversation and make it real and focused on the issue rather than the person.

Make confrontation a shoulder-to-shoulder conversation

These conversations are going to involve confrontation. While that can be an uncomfortable thought, a loss of accountability in your company isn't much better. The reality is that a company's purpose and accountability go hand-in-hand. Once you have clearly defined and communicated what your company values and goals are, then there needs to be ongoing conversations about how these purposes are actually reflected in employee actions.

And these kinds of conversations can often involve confrontation. And before having a confrontation conversation, remind yourself that confrontation does not have to be unproductive.

Second, think about the emotional wake this conversation is going to have: this is the effect that this conversation is going to have on the other person after you have left the room. You may be approaching your manager or an executive to confront them a gap between their behaviors and the company's purpose, and that is likely to elicit an emotional response.

Be aware that there will be an emotional response, respect that, and think about how you can respond in a way that keeps the conversation on track and focused on the issue and not the person.

Construct a confrontational conversation so that you identify the issue and its impact, where your own fingerprint is on it, and then what the potential outcome is. After that, ask your colleague to share their own understanding of the situation. When done skillfully, confrontation is productive and involves you going shoulder-to-shoulder with your colleague.

The issue: there is a lack of accountability where behaviors aren't aligning with company values, and the company's professed purpose isn't being held able to drive behaviors.

Your fingerprint: what role have you played in not making accountability a norm in your organization?

The potential outcome: behaviors will continue to contradict the company's purpose, frustration will build among employees, engagement will lag, relationships won't be enriched, and your bottom line will be impacted.

What is your understanding of this issue?

Instead of pointing the finger at someone or talking at someone, you are having a conversation with someone--someone who also invested in your workplace culture. Stay curious, open, and ready to listen to someone else's reality.

What wake do you hope to see? Is it going to be an afterglow, and aftermath, or an aftertaste? You can learn about more tools to enrich a confrontation conversation in our Confrontation Program.

Interrogate your understanding of the company's purpose

Becoming aware of our own filters and the why behind what we do shouldn't be the end of the conversation. Instead, take your relationships a step further and learn more about what motivates your colleagues. What company values are important to them and keep them engaged in their work? The why behind what you do may not be the same why that influences their behavior, so remain engaged in the conversation, open to hearing a different reality.

In an article published on our blog, Fierce EVP Stacey Engle shared how her "call to action for leaders is to first tap into your own purpose with the organization. And then, do not wait. Start having conversations about purpose now so that you can begin tapping into where the magic lies—inside the soul of your organization."

You cannot hold someone accountable if you don't listen to their realities. And if they aren't deeply connected to that focus and purpose, there won't be a fire in their bellies and a rhyme, and a reason.

Get everyone talking about purpose

Culture starts at the top, but holding behavior accountable to purpose and holding purpose accountable to itself involves everyone at every level in your organization. You can prompt this by making sure that everyone is at the table.

In the Fierce Team program, we dive into how you can create psychological safety in your team and increase alignment and partnership. Value the diverse perspectives that your employees bring to the table about your company's purpose and where there is a gap between that purpose and behavior.

And by getting everyone engaged in holding each other accountable, you have the potential to increase their own sense of responsibility for their behavior.

You can learn more about how to make conversations around accountability a norm in your workplace by checking out our Accountability program. And for more insights into a lack of connection to purpose and the other top six leading business problems today, download your free copy of our eBook


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