What does the word accountability mean to you?
To most people, accountability implies meaning what you say and holding yourself—and one another—responsible for those words.
To me, accountability goes beyond that. It is not only about meaning what you say but following through on your words with action—and even more importantly, results. Words that lead to action that lead to results is how we measure our business at West Monroe, how we measure our leaders, and what we expect from one another. It’s also how we approach our work with clients.
But it’s not always what we encounter in the market. We all know how it feels to be left at the alter in one figurative sense—when those who made promises to us, either as individuals or organizations, let us down when outcomes weren’t realized.
The issue with the first definition of accountability is that it doesn’t always lead to the right outcomes. We can all mean what we say, but promises are empty without the action and follow-through to make them a reality. And, people don’t always have the attention span or memory to see things through to completion and fulfillment of the promises made.
In business, this appears in a few different ways. We’ve all seen major announcements from companies about hiring thousands of workers, bringing a new manufacturing facility to an underdeveloped area, or aiming for a new environmental goal. These promises, for the most part, are well-intentioned. And many may actually pan out—but think about how many times we see a company, or at least the media covering it, say “Hey remember that promise? We fulfilled it.” There’s too much emphasis, focus, and attention on the promise and not enough attention on the outcome.
When Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway, and JP Morgan Chase announced they were forming a joint healthcare venture, later named Haven, the media went wild and the news had healthcare industry incumbents running scared. Boardrooms of established healthcare companies from hospitals to insurance companies to even Big Pharma spent weeks pontificating about what this type of disruption could mean to the industry and to their businesses. For the record, disruption and innovation are good for the economy. But the announcement was made with a vastly general promise to lower healthcare costs and improve the patient experience without any measurable goals or steps on how this would be accomplished. Over the next three years, the only progress they seemed to make was hiring some big talent like Atul Gawande. But on Jan. 4, 2021, they announced a dissolution of the company and very little to show for the effort.
What happened here? What was their plan, and why didn’t it come to fruition? What were the follow-up actions and results that should have been included in that initial charter? The intentions were noble, but the lack of follow-through turned into disappointment. My suspicion is the end result got only a fraction of the attention and audience share of the initial bold vision. A lot of disappointed believers, I’m sure, but no full report of accountability and lessons learned for market consumption, which will prompt even more grandiose press releases in the future.
JP Morgan Chase's announcement that it would form Morgan Health, a healthcare unit focused on its own 165,000 employees, is an interesting move post-Haven Health. Perhaps CEO Jamie Dimon was unsettled by the venture's failure and is doing what he can within his own sphere of control to provide some accountability.
While it’s important to speak the truth and have integrity, it’s even more important to back up that integrity with results.
The first major step toward keeping a promise is not making one without a plan of action. Before making a promise (or an announcement) do the substantial legwork of determining 1) how you will measure success and 2) the steps and resources required to get there. If you make a promise without this upfront work, you’re risking your reputation on good intentions and hope alone. And as the adage goes, hope is not a strategy — nor are good intentions and headlines.
At West Monroe, we’ve built a culture of accountability through a focus on planning and results. Here are some examples of that:
Accountability is an important part of doing business. In my opinion as a CEO, your word means everything. If you don’t back up those words with actions and results, your accountability—and credibility—suffer drastically.
Chase CEO Dimon championed the idea of accountability recently in an interview about proposed infrastructure legislation, where he said, “I’m concerned about how the money’s going to be spent. The government needs to be very clear on what they want to accomplish. On highways, how many miles are you going to build? How much is it going to cost? When's it going to get done? Who's responsible?"
Now those are questions of accountability.
From diversity goals to providing customers a return on their investment for spending money with your organization, we all need to define the actions we need to take to achieve the desired outcomes. And follow through and be accountable to results.