By Mattson Newell (@MattsonNewell), director for partners in leadership, and an expert and author on breakthrough communications, global human resources, and talent development

Companies encounter external roadblocks to success all the time, from the competitive landscape to market disruption to changes in customer expectations. These affect company performance, often prompting a company to shift its strategy or priorities quickly to make up the difference.


Some roadblocks, however, are symptoms of internal problems lurking in a company's culture. Spot these common warning signs that your culture is working against you before they threaten the long-term success of your company--and you as a leader.

1. Not Hitting Results?

Is your team missing the mark quarter after quarter on projects and deliverables? Is progress on projects sluggish, or worse, has progress come to a complete standstill?

The Fix: Most employees want to meet expectations. When they don't, it could be that they don't know exactly what the company is trying to accomplish. Counter this confusion by establishing three to four meaningful, measurable, and memorable Key Results for the whole organization. This sounds like common sense, but you would be surprised how many companies fail to do this. Our Workplace Accountability Study revealed these startling facts:

  • Clarity: When asked if Key Results were clearly defined and well understood throughout the company, 85% of respondents said "No."
  • Alignment: When asked if people throughout the company align their work with the Key Results, 85% said "No."
  • Priorities: When asked if priorities change frequently, causing confusion around what needs to be achieved, 87% said "Yes."

To create a culture where people take accountability, you have to start by clearly defining the results the company must achieve.

2. There's a Knot in the Feedback Loop

Do your employees shy away from offering feedback to you or others?

The Fix: Keeping the feedback loop open is vital to great leadership because it provides information that you might have missed otherwise. It's easy to fall into the trap of giving feedback only when something goes wrong, but that conditions employees to associate feedback with failure or punishment. Given this negative association, it's no surprise that only 20% of survey respondents indicated that they actively seek and offer feedback. Instead, give feedback when things are going right as often as when things are not going right.

And, ask for feedback at least as often, if not more, than you give it. If your team is not comfortable providing or asking for feedback, model the behavior you want to see by asking for input from every member on your team, at every opportunity. Listen carefully to feedback from your direct reports. Show them that you are serious and interested in hearing new perspectives. Finally, after you've received feedback, make a point to say, "thank you." Appreciation works wonders to open the lines of communication for future exchanges.

3. A Lack of Collaboration

Is your team withholding their best and brightest ideas instead of collaborating to find innovative solutions?

The Fix: When you discover silos that are inhibiting collaboration and communication, your job is to dismantle this destructive mindset and kickstart communication and collaboration between departments again. But how do you accomplish this?

One antidote to silos is a clearly defined and understood Key Result that everyone in the organization can take accountability to achieve.

For example, if a manufacturer wants to increase safety at a plant, it can be very easy for employees to assume this is the job of the designated safety manager and the safety team. This thinking leads to a significant silo in the organization--and an easy scapegoat if the company does not achieve its result. A collaborative, jointly accountable mindset would say everyone is accountable for safety, which means everyone can collaborate to deliver on this result.

4. The Blame Game Is Alive and Well

Do you hear murmurs along the lines of: "Well, it's not my job," or "We're not getting results, but it's not my fault"?

The Fix: Help employees work Above the Line--that includes assuming responsibility, envisioning results, and taking action to achieve them--as opposed to engaging in Below the Line thinking, which is categorized by blame, excuses, and disengagement.

The Blame Game--the practice of placing responsibility for failures on others--wastes time and energy that could be spent working toward Key Results. Encourage employees to focus instead on what they can control. This positive mindset helps employees understand how they can improve processes or results within their organizations, even if those responsibilities don't fall within their job descriptions.

We worked with a midsized start-up that had gone eight quarters without hitting their numbers. As you can imagine, morale and engagement were tanking. People were pointing fingers.  Even leadership got in on the act and began blaming each other and their employees.

Once they grasped the fundamentals of accountability and began to integrate positive accountability throughout their organization, focusing on what they could control versus focusing on what they could not control, the next quarter they turned in positive numbers. The quarter after that, they hit their numbers--and haven't looked back since.

Top Takeaways

Don't ignore these warning signs that your culture is working against you. Instead, focus everyone on the key things they need to achieve, and then show them they have the power to achieve them through individual and organizational accountability.

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