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April 28, 2017

Run It Like You Own It: Creating a Culture of Accountability

Clint Lewis

Clint Lewis, President of Zoetis International Operations, recently contributed an article on the topic of accountability to Leader to Leader Journal. Below is an adaptation of his feature, which ran in the spring 2017 publication.

I’m proud to be part of Zoetis, an organization that recognizes the importance and the power of accountability and further has embedded this value as part of our operating culture as reflected in our Core Belief, Run It Like You Own It.  

I was recently asked to write a piece on accountability for Leader to Leader Journal, a quarterly publication that covers various topics on leadership for business leaders written from the 'firsthand voice' of actual business leaders.  I was honored to be asked to author this article as it provided me a unique opportunity to reflect on my own personal views about how to foster an organizational culture of accountability and share those ideas and experiences-- largely shaped during my years at Pfizer and Zoetis.  My lessons learned and the framework I outline in the article to drive greater accountability across the organization were inspired by the book, "The Oz Principle" by authors Rogers, Smith and Hickman and can be easily understood and adopted regardless of one's tenure, role and/or function.  

Defining Accountability

The first step to creating an organizational culture based on accountability is to help colleagues understand what the term really means. Most people unfortunately, but understandably, view accountability as a negative because it is a term most often used when someone has failed to achieve a desired result or outcome and thus, needs to be “held accountable" for failing to achieve the result.  This is clearly not the definition of accountability we want our colleagues at Zoetis to have.  

When we use the term accountability, we really mean taking ownership-- ownership for the key goals and results that are essential to drive our continued growth and success.  Rather than looking at accountability as a negative, or after the outcome has occurred, our intent is to make the concept of accountability both positive and proactive.  Instead of asking the question, “Who is accountable for failing to achieve the
result?” -- which only leads to pointing the finger and blaming others, our focus is to ask, “Who is accountable to achieve the desired goals?” By reflecting on this question individually and collectively, we unlock colleagues' initiative and creativity to consistently challenge ourselves and each other to find the way to achieve our goals.  

Defining accountability synonymous with ownership means that the individual or team is personally invested and willing to commit the necessary time, energy and effort to achieve their own results, and in so doing, they contribute to the organization achieving its overall goals.  

At Zoetis, our Core Belief of 'Run it Like You Own It’ is fully aligned with this positive definition of accountability.  We want to ensure we have a culture across Zoetis where colleagues feel engaged and encouraged to take personal ownership in their roles to deliver results that matter for themselves and the company consistent with our company's values.

Setting Clear Goals and Creating a Sense of Empowerment is Key to Accountability 

In order to be personally accountable, colleagues must have a crystal-clear understanding of what the organization needs to achieve and what they personally need to contribute to these goals. It’s up to leaders to ensure that the organization's key objectives are cascaded to all levels of the organization and to ensure that these objectives are translated into clear expectations for each department and each individual colleague.  

Leaders also need to create a sense of empowerment where colleagues are challenged to develop their own plan to achieve the desired objectives.  Without question, managers need to support their teams with the necessary resources, training and coaching as required, but each individual colleague needs to have a sense of ownership to develop their plan to achieve the desired goals in alignment with the team's overall objectives and always in accordance with our values.

A Framework for Achieving Goals

To unlock the transformative power of accountability, each colleague needs to deliver on their individual goals and therefore everyone needs to have a specific plan for how they are going to achieve their goals. I’d like to share a simple, four-step framework that can be a useful tool that anyone can use to drive greater ownership/accountability to achieve the results that matter.

  1. Ensure goal clarity and complete a baseline assessment. Since goal clarity is a key to accountability, the first step is to make sure your individual goals are clear. It’s up to both you and your manager to clarify any uncertainties. Once the goals are clear, you should conduct a baseline assessment to find out how close or far away you are from achievement of the desired goals. Then, make a specific plan to address any gaps-- to seize the opportunities and/or to minimize the potential challenges that may exist.  It’s often helpful to validate the baseline assessment with peers, subordinates, and your manager.

  2. Make a personal commitment to see your plan through to fruition. Your goals should be directly connected to your annual performance objectives and incentive compensation process.  This 'linkage' helps instill the highest degree of accountability and ownership, as it aligns objectives with performance. 

  3. Develop a specific plan. The next step is to create a specific action plan to achieve each goal. This will entail developing a specific set of strategies, tactics, timelines and metrics to measure progress and success. 

  4. Execute and evaluate progress. The final step is executing the plan. This may involve modifying your plan as needed when obstacles and challenges are encountered along the way, and sharing the relevant learnings with other members of your team.  It’s a good idea to hold regular check-ins with key stakeholders and your manager to update on progress made.  In the end, the better the 'ownership mindset,' the better the execution.  And the better the execution, the better the end results achieved. 

Read the full article by Clint Lewis in Leader to Leader.

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