The Secret to Maintaining Organizational Viability in the Age of Disruption

October 11, 2019

by Tanner Corbridge

In rapidly evolving markets, calculated risk-taking is the secret to boosting innovation, adapting at speed, and maintaining long-term organizational viability.

Today’s marketplace is characterized by rampant disruption, spurred by technological advancements, globalization, and the rise of decentralized teams and remote work. While the retail, finance, and energy industries are some of the sectors most at-risk of experiencing the impact of disruption, organizations across sectors are beginning to push pause on “business as usual” and take a closer look at the large-scale changes threatening their long-term organizational viability.

And despite the fact that 93% of executives believe their industry will be disrupted at some point in the next five years, just 20% feel they’re prepared to address it. For these companies to not only survive, but outperform competitors and maintain long-term financial viability, they must take a proactive, risk-taking approach that prioritizes well-thought-out organizational results.

Taking a Proactive Approach to Business Success in Light of Disruption

Navigating disruption requires not only a willingness, but a hunger to recognize disruption early on. Companies that have ignored the alarm bells — such as Blockbuster, whose leadership team failed to enact cultural and strategic changes in response to the rise in decentralized and digitized media rentals and changing consumer demands — have largely fallen by the wayside.

Leaders must have the humility to realize that simply because their business is bringing value to the marketplace today doesn’t guarantee they’ll remain viable and competitive in the long term. Stagnation is the enemy of success.

Rather, organizations that practice calculated risk-taking, promote innovation, and foster a culture of customer-centricity are well-positioned to navigate the waves of disruption and thrive in the long-run.

A number of healthcare companies have remained especially adept at practicing risk-taking and delivering innovation at speed while maintaining a focus on patient-centric care. For instance, organizations such as MDLIVE, Lemonaid, and LiveHealth have brought direct digital healthcare to all consumers through telehealth mobile apps that can connect patients to practitioners in real-time for assessments, diagnoses, and prescription-writing. By increasing accessibility and affordability for many patients while responding to the rising demand for digital healthcare solutions, these organizations evidence the need for and effectiveness of responding to industry disruption with agility and risk-taking.

Looking Beyond Employee Engagement Levels

For decades, “employee engagement” has been the buzzword of choice within the corporate sector, touted as the end-all solution for improving organizational performance. Countless surveys and studies have drawn attention to the strikingly low rates of employee engagement across the globe. While research has consistently demonstrated a connection between greater levels of employee engagement and higher performance in highly disrupted marketplaces, engagement is no longer sufficient for securing long-term financial viability. Businesses must examine the root causes of poor engagement — one of which is a lack of accountability in the workplace.

Without a culture of accountability, people externalize and hold others accountable for driving results. But with positive accountability, people internalize, holding themselves accountable for creative problem-solving that spurs company-wide success. This type of accountability mindset is paramount for business prosperity in any situation, but especially during times of transition and disruption.

Creating a Culture of Accountability at Work

To establish a culture of accountability, leaders must begin with clearly-defined desired topline results that specify exactly what outcomes indicate organizational success. These results should be meaningful, memorable, and measurable, making it easy to generate buy-in from every member of the organization and track throughout the fiscal year.

Once organizational results are identified and communicated to all employees, leaders can leverage the Partners In Leadership Steps to Accountability. Within this four-part roadmap, employees are charged with:

  1. Seeing critical performance gaps,
  2. Owning the responsibility of closing those gaps,
  3. Solving issues that arise through proactive, creative problem-solving, and
  4. Doing what it takes to execute the most effective solutions for maximizing performance.

When employees take accountability, higher levels of engagement, accelerated speed-to-market, improved rates of growth, and enhanced bottom line performance follow suit.

Accountability in The Age of Agility

Consider this example: to keep pace with the healthcare industry’s shift towards consumerism and remain the preferred healthcare choice in their region, El Rio Health Center knew they needed to become more agile to maintain financial viability.

As a federally-funded health center, El Rio’s board of directors must be comprised of at least 51% patients. However, the percentage of patients serving on El Rio’s board is composed of  closer to 70%. With the rising demand for patient-centric care, this gave El Rio an advantage — they had a first-hand understanding of what patients were looking for. The board identified the need to shift toward a more patient-centric culture and helped leaders identify the actions needed to get there.

To implement this cultural shift initiative across the organization’s 11 campuses and 1,000 employees was a significant undertaking, but executives knew it was the only way to remain viable. Leaders began by cultivating accountability among every department, from nursing to IT, encouraging employees to take ownership for performance gaps and practice creative problem-solving to bridge those gaps innovatively.

El Rio executives held trainings for employees at all levels, outlining their new mission, vision, and desired results — and the role that each member of the team had to play in order to execute on results. They also highlighted success stories of employees who were implementing a patient-centric approach, acknowledging how the actions of accountable employees drive desired business results.

It wasn’t long before a new set of cultural beliefs began to form. According to El Rio CEO Nancy Johnson, “A couple of years ago, if you asked someone in IT what they do for the organization, they might have answered, ‘I work on computers.’ Today they would answer, ‘I help provide a world-class experience for our patients by providing connectivity and information to help better care for our patients.’”

With this accountability-driven, patient-centric approach, El Rio was able to not only meet, but exceed their operating margin goal, and thus promote their long-term financial viability.

Maintaining Long-Term Success in a Disruptive Market

To truly maintain financial viability in evolving markets, organizations must master all the drivers of disruption, keeping a pulse on technology trends, political happenings around the globe, and emerging marketing tactics — all while staying one step ahead of their competitors and maximizing their speed-to-market. Conquering the rapid pace of change in the marketplace demands not only risk-taking and innovation, but something more elemental: aligning the mindsets of employees around the steps to accountability.

By building a culture of accountability, leaders can further engage employees and rely on them to proactively pinpoint problems and take ownership for solving them, ultimately driving business results. We address all of these concepts in greater depth in our new book Propeller: Accelerating Change by Getting Accountability Right.


Tanner Corbridge is an author and senior partner at Partners In Leadership. He has led large-scale transformation projects with Fortune 1000 clients across numerous global industries, including ten of the thirty Dow Jones Index companies. Tanner is the coauthor of Propeller: Accelerating Change by Getting Accountability Right.