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Leading a Culture
of Accountability

Zero-based thinking begins at the top.

Imagine a CEO choosing to fly coach instead of business class, or staying in a three-star hotel rather than a four- or-five star luxury suite. With the ever-increasing impact of disruption hitting every bottom line, company values need to change. Cost-cutting measures need to be transformed into opportunities to drive sustainable company growth and value. Resources need to be deployed to growth producing parts of the business. Budgeting practices that simply accrued from the past need to be replaced by a process that starts from scratch and rationalizes every line item. For leadership to drive this type of cultural change, the CEO who chooses to fly coach and the midlevel manager embracing a future that’s no longer “business as usual” need to be connected by a sense of transparency that makes it possible for everyone to feel like they’ve bought into the business.

This is why more and more companies are adopting a zero-based mindset (ZBx) in order to drive cultural change and achieve sustainable growth through the competitive agility of their organizations.

ZBx prioritizes leadership’s role in building—and reflecting—a culture of accountability. To help others in the organization really “own” change at a personal level, leaders need to connect values to visible actions and operate from a ZBx mindset themselves—driving and operationalizing ZBx daily. But embodying values through your own actions is one thing. The real question is, how do you actually manage and measure cultural transformation in others?

Similar to the way zero-based budgeting (ZBB) uses a “clean-sheet” or bottoms-up approach to budgeting, zero-based organization (ZBO) starts by simplifying organizational complexity. It’s not about simply reaffirming roles around past processes, which are often disconnected from the current realities of the business and its opportunities for growth. It’s about realigning organizational priorities around the customer, and reframing every process from the customer’s point of view as the aperture for future growth.


In this way, ZBO lets you start from scratch by shifting talent away from work that doesn’t contribute to desired outcomes to areas that leverage unique skills across the entire organization and fuel growth and innovation. Processes that don’t add value to the customer are zeroed-out and replaced by those that do. Roles and responsibilities are clarified and employees are empowered to make decisions, contributing to a more agile organization that can adjust quickly to customer demands. By reinforcing a sense of ownership, entrepreneurship, and accountability across the organization, ZBO creates more engaged employees who have bought in to every aspect of their work and have a sense of ownership in the outcome of the company.

By building a healthy corporate culture, ZBO helps hardwire workplace values such as ownership and accountability into the enterprise, enabling people and resources to make their optimal impact. This also means leadership must celebrate a sense of transparency and encourage trust between employees and the management team, sharing information freely and always supporting open and honest dialogue.

To better understand how more and more companies are embracing ZBO to compete in today’s disruptive corporate landscape, Accenture Strategy details the following “Five Rights of ZBO” as a framework for organizational change:

Identify key routines and the most important projects in order to determine what work drives the greatest business value, while reducing unnecessary complexity and investment.

Identify the time, effort, and frequency of work that must get done. Aggregate workforce effort by routine and project. Employ digital technologies or sourcing strategies where possible.

Design the organization to balance spans of control, focus on core competencies, and clarify roles and responsibilities, moving away from inflexible, hierarchical structures to more fluid project-based structures.

Build a true bottom-up, clean-sheet organization, looking at skills, levels, tenure, salaries, and location. Align skills to key roles and assign “stretch roles” in order to stretch employees beyond their current knowledge and comfort levels to help them grow and develop new skills. The right people share the purpose of the organization and have a cultural tie with the new model.

Set organizational objectives and align them to business functions. Develop individual employee objectives to drive personal accountability and create true transparency to enable people to make decisions from the front lines for a more agile organization.

Zero-based thinking holds the potential to free up valuable resources that can quickly be reinvested into tomorrow’s leaders and into solutions that drive sustainable growth and organizational agility and competitiveness. Industry leaders in every field are increasingly embracing ZBx principles to adapt to new technologies and shifting trends, in order to stay ahead of changing markets. New ways of doing business require new ways of thinking. In this case, it means rethinking the future of your business by starting at zero.