Developing personal accountability is old school. Particularly in a society that tends to celeberate charismatic leadership, it seems cool to get away with mistakes very easily. But all hell break lose when subordinates make a similar mistake.
Personal accountability is a powerful quality that businesses and organizations need to look for in their best talents. It is the permission to take responsibility for one’s actions, and the capacity to fully accept the consequences afterward.
In my 6 years of coaching successful entrepreneurs, senior level executives and their teams, I discovered that developing accountability partnership within an organizational context is a deliberate strategy for long-term growth. If you are an entrepreneur, a CEO, senior member of management, or project team leader, you have a responsibility to help your employees and team make positive contributions. Accountability is not for business owners and CEOS alone, every staff member has to feel safe to own his or her job and deliver a superior service to the customer at all times. That is the basic essence of an accountability culture.
The test of successful leadership lies in getting things done. When leaders and managers fail to deliver results, when they fail consistently to do what they say, it is only a sign of a breakdown in accountability. In business, successful leaders are doers! They hold themselves accountable for the high-performance results they produce always.
We cannot ignore the importance of creating accountability culture in today’s complex business environments. While it eliminates miscommunication between leaders and their subordinates, it mobilizes individuals and teams to put up an extraordinary performance. In organizations where accountability is the order of the day, people respond to issues faster and with a greater sense of accuracy. While decision-making can be bureaucratic in many companies, an accountability mindset makes it easier for people to make better decisions and execute with confidence too. Because they are deliberate about what they want, they experience a more cohesive engagement and satisfaction on their jobs.
Key Considerations for creating accountability culture
The following 5 considerations can be helpful in creating an accountability culture that maximizes performance and engagement in an organization.
1. Begin with the end in mind
The first step towards creating an effective accountability culture is having a definite vision of the direction your organization is headed. This is the strategic function of executive management, execution of which lies within line-managers and teams. Whether your company is seeking to grow its revenue or profit, create a specified customer service turnaround period or return on investment, the specific goal must be clearly determined by management at the top and communicated relentlessly both vertically and horizontally.
Accountability thrives on the premise that everyone clearly understands the results the organization seeks. The goal should also clarify the important steps about how individual contributions move the business forward. That clarity is crucial for success and brings us to the second consideration, focusing on the result.
2. Focus on result, not activity
The complex nature of present-day business confines many line managers into activity mode. For companies seeking to accelerate growth, activities are fickle and create a task-oriented mindset among the best talents. Those having activity-mindset believe they are paid to perform predefined tasks such as are listed in their engagement letters. They think that performance is only when they accomplish the tasks, whether or not the result was achieved.
But accountability culture is different. Its focus is the result, not activity. It goes beyond the confines of job descriptions to delivering agreed goals. It begins with line-managers clarifying the result and communicating it relentlessly to the team until it is achieved. Part of the communication process involves laying out the acceptable standards, including the timeframe for meeting all relevant milestones. Because everyone understands how the expected result looks, no one feels entitled or satisfied until the result is produced.
Focusing on the result can influence team performance also and create joint accountability for the members. A joint accountability occurs when individual members of the team hold one another responsible for their actions and behaviours as they work together towards the goal. It eliminates entitlement attitude and throws out any dysfunctional behaviour in the system. This level of accountability is important and can be achieved if leaders set clear goals and appropriate framework for achieving the goal.
3. Provide resources for success
Accountability without the right resources and tools does not always create the expected results. No employee can be held accountable if he or she does not have the right support to deliver the result. Once a goal has been clearly defined, communicated and understood, line managers have a responsibility to provide everything the team needs including coaching and training to execute the result. Resources are not limited to access to tools and privileged information. It includes the permission to make important decisions and take minimal risks also. Where the project involves a budget, a delegated authority is necessary for key officers to authorize costs to a limit.
4. Give constructive feedback regularly
A constructive feedback provides the basis for evaluating team’s performance against agreed goals. In practice, feedback is challenging for some line managers and senior level executives who perceive it as a tool to confront teams with hard facts. For them, it feels uncomfortable to criticize and risk losing a good working relationship with colleagues.
As challenging as feedback might seem, it is practically impactful when approached from a coaching perspective. Rather than telling what subordinates did not do right and suggesting what they should do instead, line managers can coach to identify what’s missing and help strategize the way forward. Asking questions such as: “What could you do differently to achieve the goal?” or “What type of support do you need from me to make progress ?” can help navigate the way forward for the goal. Coaching through feedback is powerful because it not only improves performance, it helps line managers contribute to team member’s personal and professional growth.
5. Reward performance lavishly
Employees who achieve their goals deserve a reward. Appreciating performance through a reward system seems to be gradually phasing out of many organizations. To give a reward demonstrates gratitude for work well done and it is practically motivating.
About 10 years ago, I led a team of 14 Accounts Payable staff to accomplish an important deadline under two weeks. In appreciation for a good performance, management rewarded us with dinner and a free ticket for bowling at Cambridge Leisure Centre. Contrary to public opinion, reward need not only be in cash or monetary value. Line managers having little or no budget can reward performance in kind through a thank you card, note or email. Regardless of the form, rewards must be genuine and intentional to show a deep appreciation for the individual or team’s contribution.
Businesses and organizations seeking to maximize performance can turn the tide around by creating accountability culture. And those on the path of growth can accelerate with it. Share your experience or thoughts about accountability in the comment box below.