In order to build a culture of accountability, we have to understand the fundamentals of how accountability exists within the organizational structure. Let’s start by coming into agreement that most of the accountability that is done by leaders is done through a negative lens. In other words, the accountability only happens when people miss the mark on performance metrics or behavioral expectations. We will deconstruct that narrative to help us understand a better way.
The second item of competence is in regards to the idea that we should only hold our direct reports accountable. This couldn’t be less effective. We are a team, and we exist to win together. That’s why we need to hold our peers and our managers accountable – in addition to our direct reports.
The third accountability thought pattern that we must address is in relation to self accountability. If we don’t hold ourselves accountable, we won’t be able to effectively hold others accountable. Period.
The last paradigm to see in regards to accountability has to do with expectations. If we don’t have clarity with what we expect from ourselves and our team-members, then we can’t effectively hold anyone accountable. This article will address these four narratives and act as a how-to overcome these obstacles in creating a culture of accountability.
Step 1: Positive Accountability
Accountability should be given and received as a gift. Today, accountability has become more of a “leadership checklist” type of response, rather than acting from a place of care for your people. Let’s get this straight… When we hold others accountable we are saying:
- I see you and I am paying attention to you
- Your work matters
- I value you and see great potential in you
- I care too much about you to not honor your output (good or bad)
We understand the misconceptions that come with accountability, but if we come from the above heart postures, then we will increase our chances of being received with optimism and gratitude. The main thing to change within our leadership approach is to hold people accountable when they exceed expectations (honor them) instead of just having this conversation when they miss the mark.
Step 2: Peer-to-Peer Accountability
As our data tells us, we primarily hold our direct reports accountable. Why? Because that’s what we were taught to do and we can check that off of our leadership checklist if we do it consistently. But what about the rest of our team-members, including our managers and peers? Should we hold them accountable too? The answer is an affirmative yes!
Why? Because if we really care about our work and our team-members, then we should be honoring and recognizing each other when we go above and beyond. We should also be asking questions when we fall short of the desired outcomes. Again, why would we do this? It really comes down to a heart posture of believing in the potential of our team and the members that are involved in the work we do. This peer-to-peer accountability mindset is not included in your normal daily deliverables, and that is why this can be such a powerful tool to build a culture of accountability. Here are a few questions to ask to help with peer-to-peer accountability:
- What are your most important goals for the next quarter? How can I support you in achieving them?
- What do you want your next position at this company to be? How can I help you get there?
Step 3: Self-Accountability
For growth to happen, inventory-taking is an extremely powerful tool to apply consistently within your organization. This inventory taking needs to start with you taking a deep look into the mirror and evaluating your own outcomes. Remember, we tend to judge ourselves by our intentions and we tend to judge others by their actions. Make sure you are not only looking at your intentions, but your behaviors when assessing your current reality. Here are a few questions to help get you started with better self-accountability:
- How do I view my performance and contributions to our team?
- How does my team view me?
- What are my top achievements this year?
- What has been my biggest performance disappointment this year?
Step 4: Set Clear Expectations
This step shouldn’t have to be said, but we know that common knowledge is not always common practice. In order to hold anyone else accountable, you must have clarity around expectations that exist for your team to be successful. This means every single player on the team needs to know and understand the key deliverables that each person is responsible for day-to-day, week-to-week, and month-to-month.
What we’ve found is that most people are clear on their own expectations, but they have no clue about the deliverables and focus areas of others (outside of their direct reports). This is madness. Let’s change the story on this and start by working with all of your team-members to answer these three questions:
- What can team-members expect of me?
- What can I expect of you (the other players on the team)?
- What can we expect from each other (peer-to-peer)?
Remember, clarity is kindness. Let’s be clear with what is expected of ourselves and each other.
A culture of accountability is a brilliant thing. When we see it, it looks like the team running the “Flying V” in perfect formation based on the deep philosophical movie The Mighty Ducks. In all seriousness, a culture of accountability is something that we all want, but rarely see. The application of these four steps may look slightly different, but the concepts remain the same in any field.
You want a better culture? Start by setting clear expectations and holding yourself accountable. After you’ve accomplished those two things, put a framework in place to hold your peers and managers accountable for their output. And remember, the most important idea is that accountability is a gift, and it should be used from a place of care.
Note:This article will help you get started. For more encompassing details on each step, please sign up for the Cultures of Accountability Digital Training Course by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org