The question of how to create a culture of accountability is one I am asked often. From coaching individuals, group workshops, and as part of speaking events, accountability is one of the most common topics leaders bring up.
One of the main reasons accountability, and creating a culture with it as a foundation, is so hard is very nuanced. To better understand how to integrate accountability in your culture we are going to start with its definition. Once defined it will be easy to understand the examples of what accountability looks like as a leader, looks like in action, and how you can adapt it to your current culture.
What does it mean to be accountable?
Accountability – The quality or state of being accountable; especially: an obligation or willingness to accept responsibility or to account for one’s actions.
Wow. This definition shines light on why as a leader, accountability is something to love and appreciate. Because to be frank, accountability is rare and very valuable. At the same time, from a logical standpoint, it makes sense as why most people avoid accountability.
Because when an individual is accountable they are giving up their ability to point their finger blaming someone else.
Being accountable, whether obliged or willingly, puts the results of their actions on their shoulders. This can be a scary place to be for someone who is not used to or comfortable with owning up to their actions.
The fact accountability is scary is also what makes it so very valuable for an individual and a company culture.
Because accountability is not natural, just look at how children respond when they might get in trouble. Yet because it is not natural, does not mean people cannot learn and execute on it as a skill.
In fact, those employees who want to grow, get better, and contribute will follow the lead of an accountable leader. To use the children reference again, they model what they see the adults in their life do. Your employees will model your lead and that of the leadership from the top down.
As a leader, to build an accountable culutre, leading by example is step one. You showing others how it is done lets them see accountability in action and lets them know the standard for them to live up to.
How accountability shows up in your personal life.
In this video I give you an example of something I committed to thus obligated to be accountable too.
It is one of many ways you can check-in with yourself to make sure you are following step one of creating a culture of accountability – by being the example.
Notice in the video, I discussed not feeling like doing what I committed to doing. That is one of, if not the, most important parts to being accountable. Because often times, we will not feel like doing what we said we would do. We will want to do something else in the moment, something more comfortable, avoid a conversation, put off our part of the project, and so on.
It is these very moments where growth takes place when it comes to being an accountable leader. It is these moments you define your leadership brand. It is in these moments you set the example for your team to follow.
How to keep yourself accountable as a leader.
Leadership can be lonely at times making accountability seem more difficult than it needs to be. Part of being a leader is knowing when to ask for help. There is no better way to ask for help than by asking someone to be your accountability buddy.
Accountability buddies, with someone you do not want to let down, is a great relationship in any area of life. Because accountability buddies create the ultimate give and receive relationship. You both are giving and receiving support at the same time for one another. It is an absolute win-win and one you need to establish right away.
Find someone who you do not want to let down by any means. Ask them to help you by explaining why you are asking them and sharing the goals you have for yourself. From there you can decide how the interactions and check-ins will take place moving forward. This one step alone can make a dramatic impact on producing positive results in all areas of your life.
How to begin creating your culture of accountability
There is something very important to understand before you get started shifting your company culture.
You must understand creating change in this way is a marathon not a sprint. I cannot emphasize this enough and in this video I explain why so you can get a firm grip on this before you start making changes.
This process is going to take time, there will be push-back from your people, and your only job in those moments is to hold the standard.
People will adapt, it happens all the time, and the best part is it will begin to make your job easier over time. Easier because once accountability is embraced in the culture, you can refer back to it as a standard to hold people too. Accountability is so powerful it can be both celebrated and corrected.
Both celebrating and correcting in alignment with accountability is essential. When you celebrate people for being accountable, it shows others its importance. When you correct people for not being accountable, it also shows others its importance.
These are both great examples to help shift the behavior of your team and your company.
How to create a culture of accountability in your team
Now that you have the proper expectation realizing creating a culture of accountability will take time, its time to look at the next set of action steps for you.
1 – Set clear expectations.
You have done this step personally by preparing for the marathon and not expecting the sprint. Now it is time to let your people know what you expect from them and the structure you are implementing around them. You must do both, give them the expectations and the process to achieve and maintain them.
2 – Delegate authority.
Delegation is not dumping the work that you do not want to do – or further, the work that no one really wants to do. We all have tasks that are not our favorite and yes, sometimes the not so great tasks get delegated. Creating a culture of accountability requires you to delegate responsibilities that allow others to grow and point the spotlight in their direction.
This means you will need to delegate with intention, not due to convenience alone. The intention is to help your people grow and get better by giving them work to support them in doing so.
3 – Measure and review results.
You must follow-up on your expectations and the effectiveness of your delegation to ensure success. Without this follow-up, your people will not know if they are on the right track or not. Intentions alone are not enough to hit the targets. Reviewing results is how you and they determine success of areas that need improvement.
As the saying goes – what gets measured, gets managed – and this is the time to manage how the process is going so far.
Plus your people, whether they express it or not, want to know where they stand.
4 – Address concerns and issues right away.
Do not wait for a “fire” to break-out. You want to be aware and able to act on any issues the moment they happen. Because waiting to handle them ends up taking more time, more energy and is draining. A word of caution: these “fires” make some leaders feel valuable and although they are able to put the fires out, they do not realize the cost this has on them, their people, and their progress.
Do not let putting out fires be at the top of your list for why you feel valuable as a leader. Instead, keep these events as a rare occurrence rather than the norm, because that is what great leaders do. Plus when things do come up, you will have the time, energy, and resources to handle them with much more grace.
With that in mind, you also have to create an environment that allows for your employees to make mistakes – because they will. If you embarrass them or make them feel bad about what action they took – you will have a hard time having them take a chance again because the fear of the repercussions will keep them in the safe zone.
5 – Celebrate success!
For some reason celebrating success is a struggle for many leaders and organizations.
Some leaders say: “Well, I don’t want to recognize success too soon because the employee might get the wrong idea.” WHAT?
You absolutely want to recognize any shifts in the right direction.
Give them the same level of significance that you give issues – make the feedback specific, tell them what is going right.
If someone demonstrates accountability, recognize it, even if it isn’t perfect
Culture shifts are hard – there will be mistakes – so your attention to what is going right will help reinforce that behavior.
What to do next.
Creating a culture of accountability is a noble and challenging undertaking for any leader. Now you have a framework to use starting with yourself first. Then you can take your foundation of accountability and begin to install the steps given. When you do this, remember to have patience. Have patience with yourself, with your people, and with the process.