How to Build a Culture of Accountability
Too many American workplaces allow or encourage people to behave irresponsibly--failing to keep their commitments, being chronically tardy, and consistently favoring their own interests at the expense of their teammates or customers. That view comes from Julie Miller and Brian Bedford, co-authors of Culture Without Accountability: WTF? (WTF? in this case stands for "what's the fix?").
A culture of non-accountability, even in seemingly small matters, can lessen your standing and wind up costing you customers or career advancement, as fellow Inc.com contributor Geoffrey James explained last week. But simply avoiding the 16 behaviors that can kill your reputation isn't enough. You have to proactively encourage responsible behavior in your organization, especially because we all live in a culture that frequently rewards the opposite.
"Trying to instill a culture where people are accountable can be difficult," Miller says. "People will not be accountable unless there's some system in place that encourages it." That's why she and Bedford have created a four-step process for building a standup workplace. The good news, she says, is that it's a lot easier to do in a small company than a big one.
1. Create an elevator pitch.
Just as if you were engaging a customer, have a short pitch that will persuade employees that a standup culture is an important goal. "Make it a compelling pitch about how accountability will benefit us all," Miller says.
2. Write some guidelines.
What does it actually mean to be accountable? Different people will have different ideas, and you need to set some specific rules in place for your organization. "That brings accountability to life," Miller says. "You might say, 'We're going to provide feedback. We're going to do what we say we will do.'"
This kind of thing can be very useful when your team is facing a difficult decision. "Imagine a group of people sitting in a conference room trying to decide whether to ship something or not," she says. "If your accountability guidelines include the statement, 'We do not ship anything unless it's a quality product,' then the decision is easy."
3. Weave accountability into your organization.
Whatever you do, don't write a set of guidelines, hang them on the wall, and consider the job done. "That's where you'll get skepticism," Miller says. Instead, make a point of interviewing for accountability when you hire people, and put it into your performance review system as well. Don't reward or promote employees if they reach their goals at their co-workers' expense. That alone will send a very powerful message.
4. Be a model.
Perhaps the best way to create a standup organization is to lead by example. Make sure employees understand what you expect of them, and that you're holding yourself to the same high standard. Follow through on your promises, own up to your mistakes, and give feedback even when it isn't easy. "That's how you create a culture," Bedford says.
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MINDA ZETLIN | Columnist | Co-author, The Geek Gap
Minda Zetlin is a business technology writer and speaker, co-author of The Geek Gap, and president of the American Society of Journalists and Authors.