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COMPANY CULTURE

How to Get People to Do What They Say

Four ways to create a culture of accountability. Go ahead and add your recommendations to the list.

Most of the time when I write for Inc., I feel I have useful tools I can impart to help other small businesses.  When it comes to accountability, I could use some help myself. 

At BerylHealth, I've built a great culture rooted in employee engagement and loyalty.  I'd describe it as a family atmosphere where people love to get up every morning and come to work. But I've found one of the risks of this warm company culture is that it might not always have the type of structure and processes that other businesses have. As a result, we haven't always held people as accountable as we should.

Recently I had to have a "talk" with my senior leadership team.  I felt frustrated with deadlines being missed and lack of communication about projects, and I knew that the team was likely being even less diligent with peers and direct reports (than it was with me).  I have a real pet peeve about this.  Do what you say you're going to do.  But more importantly, communicate your progress if you're not going to hit your deadline. I'm 100% flexible if you renegotiate in advance, but have no tolerance when someone lets a date slip and tries to explain afterward.

Here are some examples of practices that are working for us as a company as we learn how to tighten the reigns without negatively impacting our culture:

Make accountability a core value. 

A couple of years ago, many on staff were starting to complain about the lack of accountability for co-workers.  How could they succeed if others didn't meet commitments?  It became such a big issue that we added accountability as a fifth core value of the company.  We called it "commitment to accountability."  We hadn't added a core value in 15 years.

Put a system in place.

There are lots of books, articles, and systems out there to help improve accountability.  We settled on the Oz Principle, which focuses on simple models of "see it, own it, solve it, and do it," and designs a way to communicate either "above the line" or "below the line."  We are now well on our way to institutionalizing this system.

Measure accountabiility in multiple ways.

Just last week, I had my senior team take a self-assessment test on personal accountability.  After all, accountability starts with me, right?  We're also two years into a customer survey through which we measure the accountability and responsiveness of all our departments.  We have found a healthy competition between departments that want to make it to the top of that list or improve scores from the previous year.

Institute consequences for non-compliance. 

What good are deadlines if it doesn't matter if you meet them or not?  Why be at the meeting on time if no one does anything about it?  Everyone has to have skin in the game and be held responsible when they don't comply.

As we've begun to get better, I've found that when people are accountable to themselves and each other, trust improves, and walls fall down. But I know we could use more tools to continue to improve accountability.  How do you encourage accountability in your business?

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Last updated: Jun 28, 2012

PAUL SPIEGELMAN | Columnist | CEO of BerylHealth

Paul Spiegelman is the chief culture officer at Stericycle and founder and former CEO of BerylHealth. He also co-founded the Small Giants Community with Inc. editor-at-large Bo Burlingham. You can read more at PaulSpiegelman.com.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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