For many years now I have lived by what I call the "rule of threes." In short, if I hear about something three times, I take that as the universe's way of wanting me to pay attention. This past week three different people --a client, a close friend, and a work colleague --all had a conversation with me with about "a culture of accountability."
Not exactly a phrase you hear every day, let alone three times in one week. So, following my own rule, I decided to take a deeper dive into the topic.
As a former management consultant, and cultural change practitioner, I've seen the power of accountability first hand. The presence of it generates trust and forward momentum, while the lack creates resentment and inertia.
In fact, one of the hallmarks of a strong, positive personal brand is being knowing for giving and keeping one's word.
A culture of accountability is one where the employees, from leader to front line, have a high degree of ownership over their actions and the impact they have on achieving the overall organizational results.
One core difference in a culture of accountability is that employees take on the company mission, vision and goals, rather than feeling like it is "put" on them. But how does a company go about creating a culture of accountability? Here's five ways I've often advised clients on how to go about it.
1. Communicate a broad rather than a narrow understanding of how every job contributes to the whole.
Most people work in a vacuum, with a limited perspective of how their job contributes to the whole. One way to increase accountability is to make certain that every job description, no matter how significant (or insignificant), makes that position's contribution to the whole clear. By knowing how the work they do impacts other people, employees are more likely to feel responsible for getting the job done as needed.
2. Recognize accountability rather than take it for granted.
I once had a CEO say to me, "I don't need to show appreciation for the job people do; that's what I pay them for." It's one of the few times in my life I have been stunned into silence. In short, what gets rewarded is what gets done. So going out of your way to acknowledge and appreciate an employee taking accountability --especially for something difficult or challenging --contributes to creating a culture where accountability is seen as an important value.
3. Call out a lack of accountability when it occurs.
In the same way that acknowledging accountability creates a positive environment, not recognizing the lack of it generates a culture where employees don't really believe that accountability matters. Don't pretend that a lack of accountability doesn't exist, and don't be afraid to call it out when you see it.
4. Create a structure for accountability.
It's one thing to encourage a culture of accountability; it's another to build in a structure that encourages it on a day-to-day basis. Two easy ways to do this include:
- Weekly or monthly meetings to check in on the progress of a project where individuals have specific accountabilities.
- Slack, Basecamp or another task management system where commitments can be tracked and followed up on.
5. Start with simply doing what you say you are going to do, by when you say you are going to do it.
As simple as this sounds, the core of a culture of accountability starts with people keeping their word. Some of the biggest damage I've seen done in relationships between co-workers has been caused by a lack of keeping commitments made. You can be an example of accountability by holding yourself to the standard of doing what you said you would, by when you said you would do it.
The bottom line for creating a culture of accountability is that it starts at the top. As the leader of a business, the more you demonstrate, encourage and create a structure for accountability, the greater your chances of it becoming a reality.