[Excerpt from The Culture Question]
Accountability is one of the pillars of a highly functional and healthy workplace culture. Simply put, accountability means that people take responsibility for what they say they will do and what they have already done.
Accountability and trust walk hand in hand. When we do what we say we will do, we establish trust. When an employee commits to completing a project within an atmosphere of accountability, we trust that they will do so. In a culture of accountability, everyone can plan their work accordingly, knowing that others are working to get things done when they say they’ll have them done. And when someone lets the team down, they will take responsibility for correcting their mistake.
Accountability Starts with Leadership
Like most aspects of organizational culture, creating a culture of accountability starts with leadership. When leaders are willing to be accountable, they set the tone for everyone else. When leaders promise to complete tasks by a particular time and in a particular way, they need to deliver. When leaders make mistakes, or fail to deliver on their commitments, they must take responsibility and work to correct their mistakes. When leaders are willing to be held accountable for their work, they make it easier for others to be held accountable as well.
One of the best ways to ensure accountability within an organization is to be clear about what is going to be done, when, and by whom. Clarity about details creates standards by which results can be measured. Recording details in meeting minutes, and then reviewing those minutes as a team, creates accountability. Publicly sharing goals and providing progress updates increases accountability.
One of the best ways to ensure accountability within an organization is to be clear about what is going to be done, when, and by whom.
Encourage Positive Peer Influence
To improve accountability among staff, encourage positive peer influence. When it comes to team performance, the behaviors of individuals are often shaped by what they see others doing. When someone takes responsibility for their part in a project, or even their part in failure, it encourages their peers to do the same. Be sure to highlight ways in which team members rely on each other to be accountable for their commitments.
Balance Accountability with Support
Mutual accountability and mutual support reinforce each other. In order to create the conditions for positive peer influence, peers need to have healthy relationships with each other. In the absence of healthy relationships, people care less about accountability and more about self-protection. However, in the context of strong relationships, leaders can hold conversations with teams about what their goals are and how they will practice mutual accountability in working toward those goals. Team members can also discuss goals among themselves in ways that are both supportive and appropriately challenging.
Like most aspects of organizational culture, creating a culture of accountability starts with leadership.
Don’t Micromanage Accountability
One key challenge for leaders is to step back far enough to allow employees to hold each other accountable. If a leader is the only one responsible for accountability conversations, the team is let off the hook, peer accountability suffers, and leaders have to do all the work. In a context of accountability and positive peer influence, a leader’s role is to bring conversations back to goals and deadlines when teams become distracted, but not to micromanage accountability.
Healthy and high-performing teams and organizations empower employees to be accountable, resulting in high levels of trust among everyone in the organization. Cultures of accountability create the conditions for increased productivity and higher quality work.
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