During my coaching sessions, I encourage people to hold colleagues from other teams accountable. I am often met with the response, “how is that my role?” Many people look to senior leaders to hold people accountable. However, peer accountability is the fastest way to create a culture where everybody lives the organization’s values.
Accountability is not just for executives.
Based on our research, accountability is more important as a peer activity than a leader activity in a high-performance culture. While senior leaders can hold a small group of people accountable directly, all team members must hold each other accountable to build a culture of accountability across the organization. Not to mention, peer feedback can also be more impactful than manager feedback.
The tale of two colleagues.
To illustrate how you can give supportive peer feedback, I would like you to think of two current or former colleagues. Both colleagues have the required expertise or skills to deliver on the core tasks to be successful in their role. The first colleague is a pleasure to work with and you look forward to your interactions. The second person is very challenging to work with. You cringe at the thought of working with them and likely avoid them whenever possible. If you cannot think of actual people, the caricature will do.
Values form part of your feedback story.
Providing development feedback opens up a golden opportunity to incorporate your organization’s values. In the case of your challenging colleague, how would you approach giving them feedback? It can be much more comfortable to do this using our future-oriented, supportive 3 Story Feedback™️ method (What is your story? What is their story? What is a better future story?)
As part of clarifying ‘your story’, it is powerful to communicate how the behaviour you experienced is out of alignment with the organization’s values. Instead of telling a person you think they are abrasive, you can relate your experience of a disrespectful interaction to how that was misaligned with the value of teamwork & collaboration. This method helps to reduce the emotional charge in a feedback conversation, which serves three purposes:
- You are using values shared by the organization, not just your own definition of acceptable behaviour
- Everybody is committed to adhere to these values by default
- Values provide common language when co-creating a better future story
Recognition is a form of positive accountability.
Your other colleague is a pleasure to work with. Have you told them that? Have you highlighted specific examples of excellence? Did you connect these examples to the positive impact this has for you and your team? Most importantly, have you provided (respectful) public recognition of how they have lived organizational values?
While sharing appreciation privately is always great, broader recognition helps other people in the organization see what good looks like. Of course, we have to balance this with people’s comfort level with having a light shone on them. Many people who truly embody organizational values are also humble so this can be uncomfortable. Here are three ways that you can broaden the reach of your recognition and help others learn from your supportive colleague:
- Team recognition. You can start simple within the team. This can be during a meeting, in an email or an online collaboration platform such as Teams or Slack.
- Public recognition. Taking this one step further, we can send a simple message to the entire organization to highlight a great example of people living our values. Again, the medium is less important – it could be an all-hands meeting or a public message.
- Awards program. In full expression, we would have an annual / quarterly program where employees recognize colleagues who truly live the values and the top nominees are given an award. Unlike an ‘Employee of the Quarter’ program, these are awards given out by colleagues to each other, one value at a time. You can also list all of the nominees publicly, highlighting the value for which they were nominated.
Living our values creates a high-performance culture.
When we have a culture in which people hold each accountable for living the values, it is no surprise that employees are also more likely to say that their team leader lives the organization’s values, other teams are more likely to follow through on commitments and that they believe they work in a high-performance culture. Living your values is a foundational element of a high-performance culture – one where teams achieve critical goals and people have a positive human experience of work.