Why is accountability a powerful element of high-performance culture?

After decades of experience as a senior leader and hundreds of hours as a master-level coach, it has become crystal clear how important accountability is. Accountability is a critical element of high-performance culture and a defining trait of great leaders. We have written before about the importance of holding people accountable to truly living the values of their organization. In this post we will discuss two approaches to holding people accountable to their commitments to support critical goals. 

People want to be held accountable.

Perhaps the most important thing to understand about accountability is that employees want to be held accountable, though they may not realize it. Our research on this is compelling. When our High-Performance Index™ assessment indicates an organization has high levels of accountability, employees are also likely to also say they:

  • feel respected by their manager and colleagues
  • are supported in their growth & development
  • find meaning in their work
  • collaborate well with other teams
  • have high levels of work engagement
  • have psychological safety

Simply put, accountability is the cornerstone of a high-performance culture. 

Accountability deepens relationships - if done correctly!

 If I asked you to pause for a second and picture somebody being held accountable, what image do you see? Many people picture an angry boss, perhaps wagging their finger, reprimanding a cowering employee. While the old school of management may have had that caricature, that method of managing is rapidly vanishing. In a modern approach to accountability we can deepen relationships instead of scorching the earth. If the right conditions are in place, most people will hold themselves accountable without any of this drama.

It starts with Complete Goals™.

The first aspect of hold people accountable to commitments is the goal review process. When Complete Goals™ are in place,  you have identified your most important outcomes and established the supporting lines (commitments to action) that you need to have in place in order to achieve those outcomes. Firmly established supporting lines become the centre piece of your goal reviews.

Goal review meetings cultivate psychological safety.

 The role of goal review meetings is underappreciated. They make people feel important and support both resilience and psychological safety. Many people have experienced the goal review meeting where people drone on seemingly forever with activity updates while everybody is checking their email. Perhaps you have also experienced the one hour meeting to review 20 goals, which becomes derailed on the second goal. These meetings are completely missing the mark.

There are four keys to a successful goal review meeting:

    • Prepare. Update the status of your goals ahead of time (green is ‘on track’, amber is ‘at risk’, red is ‘off track’)
    • Focus. Only focus on those which are ‘at risk’ or ‘off-track’. Do not discuss things that everybody agrees are ‘on track’. 
  • Identify actions. Goal reviews are meant to identify next steps and ensure you are comfortable that somebody is working to get things back on track.
  • Don’t go deep. Do not try to solve problems. If you need a follow-up conversation on a specific supporting line (or commitment), set up a separate meeting.

Accountability is a peer activity.

Another critical finding from our research on accountability is that it is a peer activity, not just a manager activity. It makes sense. One leader can only hold so many people accountable. If everybody holds each other accountable, this creates a culture of accountability that can truly scale. 

3 Story Accountability.

Goal review meetings are an effective way to keep the whole team on track. Sometimes, you will need to hold people accountable for specific commitments. A second approach to holding people accountable is our 3 Story Accountability™️ method. This method of accountability is designed to enhance relationships and help people focus on co-creating a “better future story” instead of getting stuck in the past. 

There are four steps to this method:

1. Validate the commitment.

Before you hold somebody accountable, consider whether the supporting line (or commitment) was truly visible, understood and firmly agreed in the first place. Relationships are damaged when people feel their performance is assessed unfairly. First start with firming up the commitment to ensure you can hold them accountable in the future. 

2. Your Story.

When you hold people accountable, get clear on your story. This preparation technique uses a set of coaching prompts to explore the various aspects of your own story about the situation. This includes separating observable facts from the impact, how you feel, and which organizational values you believe are not being lived.

3. Their Story.

Once you share your story, use expansive questions beginning with ‘what’ or ‘how’ to explore the other person’s story. What factors contributed to the situation? What might you not be aware of? This approach deepens the level of connection by showing people you respect them and care about their perspective.

4. Better Future Story.

The final step in this process is to co-create a better future story. Don’t waste time arguing over who was right. Shift your focus to creating a better future where you are clear on your commitments to each other and ensure you follow through.

Accountability is a true enabler of greatness.

If you want to cultivate a high-performance culture you must create a culture of accountability where everybody is holding each other accountable. This pertains to holding people accountable to both your organizational values and following through on commitments to support their colleagues. If you have great talent and strong product-market fit, accountability might just be the thing that separates good organizations from great ones.

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