Build a culture of accountability

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.

Clear expectations lay the foundation. A culture of accountability begins and ends with setting clear expectations. It is critical to cover the full scope of your expectations to ensure you are on the same page with team members. This is also a conversation you can have with other teams or key collaborators. There are four aspects to setting clear expectations:

  1. Job or role description
  2. Current goals and priorities
  3. Organizational values
  4. Core competencies

Accountability is a peer activity. A critical finding from our research on accountability is that it is a peer activity, not just a manager activity. This makes sense. One leader can only hold so many people accountable. If everybody holds each other accountable to following through on commitments or living organizational values, it cultivates a culture of accountability that can truly scale. One way to ensure team members get balanced feedback from all perspectives is to conduct a regular 360° review.

Goal review meetings establish a rhythm for accountability. Goal review meetings are an effective way to keep the whole team on track. This is low-hanging fruit for most organizations, since 70% of people indicate that their team does not review goals effectively. Goal reviews help you identify where the plan is at risk, identify next steps and ensure you are comfortable that somebody is working to get things back on track. People will be more likely to surface risks and concerns, if these challenges are met with support instead of criticism, frustration and anger.  Goal review meetings create the conditions for team members to follow through and hold themselves accountable. This same approach can be used to track current goals and priorities in your Tactical 1-on-1 meetings.

3 Story Accountability. While our preference is that people follow through on their own, at times you will need to hold people accountable. We have developed a modern approach to holding people accountable that deepens relationships, instead of destroying them. Similar to our method of giving development feedback, our 3 Story Accountability™️ method 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.

Put this into practice

To help leaders rapidly become more effective, we have created The Playbook, our free guide to the foundations of high-performance leadership. If you would like to pinpoint your personal development priorities, take our free High-Performance Leader Self-Assessment or we can help you get a 360° review. 

We empower leaders to make common sense, common practice. How can we help you?