What does the word ‘accountability’ conjure up for you?
Does it prompt you to spread your peacock tail and step up to the plate?
Or does it send you into an internal spin and trigger a child-like response that feels like you will be told off?
In my role as a coach, holding my clients accountable is an important quality. When people hire me, they are looking to make changes. They could probably do this alone but recognise they can get there quicker with the support of a coach. When you value accountability, you stay focussed on your goals and actions and can make faster personal and business progress. Many people thrive when systems for accountability are present.
However, back in my corporate career, I remember accountability being a word to disguise that people wanted someone to blame if and when something went wrong. Accountability was used to kick a!*e and not in a particularly motivational way. It was often used to berate and shame people when the results were not where they needed to be. Sadly, I don’t think this is unusual, and it then sets up patterns of thinking for many that stop them from managing their teams well.
Congratulations to all of you that see accountability as a gateway to high performance! And for those of you that do but still feel apprehensive about how you execute it well, this blog is for you.
What is it?
A willingness to accept responsibility for one’s actions, behaviours, performance and decisions. Typically it is attached to something tangible e.g. KPIs, goals, competencies, behaviours. Or, as defined in the Oxford dictionary, “the fact of being responsible for your decisions or actions and expected to explain to them when you are asked”.
Why is it important?
Essentially it is a mechanism for success. It keeps people focused, but it helps you demonstrate progress. When you have high personal and collective accountability rates, you propel better top-line results. But that’s not all.
Susan Scott writes, “Accountability is a big deal, one of the rarest, most precious commodities.” She says, “the long term benefits of personal accountability have enormous implications for the quality of our lives, and there is certainly a direct correlation between a company’s health and wellbeing and the degree of accountability displayed by its employees”.
So if you are in doubt about raising up the agenda – do it for health and wellbeing!
Less frustration, conflict and blame are also benefits of a culture of accountability. If everyone plays their part, it makes for a more harmonious and productive organisation.
How can I get people to be more accountable?
First, grab yourself a mirror. As a leader, the first place to start is always with yourself. If you are not role modelling it, then, let’s face it, you are less likely to drive accountability behaviours in your team. Think about how you show up in conversations where the outcomes are less desirable. Are you full of excuses and justifications or displaying the appropriate amount of vulnerability and then clarifying the way forward?
Set clear expectations. I wrote about this in a recent blog on high performing teams, and it’s evident and essential but not always well executed. Don’t underestimate the simple things. Being explicit is underrated. If you haven’t been clear about what is expected, you leave it to luck for people to deliver. If you want to hold your team (and stakeholders) accountable, you need to have a mutual understanding of where the goalposts are so make time to prioritise that conversation.
What else is important?
Ownership is a quality that can supercharge accountability. To some, this may be semantics but creating ownership amongst your team can be the difference that makes the difference.
Accountability without ownership gives a sense of going through the motions. Employees can feel detached from the ‘why’. Ownership is a mindset or attitude where people feel autonomous and in control over their goals and objectives. This is the HOW vs the WHAT. An attitude or state. A way of being. It means knowing why you are doing the work (the outcome) and ensuring that what you produce (the output) is fit-for-purpose. Ownership is the state of mind where you feel fully in charge and does not give any excuses (or blame anyone else) for what needs to be done. It also means understanding, learning, and challenging rather than mindlessly following instructions.
I interviewed 25 middle and senior managers for a piece of work many years ago. There was a unanimous agreement that there needed to be more accountability in the organisation. What took me by surprise was that not one person could explain what that sounded like in a dialogue with their colleagues. So, I will cut to the chase and give you a simple structure.
If you are modelling accountability (which in my humble opinion, is the best place to start) it looks something like this “Here is what I committed to, this is where we are and given this result, here is what I am going to do about it”. State the goal, commitment or intention, state the current situation and describe how you will close any gaps. Simple.
If holding others accountable, it changes to “The result we are looking for is x and I can see we are at y. Given this result, what will you do to get this on track?”
It doesn’t need to be any more complicated than that.
Creating a culture of accountability is down to you. It is about fostering an environment that feels psychologically safe and blameless. Think of a growth mindset where people can experiment, fail quickly and learn from the results they are creating. Your job is to maintain a constructive dialogue that keeps the learning alive and allows progress for everyone.
If you want to create a no-nonsense culture of accountability but don’t know where to start, get in touch firstname.lastname@example.org and we can have a chat about where to start.
Have a great week,