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One of the most common issues we hear from leaders today is a lack of accountability. They claim that the problem is chronic, and if it could be addressed the organization would perform at much higher levels.

Some of the common things we hear people say in organizations with low accountability are:

  • That isn’t my job.
  • I wasn’t aware of the deadline.
  • I didn’t get the (insert report, input, information) from (insert colleague’s name).
  • I’ve kept every email, and you can see here in writing…
  • No one told me.
  • But I followed the process.
  • That’s above my pay grade.
  • I have no idea how that happened.

On the flip side, in highly accountable organizations we hear employees confirming deliverables and deadlines, asking for help, tracking progress towards outcomes, raising alarms well in advance of potential problems, assessing risks, admitting mistakes, and taking ownership for results. This is the language and behaviour of highly accountable teams.

Creating a Corporate Accountability Culture

accountable culture

Hiring managers can test for accountability in the recruiting process. By using behavioural interviewing techniques and asking questions like, “please describe an example of when you missed a deadline?” or “can you tell us about times when you had to go outside your defined role to get a job done?” or even “what practices do you use to managing your promises and commitments?” These and other questions like this can provide insights into an individual’s track record of accountability.

Accountability begins with clarity. High performers want unmistakable clarity of what it takes to be successful in their roles. These measures of success need to be objective and quantifiable, and there can be no grey area. There should be a clear YES/NO answer to whether a target was met or not met. This applied to their roles as a whole, as well as projects, tasks, or other delegations.

Here is an example of a poorly defined statement in a job description:

  • Provide outstanding customer support.

Although the sentiment is there, the definition is subjective. What does ‘outstanding’ mean? How is it defined and measured? Other words to be careful of are quality, timely, grow, provide, and so on.

Alternately, a well-defined measure-of-success statement in a role’s scorecard might read something like this:

  •  Maintain customer support ticket close rate below 2.5 average days to closure with a 4.2-star ticket feedback score.

Assuming the organization has systems in place to track the time a ticket is open and star ratings from customers, this statement makes it unmistakably clear what doing a good job in the role looks like.

In addition to clarity, other structures in organizations play a role in accountability. Regular check-ins on performance, either between an individual and their manager or in a group setting, can boost accountability. One organization we work with is called Direct Tec, and it provides outsourced IT services. Each week on Friday, Direct Tec’s CEO Stacy Adams chairs an all-hands meeting where team members gather around a dashboard and review the targets and results. In plain sight, everyone can see the individual and collective performance on a variety of Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) – ticket resolution, client feedback, issue resolution duration, etc. Using this data, the team and leaders can frequently celebrate successes, see trends, and identify places where individuals need help. It also creates healthy tension for individuals who want to do their part for overall team success.

Visibility of Performance

visibility performance

Even without regular check-ins, visibility of performance is a key principle of accountability. Very few companies are good at setting and tracking Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) at the organizational level, never mind for each employee. In the book “Transforming Performance Measurement”, author Dean Spitzer describes the benefits of Key Performance Indicators. The use of KPIs…:

  • Makes performance visible – You can only manage what you measure. Keeping the scores visible, where everyone can see them, shows you how well the various parts of the business are working, and who is performing and who is not.
  • Improves execution – Larry Bossidy, the co-author of the book Execution, remarked, “When I see companies that don’t execute, the chances are that they don’t measure.”
  • Promotes consistency -Activities and outcomes that are not measured properly tend to fluctuate – with negative implications for the quality of your results.
  •  Improves decision-making – One of the major causes of failure in decision-making is poor use of data. One accurate measure can be worth a thousand opinions.
  •  Promotes understanding – Quality guru W. Edwards Deming said that systematic process measurement leads to the “profound knowledge” that is essential to top-quality outcomes.

As a leader, when it comes to accountability, you get what you tolerate. If you tolerate an environment of obfuscation, blame, and lack of ownership, you will see those behaviours repeated. But if you take a stand that these behaviours are not acceptable, then you can stem the tide of poor accountability. Depending on the extent of your accountability issues, this may require difficult and courageous conversations.

Further, you also get what you model. You can’t expect others to display a high level of accountability if you don’t demand the same of yourself.

Increasing Accountability Culture

If you’d like to learn how to foster an accountability culture in your organization, stay tuned to our new season of Unleashed series — back this September! We’ll be releasing more information soon on our events page

unleashed series

We also have this free guide available. We recommend checking it out for key information on how to Hire and Motivate Talent.

ultimate handbook