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How Leaders Can Encourage Accountability

Culture starts at the top. If you manage people, then you must do it well. The only way to do this is to expect every person who works for you to do their job in its entirety. Every person in your organization must be responsible for the organization’s success.


Commit to accountability

What are the barriers to accountability in your organization? Is there fear around attempting to hold leaders, managers, and co-workers accountable? Do you punish when people point out problems and solutions, or work towards solving the issue in a systemic way?

Make a contract of commitment among leaders to take down these barriers, for example:

  1. We will communicate priorities clearly and consistently

  2. We will provide clarity and leadership on key messages

  3. We will make quicker decisions and communicate in a timely and uniform way

  4. We will publish results

  5. Throughout the organization, we will reward high performers

  6. We will talk to—never about—each other, always taking the problem to the person we are having it with

  7. If someone comes to us with a problem and someone else should be handling it, we will tell them to go see that person

This takes practice. It needs to be okay for people to challenge each other. It needs to be okay to send people back down the line for problems to be solved. It needs to be okay for teams to solve their own problems. Don’t tell them they should solve problems on their own and then swoop down and take that ownership away. Be consistent. Let them wrestle with the problem. Provide support but don’t do it for them.

Lead your team into accountability

To believe in accountability, people need to experience it. Managers can help that by:

  1. Inviting feedback

  2. Asking what role your team wants you to play

  3. Looking in the mirror: If folks feel powerless, is that because you are acting powerless?

  4. Reframing to move conversation towards solution

  5. Expecting and demanding the best from every person in your organization

  6. Praising more, which builds people’s sense of self-capacity so they no longer feel the need to play victim

Your language is very important. Accountability is not about measuring intentions, it is about results and outcomes. Make sure people really commit. They should be so clear on expected outcomes that they can self-report. They should not have to look to you to know how well they are doing. Accountability makes for a better run organization where people grade themselves and know if they have hit the target or not.

Some managers think their job is to save the day, but this only fosters dependency and enables your team. You need to shift from telling someone what to do to asking what they think.

You can use coaching language to shift from rescuing to empowering and help reframe the conversation. Ask them:

  1. What is the situation?

  2. What are potential solutions?

  3. Where is the risk?

  4. What can we learn?

  5. What else can you do?

  6. Who else can assist?

  7. Where can you go for more information?

  8. What can you control?

  9. What small step can you make now?

  10. How can you move this forward?

  11. What role would you like me to play?

  12. How can I support you in this?

  13. What are your next steps?

Open-ended questions such as these shift ownership to the listener.

Structure builds sustainability

An accountability structure may including the following:

  1. A defined process for clearly communicating expectations will set you up for success.

  2. Using simple, effective tools such as an action register, you can bring visibility to activity and create an environment of accountability.

  3. Timely follow up. With predetermined target dates for the completion of actions, you can build a culture centered on the heightened sense of urgency to get more done.

  4. With RACI charts (see below) and follow up procedures in place, you can easily create reports making it possible to identify who is being accountable.

  5. Feedback and audits. Periodically reviewing your processes, tools, and employment of the system will ensure that issues can be identified and adjustments can be made. Ideally, your people will grade themselves and run their own check-in meeting!

Responsible – Accountable – Consulted – Informed

As an integral documentation tool and part of an overall accountability system, an RACI sheet outlines:

R – Responsible

Who is/will be doing this task? Who is assigned to work on this task?

A – Accountable

Whose head will roll if this goes wrong? Who has the authority to make decisions?

C – Consulted

Who can tell me more about this task? Are there any stakeholders already identified?

I – Informed

Whose work depends on this task? Who has to be kept updated about the progress?

If any part of this process fails along the way, fix it. Remember: It’s the process that failed, not the person. Don’t make the person the bad guy.

When leaders encourage employees to own up to their responsibilities and work together towards desired outcomes, everyone gets the results they want and the respect they deserve.

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