Building a culture of accountability takes effort day in and day out to truly establish and it is also the responsibility of those in leadership positions to continual reinforce.
It’s not enough to just build a culture of accountability. You have to strengthen it and reinforce it every single day. This is about the small behaviors adding up to that broader culture. And the organization is going to behave in a manner based on what it sees punished or rewarded. If people see others covering things up or laying blame, and see those people getting ahead, and getting promoted even, then people are going to behave in a manner consistent with that.
If, on the other hand, they see that people are stepping up and accepting responsibility, and those behaviors get rewarded, and when people take responsibility for problems and say they’ve made mistakes, that’s held up by management as great behavior, people will behave that way as well.
You need to reinforce your culture every single day. Look for creative ways to do so. When I was a consultant, we had “Firm Values Day.” We would take all of our consultants off of client work for a full day, which was extremely expensive for the firm. And for that one day, we would talk about our values. People would share examples of when they saw the values in action, or they would talk about when they violated the values, and what they did to fix it.
Think about your organization. Are there opportunities to include conversations around the values and the culture in progress reviews? Can you use it as a lunch and learn topic, or at your staff meetings? When people get promoted, hold up those opportunities as: This person did great work. They’re living up to our culture. This is what we believe in. This is what we want. And others will look at that and say, “That person got promoted based on those behaviors. I want to behave the same way.” Your culture is a very important asset, and you need to curate it every single day. So look for those opportunities to reinforce behaviors to drive that culture of accountability.
It’s important to understand your own accountabilities. Both what you’re accountable for, and who you’re accountable to. In terms of what you’re accountable for, obviously, your own work, but also your team’s work. Now be careful, this doesn’t mean do their work for them. It means you have to hold them accountable for delivering those results. And if they don’t deliver, not only are they accountable, so are you.
So ask yourself the question: What do others expect me to do? What results are they expecting of me personally, as well as from my team?
In terms of understanding who you’re accountable to, there’s the obvious ones. There’s your team, you’re accountable to them, to get them the resources they need, and give them the coaching and guidance and leadership that they deserve. You’re accountable to your boss. But think more broadly about your accountabilities. You’re accountable to your colleagues and your peers and other members of the company who are relying on your results so they can do their jobs. Think even more broadly. You’re accountable to your customers, internal and external customers. You provide services to other members of your organization.
Ultimately, your results drive company performance in terms of the products and services that you deliver to your ultimate customers who pay you. You’re accountable to your shareholders, or the company’s owners. The financial results that you deliver on your team, roll up to a broader picture, and you’re accountable for delivering your part, so those people get the return on their investment they expect.
Allow me to offer an example. I work with a senior executive who is a hospital administrator. He has multiple accountabilities. He’s accountable to his team, obviously. He’s accountable to his boss, and the corporation as a whole He’s also accountable to patients, even though his team doesn’t directly care for patients. The results they deliver do have an impact on the patient experience. He’s accountable to other members of the hospital staff, because again, what his team does helps the staff do a better job. He’s accountable to physicians who work with the hospital, even though they are external to the organization. He has to represent their perspectives and opinions to the corporation. So this one individual has multiple accountabilities to multiple people.
As you think about defining your accountabilities, ask yourself the following questions. Who is going to be upset or disappointed if I don’t fulfill my obligations? Who is going to be happy or excited if I do deliver those results? Who assigns me tasks or asks me to do things? Who do I offer to do things for? And once you have that clear definition of what you’re accountable for, and who you’re accountable to, the likelihood of you delivering the results that are expected goes up dramatically.
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