Scaling a Culture of Accountability

Scaling a Culture of Accountability

“Behavioral accountability ALWAYS precedes the results.” – Patrick Lencioni

At this point, it’s no secret that accountability is critical to meeting your goals. Those who embrace the power of accountability—rather than running away from difficult conversations—are those who build successful teams and companies. 

But while most can acknowledge the importance of accountability, actually putting it into practice—and building systems that enable and encourage it throughout your entire company—is another story. It turns out that walking the walk is a whole lot harder than talking the talk. 

Behavioral accountability needs to start with the leader. When teams see and experience their leader demonstrating how to hold people accountable what starts to occur is people on the team doing this too.  When everyone is committed to a clear goal, they are better at holding one another accountable to the activities and behaviors required to accomplish it—and that’s what the ideal state of shared accountability looks like!  

But how do you cultivate (and scale!) a culture of accountability where every employee feels safe and supported—not to mention fired up and ready to smash some aggressive goals? How do you create an environment where accountability is not feared, but welcomed? 

The short answer? It takes time, effort, and a thoughtful approach to truly implement. And it starts with this fundamental truth: in order for it to be effective, accountability should look, feel and sound like coaching—not scolding

When done properly, incorporating a company-wide culture of accountability and ownership can be a powerful way to rejuvenate underperformers and take top team members to the next level—because when employees feel a sense of ownership over their work, they’re naturally more engaged, invested, and committed to achieving shared goals.

We recommend starting with these four steps: 

  • Leverage your core values 

Whether you call the behaviors that matter most to your organization core values, fundamentals, principles or something else, it’s important to realize those words provide guidance for decision-making—for you and those around you. Think of them as a litmus test of sorts; something you can hold your actions and those of your team up against to see if they’re in line with your culture and achieving your goals. 

If your core values are baked into the culture of your organization (as they should be), it gives you the freedom to hold others accountable when their actions don’t align with the ideologies represented in your values. 

In action: When you observe someone who is acting in a way that doesn’t align with the values they’ve agreed to upon being hired, ask them if they feel like their behavior aligns with the defined values. Sometimes, simply having this conversation is enough to make the employee adjust their behavior accordingly—and at the very least, it opens up a door of communication that could offer previously unseen perspective or understanding. 

  • Use a scoreboard or other tracking tool

Ambiguity is the great de-motivator, and clarity is kind. It’s been proven time and time again that having clearly defined, actionable goals is critical to both individual and shared success. Setting goals and tracking them consistently is a simple yet effective way to communicate clearly the performance happening at every level of your company. It lets individuals and teams know where they are underperforming (or otherwise), and offers them the visibility they need to course-correct when necessary. 

In action: The success of any progress tracking tool or system depends on the tangibility and reasonability of the goals that it is tracking. It’s critical to set clear expectations for your employees so they know what is expected of them. Clear expectations in the form of KPIs, core values, and beyond  help employees understand their role in the company and what they need to do to contribute to the company’s success. When employees know what is expected of them, they are more likely to take ownership of their work and be accountable for their results.

  • Lead by example—and with humility

Hard truth: If you want your employees to take ownership of their work, you need to show them what that looks like. That means taking ownership of your own responsibilities, demonstrating a proactive approach to problem-solving, being transparent, and inviting accountability for yourself, too. It’s also important to offer the “why” behind the cultivation of an ownership mentality. 

In action: How you handle giving and receiving accountability can be reputation-defining as a leader—it also goes a long way in creating the safe space required for employees to truly feel comfortable initiating accountability conversations of their own.Talk with employees about the difference ownership and accountability can make. Better yet: paint a picture of why they should *care.*

  • Empower your team 

This one may sound the most obvious—but it’s also one of the hardest to actually put in practice. Why? Because it requires trust. Empowering your employees is key to creating a culture of accountability—but it requires you giving them the autonomy to make decisions and take risks. Encourage them to speak up and share their ideas, even if they may seem unconventional. Empowering your team means encouraging the diversity of thought, experience, and background each individual employee has—and the opportunity that has to offer a unique perspective to your company and the challenges you face. 

In action: Create pathways for employees to take on new challenges and responsibilities that align with their unique strengths. Create a culture that encourages open dialogue in both directions (top-down, and bottom-up).

At the end of the day, it all comes back to this: 

Holding someone accountable doesn’t have to be scary—nor does being held accountable. And, like with most things in life, pushing past the discomfort is entirely worth it! As long as you’re committed to putting in the time and effort required to implement a culture of accountability, you’ll see the fruits of that decision represented in your business throughout the years to come.