To reach its full potential, an organization must have a culture of accountability, in which each person recognizes the importance of delivering on commitments and taking ownership of their outcomes. No individual approaches their work with the intention of falling short on their commitments, but nonetheless, it happens. Other priorities get in the way, obstacles arise, and circumstances change. Given this reality, leaders need to ensure that each individual understands and accepts the difference between intention and results and puts their focus on achieving results.
Individuals don’t become accountable automatically; they require the direction and support of company leaders. By following a clear strategy, you can guide individual behavior and develop greater accountability across every team. Here are four steps to building a culture of accountability in your organization.
Make Expectations Clear
When it comes to building accountability, it’s not enough to assume that people know what to do or that they understand vague directions. In fact, a Gallup study found that half of employees don’t know what’s expected of them at work. Expectations should be consistently communicated, including specific deadlines and a clear definition of success. Particularly for less experienced or new employees, you’ll also need to clarify how expectations should be met and which actions are required. A good method for establishing clear performance expectations is developing SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, time-bound) goals and then reinforcing those expectations regularly over time.
Get Agreement That Expectations Are Achievable
Before you can insist on accountability, it’s essential to ensure that employees see expectations as achievable and that they agree to their feasibility. Without that agreement, some individuals will add something to their list because they want to (or feel pressured to) contribute, even if they know they won’t be able to complete it. Some of the actions you can take to get agreement about whether a task is achievable include:
- Consulting calendars to determine if the timeline for completion is realistic
- Setting priorities so that sufficient time and resources can be allocated to the specific goal
- Ensuring individuals have the necessary knowledge and skills to accept accountability for the specific goal
Establish a Hierarchy of Action
Every employee has to make decisions about how to make the best use of their time. For employees to meet their accountabilities, they need to know which tasks and projects take priority. Once these priorities are determined, this information needs to be communicated across the team. A clear hierarchy of action helps employees better assess their availability based on their existing accountabilities and avoid committing to more than what can be realistically achieved. Establishing priorities also ensures that individuals understand what can be compromised and what cannot.
Lead by Example
A great way to ensure accountability in others is to lead by example. When leaders don’t just insist upon personal accountability but also demonstrate it themselves, others are more likely to develop a commitment to being accountable. Some of the ways a leader can help build accountability in others include:
- Showing a strong commitment to achieving agreed-upon results by changing course, trying out new solutions, and getting input and assistance from others
- Remaining focused on the end goal without giving in to distractions
- Being willing to accept responsibility for failure to deliver on commitments
Accountability is as much a mindset as it is a behavior. Embedding a sense of accountability into the everyday behaviors of employees requires that each person understand that accountability is not optional. To build a culture of accountability, leaders need to set clear expectations, get agreement, establish priorities, and uphold a standard of accountability among all team members.