Building a Culture of Accountability

I often struggled with the issue of employee “accountability”, whether it was the completion of business plans, process documentation or the application of processes and principles to drive productivity gains. While much is written around the importance of accountability and principles to support its application, it’s seems to be interpreted most often as something that you impose or that is imposed upon you by another. My first response was often a desire to “change” them and was expressed in statements like “Why won’t they?” or perhaps “When will they?” Questions that offered some release of frustration, but brought me no closer to building a culture of accountability.

We can believe accountability is about someone else and, if so, the focus will be on fixing the behavior of others. While there may be some responsibility there,

Our first responsibility as leaders is to create an environment that encourages accountability, beginning with modeling our own.

As defined in The OZ Principle, personal accountability is “A personal choice to rise above one’s circumstances and demonstrate the ownership necessary to achieve the desired goals”. In his book, “Change the World”, Robert Quinn often references that one should be “inner directed”. Suggesting that we as leaders must first determine our direction (values, purpose, etc) and recognize that, while the actions of others and many events are outside of our control, our response to them and the choices we make are completely within our control. Effective leaders make better choices.

Making better choices requires that we ask some tough questions to understand what our role is, what’s within our control, what are we doing to impact the situation, and what our beliefs are around it? Questions, as John Miller writes in his book on personal accountability, that enable you to make better choices in the moment. These questions will begin with “What” and “How” and will often contain “I” statements rather than “they, them, or you”. By framing questions in this manner the focus remains on you and enables you to define how you can best contribute to the outcome and promote a culture of accountability.