Tuesday, September 22, 2015

How to Build a Culture of Accountability

Accountability needs to be well embedded in the business culture, for individuals taking responsibility for what they DO and what they SAY!
Accountability is “the obligation of an individual or organization to account for its activities, accept responsibility for them, and to disclose the results in a transparent manner.” (business dictionary.com). To step further, accountability is not only to accept the responsibility for what you DO - the actions or behaviors, but also what you SAY - the knowledge sharing or feedback giving, in order to build a culture of accountability.

Organizations have to consciously fight against establishing a culture of no accountability. People can learn to deal with a mistake that hurts, but you survive and can grow stronger. When a mistake/ stupidiness will harm you, there is no benefit in taking responsibility. You try to survive, even at the cost of others. Accountability needs a safe environment. That starts with leaders at the top. Behaving accountable is the result of a culture with values that need to be organized and nurtured. People often run away from accountability because they had a personal experience or they have observed others being treated poorly or unfairly when being held accountable for results. Often times when the results do not measure up to expectations. Consequently, they fear the realm of accountability and run for the hills. Unfortunately, such experiences are prevalent in many of organizational cultures which in turn creates the blame game, etc. Mature cultures take accountability for results and have pride in affecting the outcome good or bad. They learn and then move forward stronger and more robust than before.

Accountability assignment is the job of the leader; The better s/he assigns accountability and empowers the individual/team, the better are the chances it will be at the least, accepted. We can't expect anyone to achieve the moon and also be standing in the line like everyone else. However, accountability is a word that does carry a great deal of baggage and negative connotations with it these days. When teams don't have control, they use that lack of control to put on a victim mentality and claim not accountability. This is where the influence piece fits in. The informal leaders or subject matter experts may not have control, and should not be held completely accountable, but they can still impact on things through influence, and should be held to using what tools they have to positively impact the outcome.

Most problems are systemic and require systemic solutions where people take accountability for their part in describing and solving them. Without denying the accountability of the person being asked about their performance, too often, the leader fails, explicitly or even implicitly, to acknowledge what they are accountable for in a situation or demonstrate a willingness to explore legitimate systemic issues beyond the performance, or even control of the team member that contribute to the outcome. Every time someone makes a mistake, management institutes a new procedure/policy; never giving the employee an opportunity to actually learn from their mistake, but rather being subjected to a new "rule." Or there is a fine line between reasons (legitimate) and excuses (that aren't), but when "I want you to be accountable" comes across as "it's ONLY about you," it's little wonder that people become defensive. It falls into that same category of leader laziness as "Don't come to me with problems, come to me with solutions." Sometimes the best a team member can offer is a clear description of the problem, the solution is based on the good alignment of leadership sponsorship, the technology-enabled process and the seamless cross-functional communication and collaboration.

Accountability needs to be well embedded in the organizational culture, to encourage responsible actions and communication, with the intention to build on morale and real productivity; advocating open leadership, but discouraging rumor mongering or negative gossiping; true accountability focuses on learning. It is not uncommon to confuse accountability with blame. They are actually opposites. Shared accountability or collective accountability involves shared ownership, empathetic communication, the true measure of accountability is about resilience: It is determined not by whether someone or a team makes a mistake or not, but on how quickly they can recover so that customers, teammates, and others aren't negatively affected by the breakdown. So shape a culture of accountability in order to build a high-performing organization.


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