Creating a culture of accountability

Creating a culture of accountability

Culture eats strategy for breakfast

So said Peter Drucker, the business guru credited with being the founder of modern management.

Every organisation has its own culture. Some have a strong hierarchy, where processes and guidelines rule. Others, a market culture, where the focus is on capturing market share, and competition between employees, is encouraged. There is certainly a place for these, depending on the organisation and its objectives.

However, we are seeing a growing trend in the commercial world to adopt a culture of accountability; a culture where employees demonstrate high levels of ownership. And where they have the autonomy to think and act as they think best, in order to achieve their objectives.

Does your organisation embrace this culture? There’s an easy way to check. Ask yourself if concepts like “taking responsibility” and “being held accountable” are seen as negatives or positives. If negative, it’s a no. 

The great thing is human nature means that your employees are inherently driven to fulfil their responsibilities for a whole raft of reasons – but unfortunately, being dictated to is not amongst them. A ‘top down’ approach makes staff feel disempowered. Yes, they will do what they need to do to keep their jobs, but will they be motivated to use their initiative, to try new things and to speak up when they see errors? No, to achieve that, you need to cultivate trust and then give your people the freedom to manage themselves.

But how do you move towards this culture? Here are our thoughts.

Build in accountability from the start

We’re talking about at interview. You must talk about how you view accountability from day one so that any new employees can become autonomous more quickly. Make it clear how they will be expected to take ownership, and use examples that are relevant to the job they will be doing.  

Not everyone likes to work this way, so you need to craft your interview questions to unearth their views and take careful note of their answers. By focusing on hiring people who are comfortable with taking responsibility, you will strengthen your accountability culture with every new team member you recruit.

Ensure that your team know what is expected

If you give responsibility for delivering results, you need to be very clear about what you expect those results to be. And if you involve your employees in the process of goal-setting, even better. This gives a far greater sense of buy-in.  

We’ve been using SMART objectives in business for a long time, and with good reason, they are a very effective way of managing people. Remember that people like to be challenged. Of course, you must respect the “R” in SMART – realistic – but if you stretch people, they often step up to the mark. And through that process, they can develop their skills and be proud of their achievements. Set clear and attainable expectations, and you promote a sense of ownership. The result is people who are self-motivated.

Empower your people

This means delegation, full delegation. If you give your sales manager a sales target, you need to allow them to choose their own team to help them achieve it. If you have agreed customer service objectives with your after-sales team, you need to allow them to make decisions to solve problems for customers without having to ‘ask a manager.’ Accountability works both ways; you cannot hold someone responsible without allowing them to make the decisions that impact on the results – and to also make mistakes, and be supported when they do so.

Update regularly

There’s no use agreeing objectives and then filing them until next year. People need feedback to ensure they are on track. By tracking and reviewing results, and regularly talking with your employees, you’ll help them to correct themselves if they are going slightly off course. And it also shows them that you are focused on their success. 

You don’t have to hold formal reviews, just regular one to one chats to talk about progress and challenges. We’d suggest a minimum of monthly, and maybe as often as weekly, depending on how fast your company moves.  

Address any issues quickly

People aren’t perfect. And part of being accountable is dealing with situations where employees are not living up to expectations. If you hold regular update meetings as suggested above, you will come across situations where it’s clear your employee is not on track. It’s not always easy to tell someone they are not performing, but it is an important part of accountability.

Your responsibility is to guide them in creating a strategy to rectify any shortfall. The support you give should be designed to help them to take better ownership of their job. If they are struggling, you need to identify areas for training or coaching. As a leader, your accountability is around ensuring your team can succeed.

Creating a culture of accountability

So to summarise, in a culture of accountability, every member of staff feels personally committed to achieving the results that are needed by the company. You’ll know you are getting it right when you see them independently reporting back on progress, measuring their own progress and looking at new ways to overcome challenges and achieve the desired results.  

It’s not always easy to achieve, but it is worth the effort – accountability is truly the key to driving high performance.

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