Today's Challenge: Creating A Culture of Accountability

I asked you to send me your leadership challenges last week. Thanks for the response! Although I’ve received enough for many, many weeks of blog posts, I encourage you to continue to send them my way. On Friday each week, I’ll respond to one of your questions. Today’s Challenge: How do you hold people accountable?
This is a question I’ve been asked many times over the years. And, like many of the questions I receive, the answer is complex. Here’s my best shot at a 500-word response.
My assumption is what you really want is not to hold people accountable as much as you want a culture of accountability. There’s a big difference. If you are successful creating the right culture, this question largely goes away. YOU no longer hold people accountable, the culture does. A culture is the sum of the habits of its members. If being accountable becomes part of the culture, it will be the behavioral norm.
Here are four specific things you can do to begin creating a culture of accountability…
State your intentions. Unapologetically, tell people your desire to create a place in which people do what they say they are going to do. You may even want to include this in your core values or team norms. Don’t make people wonder if this is important to you or not.
Rebrand accountability. For many reasons, when you and I say accountability, the general connotation is negative. You’ve got to begin changing that. Help people rethink the purpose and intent of accountability. It is not primarily to catch people doing something wrong. It is about helping people do what they want to do. It is about helping people, and the organization, be more successful. The Marines do not see it as a negative that they hold each other accountable to high standards. They see this as a badge of honor. You need to establish the same attitude.
Use systems and mechanisms. Tools, techniques, systems and structure can help people be more accountable. One easy way to begin the journey is to simply document your Action Items during your meetings – specifically, who is going to do what, by when? Circulate the Action Items immediately after the meeting; send them out again three days before the next meeting; and finally, review past Action Items during the meeting. This simple mechanism can revolutionize a team and an organization.
Model the behavior. If you want people to be accountable, you had better be accountable. I’ve stayed up all night to complete an Action Item before a meeting. Why? Because I told the team I would get it done. I’m guessing members of my team have done the same. I’m thankful to say we’ve created a culture where people do what they say they are going to do.
Creating a culture of accountability is challenging but worth the effort. Start today and don’t look back. Someday down the road, when accountability is part of the fabric of your team, you’ll be glad you made the journey.[GLS_Shield]

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Timothy Lynn Burchfield

8 years ago

I have always considered myself smart but slow. I did not think I would have a thought that would take 30 years to surface. As I have studied trust, I have also reflected on the conditions that created mistrust. Mistrust occurs when inconsistent behavior is demonstrated by members of our leadership team. The leaders would never show their inconsistency to me but would not hesitate to show it to each other. I began to see mistrust in my leadership team and frustration creep in. Two years ago as we began 2013, I told our leadership team that inconstant behavior would result in termination. How could we trust each other if we did not know which leader was going to show up for work today. Good leader or bad leader. Our team has become solid with relationships of trust because we have demanded our very best from each other. I can't wait to begin the next breakthrough thought. I just hope it does not take 30 years. That would make me 94?


8 years ago

Thanks, Tim! I agree, trust is essential. Regarding your next "breakthrough thought," I know you've had many over the years. I do look forward to your next one! Thanks for sharing your insights with others. Mark


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