How to build accountability into your corporate culture
What is a “Culture of Accountability?”
A culture of accountability is a work environment where people demonstrate a high level of ownership to think, respond, and proceed in a manner necessary to reach business goals. Accountability in business is directly related to higher performance.
Why Should Your Company Have a Culture of Accountability?
In many companies, employees are working across time zones and different departments to achieve their business goals. Creating a culture of accountability in the workplace is a multi-dimensional and multi-layered issue in this fast-paced business world.
Building an accountability culture makes a powerful impact on your business goals and success. Accountability helps you ensure that your employees show up for shifts, know what their roles are, and meet deadlines. This structure makes every employee responsible for fulfilling their duties and automatically makes a positive impact on business growth.
Why Is It Important To Build A Culture Of Ownership And Accountability In The Workplace?
When employees take ownership of their work, they treat the business they are working for — and its state of well-being — as if it were their own. They take more care with decisions, because they see the business as a part of themselves. They also tend to be more driven and motivated, looking for creative ways to improve the quality of their work. Critically, this mindset is infectious, and the more powerful your culture of ownership becomes, the more successful your business will become.
People who don’t take ownership are more likely to simply go through the motions and do the minimum that’s required because, ultimately, the result doesn’t matter to them. Unfortunately, this mindset is also infectious, and if left to fester you can quickly see large parts of your workforce rotting away.
How does ownership and accountability connect to trust in the workplace?
Trust is built on confidence that your teammates are striving towards the same objectives that you are. It’s the comfort that comes from knowing that everybody really cares.
Thinking about delegation and micromanagement helps you to identify whether or not you have trust in your workplace. If you don’t feel that your teammates will do the right things and come back with results, then you’re lacking in trust. Low trust translates to poor productivity, and you end up devoting extra time and energy following up and managing details you shouldn’t have to. If you don’t feel trusted, you’re less likely to take initiative because you’re already afraid of the criticism that’s coming your way.
Ownership and accountability build trust. And trust encourages employees to take ownership. Trust reinforces accountability because when you know that you’re trusted, you don’t want to squander that by letting your teammates down.
An example of responsibility vs. accountability
Consider this real example of how large companies often operate. Imagine the CEO of a big multinational organization has a critical meeting coming up with the government representatives to discuss tax rates for the following years.
The CEO intends to demonstrate the company’s contribution to the country and asks one of his executives to take care of collecting the data and preparing the presentation. The executive sends the task to a subordinate, the middle manager who forwards it to the trainee saying: “you have all the information in the database, just put it in the slides”.
Everybody fulfills their tasks: the trainee prepares the slides and sends them on time to the middle manager. The manager confirms that everything is in line with the information in the database and sends it to the executive who forwards the slides to the CEO.
Only at the last step, while preparing for the meeting, does the CEO realize that the indicators are lower than expected. At this point, nobody is able to explain the difference and there is no time left to dig into the details.
Of course, presenting such disappointing results, the company does not manage to negotiate the desired deal.
How do company results change in an accountable team?
Imagine what could have happened if the organization promoted an accountability culture. If not already included in the briefing of the delegated task, the trainee would ask about the goal of the analysis. While analyzing the data, she quickly realizes that the numbers are not in line with the expectations.
As she has been working directly with the customers and documentation, she knows that the contribution for the past quarter should have been much higher.
The trainee calls the accounting department to discuss the issue and together they discover a reporting mistake that has affected the data. They fix the mistake on the spot and the trainee sends the correct slides to the manager.
The manager – surprised to learn about the challenges that this task uncovered – contacts the accounting department to discuss how they can prevent such mistakes in the future. The executive, in turn, shares the conclusions with other related departments to ensure that the same improved quality standard is implemented across the organization.
After delivering the presentation to the government, the company manages to negotiate a beneficial deal for the taxation terms.
This example demonstrates how an accountable organization can not only increase their chances of achieving individual results but also work on process improvements to increase the overall quality standard across the entire company.
Let’s look at some ways to make accountability part of your business world:
- Be reliable and consistent. Simply put, do what you say you’re going to do. And, expect the same of others. The path to accountability is through consistency, predictability and follow-up. As leaders, we need to be accountable in terms of providing interim guidance throughout the project and not just at the end.
- Communicate your expectations clearly. Don’t assume someone can fill in the gaps. For people to succeed, they need to know what the successful completion of a project looks like. This includes key metrics, dates, costs, etc. It’s important to give team members the opportunity to ask questions to get a full understanding before starting their projects. It’s then that they can take full ownership.
- Empower employees. Once everyone understands the expected results, they should be empowered to get the job done. They should have adequate resources and structure to allow them to succeed. They shouldn’t have to circumvent process or continuously fight upstream as a means to achieve successful outcomes.
- Foster collaboration and mutual accountability. Ensure everyone knows what major initiatives are on each other’s plates. It’s amazing how effective a business can be when people talk to each other and hold each other accountable.
- Create a learning environment. It would be nice if everyone completed everything right on the first attempt. That’s just not realistic, though. Rather than overreact when someone drops the ball, try to create an environment where people learn from mistakes. Likewise, take responsibility for your own decisions, good or bad, to model the behavior.
Using your engagement survey to measure accountability
There are multiple ways we can utilize data and feedback to build a culture of high accountability.
First, we can ask questions in our engagement surveys to measure feelings of accountability at the individual, department, and organizational level. Using Culture Amp’s analytic features such as demographic filtering and the heatmap, you’ll be able to identify whether specific departments or groups of employees are struggling with accountability.
Second, surveying is a two-way communication tool. We are inherently communicating the behaviors and outcomes that we seek through the types of questions that we ask. Thus, if we ask employees about their perceptions of accountability, we will drive home the types of behaviors that are important and central to our workplace culture.