4 Techniques to Cultivate a Culture of Accountability

Accountability used to get a bad rep for its negative connotation. Uusually associated with punitive measures against employees that weren’t meeting performance expectations. 

Now, accountability is recognized as a necessary cultural element of effective organizations. It’s viewed through a completely different lens when you have the right people in the right roles.

Once you have competent and committed employees, building a culture of accountability is all about enabling your employees to get stuff done to generate the results you want and making sure they feel good about it when they do it.

Here are 4 techniques to cultivate a culture of accountability in your organization:

1. Connect the Dots

Connecting the dots, or creating alignment, is the secret sauce to success according to Kate Harrison in her Forbes article. Creating alignment involves communicating purpose in such a way that employees understand how their work fits into the bigger picture and impacts organizational success.

When you explain to employees why their work matters and they can visually see how it aligns with larger organizational goals, it creates a sense of ownership, improves commitment, and strengthens engagement.

When alignment increases, the door for increased accountability swings open.

2. Set Clear Expectations

Building a foundation for high-performing, accountable employees starts with being clear about what you expect.

Paint a very clear picture of what success looks like, defining both qualitative and quantitative measures of success. Being precise about your shared vision of the future you’re striving for improves the likelihood that you’ll get the results you want.

I once reported to a senior executive on a Commercial Banking Strategy Team who found that she typically got the results she wanted if she followed these 4 rules whenever she requested big deliverables:

  1. Be extremely prescriptive in describing what success looks like
  2. Always communicate purpose and next steps, which generally includes why the work is important and what will occur after commitments are delivered
  3. Provide soft and hard deadlines
  4. Follow-up by saying ‘thank you’ and provide feedback

For longer-term projects, it’s important to not only establish a cadence of communicating and providing progress updates but also to make sure you maintain that cadence. This commitment to a schedule fosters accountability and enables the quick identification and removal of roadblocks to success. In addition, it gives you the opportunity to reinforce, manage, or even shift expectations as needed.

3. Promote Transparency at Every Level

You might think this is an obvious one, but leaning into transparency is often an afterthought. Many don’t understand just how important it is until they’ve been a part of an organization where they’ve felt the effects of a lack of transparency.

There have been a plethora of articles written about the power of being transparent, but let’s be honest, transparency isn’t always easy. Sometimes, it’s quite terrifying. However, being honest and willing to have candid, sometimes difficult conversations, promotes trust and generally leads to faster problem-solving and higher levels of performance.

One practice that many organizations have adopted in order
to foster transparency is providing
access to a common set of organizational performance data and goals.
Sharing information with employees enables them to make better, more informed
decisions and understand how those decisions impact the organization’s overall performance.

While the great focus is placed on organizations being transparent, it should be a two-way street. Employees should provide the same level of transparency and visibility to leadership about the status of the work they have in-flight and any barriers to success they’re encountering in order to cultivate accountability.

Transparency and accountability are very closely related; a spirit and culture is worth being embodied. If employees and leaders strive to be transparent and accountable, this dedication lends itself to exponential growth at both the individual and organizational levels.

4. Celebrate the Wins

Employee engagement pays major dividends when it comes to creating a culture of accountability. The Harvard Business Review conducted a survey and found that 71% of business leaders view high levels of employee engagement as critical to organizational success, so it makes sense that the best companies are focusing on ways to improve engagement.

“Shoutouts” or announcing employee wins have not only been proven to increase engagement, but they’re also relatively low-hanging fruit. According to an HBR Analytic Report, 72% of employees rank ‘recognition given for high performance’ as having a significant impact on feeling engaged.

If you can make the results of high performance and accountability visible by publicly celebrating wins, you can provide positive reinforcement to further encourage those behaviors.

Accountability Requires Commitment & Consistency

While there are quick wins you can capture and enjoy in the process of creating a culture of accountability, commitment and consistency will be determining factors in your success.

You should strive for each of these techniques above to be a part of your everyday life.

Once you’ve created a culture of accountability, both you and your employees can strengthen your organization’s performance and reap the benefits of increased productivity and engagement.

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