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Cultivating a Culture of Accountability

Salima Hemani, PCC, SHRM-SCP

President, SZH Consulting LLC

Accountability and responsibility are two wheels of the same cart. You need both in place, working together, to move forward. Yet, many leaders and organizations tend to use these interchangeably. Or worse, they often assume that just delegating the responsibilities without setting up clear accountability measures will lead to success. Unfortunately, lacking a culture of accountability in the workplace can spell doom for companies, especially those focusing on high growth and working on retaining and engaging top talent.

Accountability is what drives success. It is the force behind creating a motivating work environment. When employees feel a sense of true ownership and the ability to drive action to achieve results, they are more motivated to create conditions of high performance for themselves and their colleagues. Employees and organizations who operate at higher levels of accountability, generate more credibility and trust, thus further perpetuating a culture where everyone is inspired to do their best work.

However, despite how critical accountability is, it can be hard to implement. In fact, according to Partners in Leadership Workplace Accountability Study, 82% of respondents said that they have “limited to no” ability to hold others accountable successfully, and 91% of employees said that “effectively holding others accountable” is one of their company’s top leadership-development needs.

To cultivate a culture of accountability, leaders need to think beyond the traditional “score-keeping” methods, which create a negative bias towards this important behavior. Instead, leaders and organizations would benefit from ingraining an organic sense of accountability in all parts of the organization through the following few but impactful actions.

1. Start at the top by ensuring that the company has articulated and effectively communicated a clear purpose and vision supported by SMART goals, robust set of aligned priorities and clear metrics for success.

2. Establish measurable expectations and KPIs (key performance indicators) for all roles and responsibilities within the organization. Ensure that these clearly connect back to the top-level enterprise goals and priorities.

3. Coach employees on what accountability looks like; take time to go over examples of ownership at work to make sure that employees’ ideas and questions are addressed and that everyone is on the same page.

4. Empower all employees, regardless of level or title, to be able to bring up and work on the “elephants” in the room. Provide employees the tools, training and coaching on how to productively hold themselves and each other accountable by effectively engaging in difficult conversations and productive, task-based conflict.

5. Inculcate a “Results-Oriented” mindset. Recognize and reward people for achieving measurable results. Build time to regularly review progress against set goals and expectations, and measure incremental impact and outcomes.

6. Consistently role-model providing timely feedback with compassion and clarity when people fall short of their responsibilities and expectations. Signal that it is safe to make mistakes, and to be honest and upfront about those mistakes so that they can be addressed quickly and used to advance organizational learning.

An accountability-based culture is what sets apart consistently high-performing organizations. It is more than a feel-good philosophy – in fact, it can be a strategic differentiator. However, creating a culture of accountability takes time and patience. It is not an overnight change. Leaders who are willing to make that investment will reap rewards both for themselves and their organizations by making them more innovative, more proactive and ultimately more resilient.

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