Home » Blog » How to Create a Culture of Accountability in the Workplace

How to Create a Culture of Accountability in the Workplace

Image by Freepik

It’s often a difficult concept for leaders to grasp – this idea of accountability. What does accountability mean for a leader?

Accountability and responsibility are often used synonymously, but there is a subtle, yet critical difference. You are responsible for accomplishing assignments, living within corporate values, or meeting mission requirements. You can delegate that responsibility to your team members. But even if you delegate, you are still accountable for results. Good or bad.

Even though you can hold team members accountable as well, you cannot delegate your own accountability. You are accountable for what your team does. Period.

So, wouldn’t it be better if team members also accepted accountability for what they do and the results of their actions?

Absolutely. But how does a leader create that culture of accountability in their team? I’m glad you asked.

Your team will emulate what they see

Teams often tend to imitate the actions of their leader. So the first step in instilling a sense of accountability is to demonstrate accountability. When you make a mistake admit it. Leaders who try to shift blame or pretend they haven’t made a mistake lose the trust of their team. Why would team members want to hold themselves accountable when their leader clearly doesn’t hold him or herself accountable?

Hold them accountable – gently

Accountability is not a natural condition for some people. That’s not because they are bad people. More likely they were raised in a culture that didn’t practice accountability. Whether at home or in earlier work situations, they witnessed people avoiding accountability and as in the paragraph above, they will likely emulate what they learned.

That’s why a gentle approach will work better. A good start is to make sure your team members receive recognition for the good things they do. Accountability isn’t always negative.

One of the strongest needs humans have is a need to belong; to be recognized as a valuable member of the team. When you speak to team members, whether about great results or not so great results, make a connection to their contribution to the team. For instance,

“Your work on this phase of the project has really been terrific. You should be proud of how you have made the whole team more successful.”
“You are late with your part of this project and that’s holding the whole team back. Let’s look at how you can get caught up.”

In both these examples the leader has linked individual performance to team success, making personal accountability clear.

Don’t accept excuses

It seems our culture has been emphasizing excuses rather than accountability. It’s easy to blame someone or something for failure. Don’t accept those excuses. Although it may be true that something out of your control impacted your ability to accomplish a task, but you still must accept your accountability for that result.

Unfair you say? Life isn’t fair, but read on as there’s a way to deal with this problem.
First, accept your accountability. This doesn’t mean you’re a personal failure or a bad person. It only means something didn’t go the way it needed to.

Then, ask some questions.
1. Why didn’t this work out as I intended? Were there external influences that caused the problem?
2. Were those external influences really beyond my control? What did I control? Did I really leverage what I could control as effectively as possible?
3. Faced with this or a similar situation in the future, what can I do differently to avoid the same problem?
Help your team members take this same approach.

Embrace the after-action gold

It’s hard to overemphasize the value of an after-action session in fostering accountability. After a project is complete or some other milestone is met, get the team together and talk about what happened. What was good and what could have been better. Make sure this is a non-accusatory open discussion.
As the leader, start the discussion by telling the team how much you appreciate what they did. Then state some action you yourself took that could have been better. This approach breaks the ice and helps the team be more open about their actions. A good after-action session will conclude with action items that each member has created for themselves. That‘s accountability.

You don’t necessarily have to wait until the end of a long-term project to have an after-action session. Maybe completing a significant milestone is a good time to review and find ways to make the next steps easier. The after-action really is gold.

These actions will start developing a culture of accountability in your team. But remember, it starts with you. No excuses – you are accountable.

Image by Freepik

2 thoughts on “How to Create a Culture of Accountability in the Workplace”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *