Creating a Culture of Accountability

Mike Goldman, Author, Performance Breakthrough: The 4 Secrets of Passionate Organizations

Creating a Culture of Accountability

One of the big challenges I hear from CEOs all the time is, “I can’t seem to find a way to hold my team accountable”. The leadership team has seemingly productive meetings where they define priorities and assign responsibilities and then nothing gets done. Lack of accountability has a devastating impact on an organization.

First, lack of accountability breeds frustration throughout the organization as team members learn they can’t rely on each other. This has a dramatic impact on morale and trust within the organization, bringing productivity down and making it harder to recruit “A” players.

Second, and most importantly, lack of accountability leads to stagnation. As the frustration grows, people give up and stop making commitments. They say things like, “priorities are just changing too fast for me to make a commitment”, or “why should I care if I miss a deadline if no one is going to follow up anyway?” This is a death knell for a growing organization.

There are many reasons for this challenge but the first is that most organizations don't really know the difference between accountability and responsibility. Here are some definitions that should help.


If a person is responsible, it means they need to roll up their sleeves and get the job done.  Responsibility can be one person or a group of people.  It's perfectly accurate to say something like, “we're all responsible for customer service in this organization”.


Accountability is always and only one person. The person accountable owns the result but they’re not necessarily the person doing the work. While they can’t delegate their accountability away, they can absolutely delegate responsibility. The person accountable needs to ensure there’s a plan and they need to ensure the right measures are in place to gauge success or failure.

Creating real accountability requires a combination of organization, process and culture.

Organizational Accountability

Defining accountability starts with the key functions of the organization like head of the company, sales, marketing, talent development, customer advocacy, etc. When I start working with a client, there are often several functions that have no one accountable or have multiple people accountable. There should be one, and only one, person accountable for each function. That person is charged with meeting measurable goals, so there’s no confusion as to what success looks like.

Process Accountability

Process accountability occurs through:

  • Prioritization Planning - Accountability is not just for major functions. Organizations should also assign accountability for your quarterly priorities and specific action items.
  • Measurements – When assigning accountability for a function or priority it’s important to know where the finish line is. What does success look like? How will we measure it? Without these measurements or key performance indicators, progress becomes anecdotal and holding team members accountable becomes impossible.
  • Meeting Rhythms – The right meeting schedule (annual, quarterly, monthly, weekly and daily), agendas and facilitation allow the leadership team to hold each other, and their teams, accountable for priorities, tasks and key performance indicators. The right meetings provide great peer pressure for team members to honor their commitments.

Cultural Accountability

The CEO of one of my clients consistently complained to me that his team was not following through on their commitments. However, when I asked if he had followed through on a few things he had committed to, he gave me a list of excuses. It’s not surprising that his leadership team followed his example.

Organizational or process accountability has no chance of succeeding without the right culture. This means the leadership team needs to set the tone; they need to be willing to hold themselves accountable by honoring commitments and owning up when they haven’t. If they provide a poor example of accountability, the rest of the organization will follow their lead.

A culture of accountability is about clarity. Say what you mean and mean what you say.

What are you doing to build your culture of accountability?

About the Author

Mike Goldman is seasoned consultant and nationally recognized speaker. Over the last 25 years, Mike has helped mid-size companies achieve dramatic growth by working with their leadership teams to ensure that they have the right people, strategies and execution habits for development. He has experience with organizations of all sizes and missions from working at Deloitte and Accenture to founding his own firm, Performance Breakthrough. In his book by the same name, Performance Breakthrough: The 4 Secrets of Passionate Organizations (Highpoint Executive Publishing, June 2015), Mike reveals the reasons he’s seen companies have succeeded in creating more passionate, productive and profitable cultures. The framework outlined in a fictional story is based on simple, actionable and inexpensive ideas rather than high-level hard-to-grasp concepts.