Six Ways to Make Sure Accountability Sticks in 2014

Julie Miller and Brian Bedford

Six Ways to Make Sure Accountability Sticks in 2014

As a leader at your organization, you like to think that you run a pretty tight ship. But if you’re being honest with yourself, you know that you let a few things slide in 2013. None of these transgressions have been deal-breakers, but you know if you don’t start holding yourself and your employees accountable for the little things, they’ll eventually lead to bigger, more damaging things. 

Accountability is a tricky business because it has different meanings for different people. A definition we like is “a personal willingness, after the fact, to answer for the results of your behaviors and actions.”  How did you do in 2013?

In our book, Culture Without Accountability – WTF? What’s The Fix?, we provide the perfect “make-it-stick” plan. Here’s an approach, using the concepts from the book.

Conduct a 2013 accountability post-mortem. Call your team together for an open discussion of the company’s core values and required behaviors and where you’ve dropped the ball. Set the stage by taking responsibility for your own transgressions; this will encourage others to be honest in turn. Ask people to share the negative effects they believe these behaviors had on the business. Explain that those negatives will only get worse if left uncorrected.

Finally, explain that things are going to be done differently in the upcoming year. Use this meeting to get consensus on what the core values and behaviors need to be to support the company’s strategies and goals for 2014. 

Start with behavior statements. Everyone needs to understand that they will be held responsible not only for the results of their work, but also for how they go about their work, and their rewards will depend on both. If your most experienced salesperson has great sales numbers but bullies the shipping department every time he/she needs an order rushed, those transgressions must have consequences despite these employees’ successes in other areas.

One useful way to communicate this is to develop behavior statements that make it clear what you’re looking for - precisely, what you’re trying to fix, implement, or eliminate. This is especially helpful in international companies, because accountability might mean different things in different countries, languages, and cultures. Here are some examples:

            Always do what you say you’ll do.

            Always tell the truth.

            Bring issues up as you discover them.

And then make those even more clear through Dos and Don’ts. For example:

            DO be open, honest, and truthful.

            DON’T make excuses.

Hold an accountability boot camp. Share your vision with the team for what accountability will mean for the business and share the behavior statements the team created. You’ll need to make sure employees understand why accountability is important and what accountable behavior looks like. Leaders need to know that you expect them to be role models. Everyone should understand that their accountability mindset and behaviors will affect their pay and progression in the organization.

If you weave accountability behavior statements and Dos and Don’ts, into the performance review process you will help drive discussions with employees on how they are doing. If, by way of regular communication, you reinforce the changes you want to see, you will drive the value deep into the organization.

Don’t promote accountability shirkers. A sure way to express the importance of accountability at your organization is to connect it to advancement. Promotions and salary increases should be considered only for people who demonstrate accountability. When employees do well, reward and promote them. If they don’t do well, apply consequences and make sure they understand that their behaviors will limit their success and possible progression.

Hire accountable people. Instead of asking job candidates about strengths and weaknesses, ask, “Describe a situation in which you very clearly held others accountable for their performance and it paid off. How did you do it and what was the outcome?”  It’s a lot easier to hire them than change them.

Monitor your success and make adjustments as needed. Goals and metrics should be used to guide the business on an ongoing basis, not just at the beginning and end of the year. Use regular business meetings and communication sessions to establish an accountability drumbeat to keep goals, metrics and your focus of accountability on track so there is a better chance for success.

What will 2014 be like for your organization? Will you commit to making accountability stick?

 About the Authors

Julie Miller and Brian Bedford are coauthors of Culture Without Accountability—WTF: What’s the Fix? (Criffel Publishing, 2013, ISBN: 978-0-989-84692-9, $13.99, In 2001, drawing on their respective years of experience in senior global leadership at Motorola, Julie Miller and Brian Bedford joined forces to establish MillerBedford Executive Solutions. MillerBedford helps businesses and organizations improve strategy, culture, and leadership, while addressing issues that limit success. And their clients actually have fun in the process!

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